". . . 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, December 31, 2015

Boston Review Puts TASC in Sydney Mintz Orbit-Obit / Another Counterpunch TASC Review

It gives a funny feeling, on the day before we leave for Cuba that Sydney Mintz has died. And see The American Slave Coast mentioned in the obituary by  Sarah Hill.

My copy of Sweetness and Power, which I still have.

I first read Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History (1985) back in 1989-90, before el V's first trip to Cuba. It helped reshape my way of thinking, of seeing our past, along with Fernand Braudel, co-founder of the French school of history known as the Annales. I got el V to read it asap.

It's an honor to have TASC included in a list of like books, influential titles, that the obit writer clearly sees influenced to greater and lesser degree by the work of Mintz.

Alas the obituary writer left out the name of the other author of The American Slave Coast. This may be the first time this omission has happened.  However, the obit writer knew Prof. Mintz well, and surely is grief-stricken.

In the meantime, Ron Jacobs, author of a new Counterpunch review of The American Slave Coast is outraged. In his final paragraph Jacobs says:
Ned and Constance Sublette have provided the world with one of the best history books ever written about the United States. Nominally about the slave breeding industry in the US South, The American Slave Coast is actually a sweeping, in-depth survey of the nation known as the United States. The authors skilfully blend economics, politics, military history and personal narratives into a history volume that stands among the best ever published. Written with an eye on the present–a present where the case of Tamir Rice is but one of hundreds–it is a history with a weight that will never began to be thrown off until it is understood with the same honesty it is told in The American Slave Coast.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Imperious Drive

This last week Antipope's Charlie's Diary examined "Fantasy Shibbolths" here.

Earlier this month Charlie's Diary took on "Science Fiction Shibboliths" here.

In the course of both of these articles and the discussions of the subject matters that follow, empire, imperialism and colonialism were unavoidable topics.

Yet we get this silly article about SF/F in the LA Book Review here, that complains the person from part of the former UK empire is not employing the correct terms to talk about SF/F.  Both writers, the subject of the criticism and the critic, miss the really important points that writers of sf/f  such as Charlies don't.

Empire, above.

Empire, below.

Fantasizing that sf/f -- or any pop culture -- saves the world is alike to living in an imperialist theme park because the default of the field is always empire one way and another. It's impossible to argue that steampunk isn't about class and empire, though the field is to be applauded in fact on how many diversities of empire it can envision.

Which is why even an article about the #1 UK television baking show speaks of it in terms of the yearning for empire even in desserts and faux competition here (NY Times article so use one's paywall work-around of choice).

It’s astonishing to think that not even a century ago, Britain was the largest, most effective and arguably the most brutal empire the world had ever seen — one of the fundamental political institutions that structured the entire world. This might explain why British national identity, such as it is, continues to manifest itself in signifiers left over from the days of Empire: gin, tea, cricket, flags, those wretched “Keep Calm and Carry On” posters, all of them now zombified and divorced from their material basis. Their appeal is the dream of an endless summer of Pimm’s, bowls and thwarted romantic expectations on the lawn of a great country estate, as if this lifestyle could ever be made possible without the violent exploitation of around one-third of the population of the earth. Ten years ago, adorning oneself with these signifiers might have been considered a somewhat alternative statement. Since then, though, they’ve gained a great deal of popularity, to the point where they’re firmly established in the mainstream of middle-class culture in the British Isles.
For sf/f, telling doncha think, the author's use above of "zombified?

Which brings one to another new restaurant that has opened in the neighborhood, that largely and loudly beckons the truly non-historic consciousness of the young tourists in their deluded fantasy of finding NYC's historical golden past of of a hip and happening underground -- a cultural rebellion of the above ground fortunate --proclaims itself as serving up an authentic colonial Indian food experience (owned by recent immigrants from either Pakistan* or -- India). Is this a sign of the desperate times in which the underground, the vast majority of the world live, that the formerly colonialized too feel it necessary to mine the hip hip hooray above ground colonial golden past of empire, in order to survive in a new world.  Will we be seeing the Native populations of North America open theme park restaurants celebrating the fun and delicious era of the Trail of Tears?


*  Here it has been noticed that often restaurants owned by people of Pakistani origin bill themselves as "Indian" because this designation is understood more easily by the young and the tourists who are honestly ignorant of both history and geography.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Weather! New Orleans Gets Floods for New Year - Cooler in Cuba

There appear to be more people actually shopping, i.e. buying, today than all the weeks before Christmas.  It's also getting colder here by the hour, and damper and more windy, while the sky is becoming ever more overcast and lowering. Coincidence?  Of course, huge numbers of these huge numbers of people cloggin the streets, stores and sidewalks are tourists from elsewheres, who travel in family packs including huge strollers, etc.  And then those others from out of town, riding the stupid Citibikes, who -- yes, in fact they do do this! -- yell at one to get off the sidewalk because you're in the way of their biking.  I so appreciated these people while chasing around for 4 hours outside accomplishing our necessary errands in preparation for leaving.

By tonight and through tomorrow morning it's supposed to be serious rain and wind again, sleet and snow further north.  If so, this will be the first snow upstate this year.  Perhaps this is the fallout on this side of the country from the snow mess that descended upon the Midwest today? Temps and rain falling all the way down the East Coast this week, and down into Cuba as well.  And here I was thinking I'd have to be preparing for near ninety degrees.  Better take a small umbrella.

Christmas weekend was a terrible weather weekend for the south and Texas, with tornadoes killing people in one way and another. Portales, New Mexico, had 7 foot snow drifts!

Flooding already in Missouri, Mississippi River overflowing at St. Louis, Dec. 28, 2015, and all through Pulaski County ( though the same name, not the same place where the KKK was organized in December 25, 1865 , which is in Tennessee, thus Bedford Forrest's nearly immediate involvement).

Even before the big snows of this week melt, the Mississippi River is already filling over its present banks, threatening flooding all the way down from St. Louis and into New Orleans and below.  From the Weather Underground:
On January 20, the Mississippi flood crest is expected to arrive in New Orleans, bringing the river to its 17-foot flood stage in the city, just 3 feet below the tops of the levees. In past years, though, when the river has been forecast to rise to 17 feet in the city, the Army Corps of Engineers has opened up the Bonnet Carre Spillway in St. Charles Parish, which diverts water into Lake Pontchartrain and keeps the river from reaching flood stage in New Orleans. According to a December 25 article by Mark Schleifstein of, this option will be discussed on Monday at an Army Corps flood "flood fight" meeting, along with the less likely possibility of opening the Morganza Floodway in Pointe Coupee Parish, which would divert water down the Atchafalaya River. Opening this spillway has a considerably higher cost than opening the Bonnet Carre Spillway, due to the large amount of agricultural lands that would be flooded below the Morganza Spillway. The Corps also has the option of increasing the flow of Mississippi River water into the Atchafalaya at the Old River Control Structure in Concordia Parish. Operating the Old River Control Structure in this way always makes me nervous, as I explained in my 2011 blog post, America's Achilles' heel: the Mississippi River's Old River Control Structure. Both the Bonnet Carre Spillway and Morganza Floodway were forced to open in May 2011, due to the highest flood crests ever observed on the Lower Mississippi. This flood cost over $2 billion; I expect the damage from the December 2015 - January 2016 Mississippi River flood will run into the hundreds of millions.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

After Christmas, Prior to Cuba and the New Year

Christmas Day's pork roast turned out very well, according to those who ate it and, I confess, to my own judgment as well. The roast is almost entirely about the stock elements around it, which were in the freezer as leftovers from previous pork entrees, and about timing, ensuring it is well cooked, but not even a little bit dry.  So it's paying attention more than physical work.

Trust me: peeling a butternut squash is hard work!
The parsnip and squash soup was more complicated and difficult for me to pull together. Unlike the roast, the soup is a lot of steps from cutting open, peeling, chopping and pre-roasting both parsnips and squash just a little bit before starting the ingredients in the stove top soup kettle. Then  must be paid a lot of attention, to keep from scorching.

Perhaps a meal of left-overs, just enough for el V and me.  :)

This paying attention part -- I'm rather astonished I pulled that off, considering the consequences of Christmas Eve included not getting home and into bed until nearly 5 AM.

Christmas Eve dinner was outstanding. It included venison and wild boar sausages and duck breasts, both grilled outside. That's what many on our coast have done this year because it's been so unseasonably warm. With no need or desire to further heat up the house, many traditional winter foods were jettisoned for the feast and instead of baking a ham, grilling out in the garden is the thing. K & C's courtyard / patio was just lovely. Except we were certain that mosquitoes were about . . . .

Among the terrific company was this year's winner of the Man Booker Award for Fiction,  He managed to get a flight in from Minneapolis. In fact we first met years ago at another holiday dinner, Thanksgiving, also hosted by K & C -- the n'er to be forgotten Thanksgiving when the dining room table's additional leaves parted company with each other, and everything on the table slow-moed into the ever-widening, snowy-lined table cloth crevasse. And, then the disaster after that, while K was fare welling the guests on the long steep brownstone steps, he slipped on a bit of ice that hadn't gotten the salt, fell and broke his ankle. This was back when the huge economic depression was just starting, and when people like us, artists, freelancers etc., were hit, and hit very hard, almost a year before there was official recognition that the economy, thanks to the banks, was crashing and burning.

BTW,Booker winner plans, he says, some big Fantasy fiction set in a fantasy Africa, drawing on African myths and history.  El V and I just happen to have some fairly serious knowledge of these matters . . . and as well there are two big West African projects he's doing himself in 2017, which will involve going back to the African Atlantic coastal countries for some serious time.

It was a terrific Christmas Eve.  We had no idea it was so late because the time just whizzed by in great conversation, food, drink and friends. At midnight I looked out of the great bay window of K's second floor study The perfectly round winter moon was nested in a web of bare black tree branches, wreathed with bits of fog. If this had been a film and I looking out that great bay window at midnight, I would have exclaimed, "Oooooo, look everyone!  It's snowing!" And have seen Santa's sleigh and reindeer gliding through the fog above Madame Jumel's mansion.

But it did not snow and  I did not see a sleigh and reindeer crossing the moon.

Instead, we embarked on a dancing salsathon to K's magnificent vinyl record collection of Puerto Rican and Cuban salsa stars.

Today's much colder than the previous days of this week.  But it's still grey -- can't remember the last time there was a sunny day.  Rain is to begin, yet again, and keep up until Tuesday.  This is going to interfere with the getting of these things one must have before flying to Havana.  Among them disposable champagne glasses* for 30 +, to drink to 2015 at our last U.S. meal before taking off for Cuba.



My special gift this year: a set of indescribably beautiful -- and fragile -- champagne flutes.  They are staying home.  But we used them last night, specifically, to drink a toast to the confounding of rethuggianism, those who made so much money out of our economic miseries.

Among other things though, I received Mary Beard's SPQR!  And the print version of Isabella: Warrior Queen, which is one of my year's best / most important reading round-up -- but I actually listened to an audio download.  Now I have the author's footnotes and bibliography, thank goodness.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Reading Wednesday -- Robert E. Lee

Off and on this fall I've been reading accounts of Robert E. Lee, particularly in the context of where, in hindsight's 20/20 vision, he decisively lost the war of southern aggression, Gettysburg.

Michael Korda's The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee (2014) is a curious work within this context.  He fairly closed the book with the loss of Gettysburg, however, he doesn't go all the way through the battle.  Korda spends nearly 100 pages as a single chapter on the lead-up to the battle itself, and the first two days, and then, just stops. There's no description in the course of these pages of what his starveling army did in Maryland and Pennsylvania, though Korda carefully makes clear that in Lee's own mind his army wasn't plundering, because they paid for everything with the valueless CSA currency and the worthless CSA "government" vouchers that were redeemable when the war was over. There is no mention of the African Americans, many of the born free in both MD and PA, that the army's officers in particular grabbed randomly in order to sell back in VA, or the just grabbing of people's possessions such as women's clothing and other furnishings.

He does, however, describe in a few admiring words the crossing of flooded rivers in torrential downpours as "epic" -- but with no mention of how much the retreating army was slowed down and balked by the weight of its booty, or that many of the kidnapped captive African Americans drowned.

This is followed by a long chapter's  loving descriptions in detail of the long series of battles and siege of Richmond by Grant two years later, in 1965 titled Lee and Grant -- how much each respected the other.  Then "Appomattox" in which we get far more attention paid to the gorgeousness of Lee's dress uniform, contrasted with Grant's mud-bespattered "private's" field outfit -- an outside observer, not knowing the identities of the men involved, would have assumed the handsome, tall immaculately groomed and poised Lee to be the victor of a long war, not the short and swordless Grant.  Much, much attention is lavished upon Grant's supposed shame at not having a sword of his own hanging by his side and his yearning glances at the gorgeous gold-plated family heirloom sword worn by Lee.

As often as Korda assures the reader that he is a writer who hasn't bought into the apotheosis of Lee that both south and north had rolling even before the war was over, he halts repeatedly to admire Lee's saintly, refined, aristocratic superiority to all other men, who, unlike lesser military generals is utterly unconcerned with fame or other worldly matters beyond  his brilliance at engineering entrenching and other defenses when not actually fighting and winning battles (though evidently not enough to go to war with the CSA government to get his men fed, shod and clothed and given tents and blankets -- how unlike General Washington, Lee's model in all things).  Coarse drunken Grant knows little beyond the capacity for butchery -- which, when it came down to it, Lee shared the capacity to tolerate equally.  Lee simply didn't have the same numbers to spend that Grant did.

There are many places in this Korda biography of Lee that leave the reader scratching her head, some places where he even gets things wrong, which is not understandable with all the facts that we know about the war by the time of 2014.

What might be useful, except the book doesn't have footnotes -- only endnotes -- or a proper bibliography -- and often cites wiki! and movies! and fiction! and not often cites primary dox -- are the descriptions of the variety of officers in both armies who had been in Mexico in 1845, and who shared the West Point experience -- and how differently they regarded the secession and rebellion when it arrived.  These go far beyond the unexamined favorite platitude so many roll out about how important this was in terms of the war of southern aggression.  Ultimately, Korda shows us, this shared past experience mattered not much at all -- partly because, for one instance, Lee had no recollection of Grant in Mexico -- moving as Lee did in the aristocratic circles of that army -- while Grant remembered Lee's exploits and character very well.

As mentioned above, Korda's book was published in 2014, a year ago. None of us in 2014 could have imagined that in 2015 the New Orleans city council would vote to bring down the Lee monument of New Orleans primary traffic intersection, Lee Circle.

By the way, Lee never set foot at any time in his life in New Orleans, and New Orleans and Louisiana became Union controlled at the same time as Lee given the command of what then was renamed the Army of Northern Virginia in the spring of 1862.  Lee had no interest in the western war.  All his energy was devoted to the defense of "my own country," Virginia. Or, to put it another way, states rights is the best way to lose a war.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Damp and Grey Solstice Day

Here in NYC it's much warmer than yesterday.  By Christmas Eve it will be 70º.

Looks as though we'll have some 90º days in Cuba in the first two weeks of January.  That's warmer than usual for Cuba in January, at least in the west.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr + The Whitney Plantation + Daily Life a/k/a We're Still Busy

In an article for the Daily Beast, noted investigative journalist, Jason Berry, explores:
"Removal of Confederate Monuments Compared to ISIS: Facing comparisons to ISIS militants, the Nazis, and a random white guy complaining about urban crime, the New Orleans city council voted to remove Confederate statues deemed offensive. But the fight is far from over."

Berry begins his piece with the Whitney Plantation Slave Memorial Museum created and financed by local New Orleans attorney, John J. Cummings III, with which to discuss monumental sites, and whom they honor and memorialize.  In every way, located in Louisiana, Cumming's Whitney project to memorialize the slaves -- children, women and men -- who worked and died there, is the anti-Lee Circle monument.

Toward the conclusion of Berry's article, cites The American Slave Coast about certain information concerning antebellum slavery.

As well, Friday, Counterpunch listed The American Slave Coast as one of the top ten best books of 2015.  It opened the reasoning behind placing the book on a top ten list that includes not only Greg Grandin's Kissenger book (GG shared the Bancroft History Prize for 2014) and Mary Beard's history of Ancient Rome, with this statement:
"This sprawling and unsparing history of the American slave-breeding industry may be the most important book of the last decade."
That's a Christmas gift that warms the heart, after all these years of work to make The American Slave Coast!

Last night the winds were so high night that the They Say People warned us other people to have food and water and heat sources in case the power lines went down. Where we are though, our wires are below ground. But it's cold enough all right. Which is reassuring, as it is the Winter Solstice. Do not like climate change!

Currently however, I'm wearing wool sox and the Icelandic reindeer sweater el V brought me last summer. (Meaning the traditional woven design of the sweater not that, you know, real reindeer were harmed in the course of the mission to keep mz constancia warm in winter NYC, of course.) Though by the time we go uptown for Christmas Eve (same day biz meeting uptown re upcoming event for Slave Coast -- bad scheduling, MEN -- I have things to do for Christmas dinner, which you MEN never think about because your wives do these things). But today, as per usual every year for D's Christmas party, it's going to be a cold trek to her place.

So chilly in the apartment this morning that as soon as we'd emerged from warm, comfy fluffy bed, I asked el V to put on some hot Cuban music to at least warm up the audio atmosphere.

Cold as yesterday was I needed to shop. I managed to bargain down the price for a backpack I need for the Cuban trip. Pick pocketing has gotten so rife in Havana I don't dare use the comfortable-to-carry-in-the-heat open top cloth bags (temps there will be ranging into the 80's it looks like, and not getting much cooler at night). I'm certainly not taking my very expensive, exquisitely fabricated handbag, purchased for the book tour -- which, btw, has stood up beautifully to being dragged all over the place, stuffed with everything from books, a raincoat and another pair of shoes, sitting for weeks on end on the dirty floor of The Car, dragged through the rain, etc.

Sensing I'm going to use this backpack thing only once -- I'm not the sort who does backpacks -- I didn't want to Spend Money. $25 tops. I went up and down Canal Street this week twice, looking at what is available, getting prices. Everybody wanted between $45 and $80. Almost all of them looked to be what they are: cheap Asian / African knockoffs. As well, they mostly looked as though they'd fall apart within a day or two of being on the floor of the bus, shoved behind me to support my back, etc. There was a single exception to all of these. The guy insisted he had to have $50.  No, too much for something I'm using only once. But I got him down to $30, which from checking out up and down Canal, I understood I wasn't going to get under, not in December, with hordes of foreign tourists handing out U.S. cash as if they were USians in Iraq back in 2003.  But still, $30 was better than $50 and higher.

In the meantime have the retailers on Canal Street changed, aggressive in the way Middle Eastern souk vendors are, or those in Southeast Asia, almost, though this being USA, not quite physically grabbing you and pulling you into their holes-in-the- wall. Interesting experiences. This is the first time in my life I've set out with the idea that I wasn't going to pay asking price and bargained. With African trips scheduled for 2017 I'd better practice.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Orphan Black - Season 3 Part II -- Discussion Back-and-Forth + Jessica Jones


Here's a response from Elsewhere to the business of Orphan Black that I also posted here:

Orphan Black, Season 3 Episode 7 "Community of Dreadful Fear and Hate"

At Elsewhere an amigo commented:
Having watched the whole season, this episode is the one I shall nominate for next year's Hugo awards.
For me, the adding of the Castors adds to the depth of the stories & also provides a contrast. The creators of Orphan Black aren't afraid to keep extending themselves by adding more elements. One thing that seems apparent to me is that despite having the male clones, it's still very much told from the PoV of the the sisters.
To which I responded after watching the final two episodes too:

I hear what you're saying here.

However, from a writer's standpoint -- and a critical viewer / reader's standpoint -- merely adding more elements, unless they are fully integrated in the arc, or at least the seasonal arc in which they appear,  drives an extended work off the cliff. This unintegrated element compromises the structural integrity of an espisode, a season, a series.

In print fantasy (e-book or paper) we're often encountering writers who cannot resist behaving like gaming writers, where story structure and integrity don't necessarily matter, and certainly not as much as the conflict and their levels. Character after character, culture after culture, place after place, and everything else that catches their magpie attention, without considering what this means to the structural coherence of the entire endeavor, or even the rhythm and pacing.

There has to be a consciously understood endgame in mind for these additions, particularly for television, which is done by several people in a single room. Think of how many series have gone off the rail this way, in terms of satisfactory narrative arc and plot. The Good Wife is one of these. Battlestar G was another -- which happened at the point where it got particular about women as actors and agency. The show went for rape, made the biggest baddie a woman, and refused to allow the female pilots, who were as perfectly qualified as any, to perform the rescue. The show never got back its footing after that, because it couldn't even imagine women as the Heroes for the oldest trope in screen action, saving the damsel in distress.

In fantasy, as a single example, there's Pullman's Dark Materials. As soon as the boy showed up, Lyra became secondary, in her own story! But he was the male, he had the knife.

This is why Buffy remains the outlier and exception despite the hundreds -- thousands? -- of supernatural/sf/f series since. The core always remains, is always central, and the lodestone is always Buffy. No matter who comes and who goes, ultimately it's she who is driving all their action and reactions. In each season she needs to learn more about herself in order to have any chance at all to save the world again.

But this constant addition of more and more of the same is a very dangerous path to take, structurally speaking, as dangerous on screen as it is on the page.

So I have concerns about the boy clones -- especially as their great danger is to their brains, while for the women, it's about their reproductive capacities. Right there we've hit a very dangerous gender expectation, an all too unexamined, presumed gendered assumption -- that a man's center is governed by his brain and a woman's by her uterus. That women have uterii [?] and what this has meant for women throughout history in which so much of the time they are entirely governed by men, and that this is considered right and proper because they have a uteruses, and their reproductive capacity is men's right to harness for their own profit in any way they deem right -- this is what the show was about. And its essential.

I've spent going on 6 years now on this very subject in a racial and historical context. That's not to say that I am particularly qualified to speak to this, but that this subject is so vast and so integral to everything from the development of a capitalist society to legal identity, that one can easily spend 6 years researching and writing just a single aspect of it!

On the other hand, speaking specifically to Orphan Black, there is this consideration.

The traditional trope for adventuring children, and particularly adventuring females, is the dearth of family. This is how it is possible for a female adventurer to exist, because she has no family ties, no family support, due to bad luck (poverty and illness) or because a Big Bad destroyed her family -- and maybe even raped her, leaving her for dead. Then she's got the overwhelming drive to avenge these crimes to justify her adventuring. At least with European and U.S. historical - cultural traditions this is so, particularly when it comes to popular entertainments with an adventure slant.

So often within these entertainments too, when it comes to the USian Romantic Individual Hero, he too is a solitary, without family ties or even back story. He just is, like The Man With No Name.* Though often lazy writers motivate the fellow with a dead wife/lover/family, who are then never again mentioned, but do for justifying his violence -- he, sensitive fellow, has been hurt and must fix the hurt by killing.

Spoiler Alert -----

Regarding Orphan Black, the addition of Mrs. S's own mother to the cast, has revealed a solid platform for "The Original" for all the clones' genome -- as well as adding to the family. Which was appropriate for this season 3, which kept hitting us over the head with the information that this season is about FAMILY!

It also is fairly clear that exceptionally gifted or not, in the variety of ways these clones are, motherhood still creates all these dilemmas for adventuring and fighting, that can only be dealt with by sending away / hiding the child, i.e. separation from the mother-daughter bond. So much of what Sarah does could not be done with her daughter on hand, even if her daughter wasn't one of the prizes all the big bads salivate to control and possess. And Sarah's daughter Kira, is always a lever against Sarah, thus the big bads want Kira too, beyond even what they could harvest from her genetics -- and whatever powers of prescience she seems to possess.

So it's hiding the child or doing what what Mrs. S did: gather her chicks, run like hell away and hide. But They always find you again, it seems. But then, that's story telling, yes? One's good deeds as much as one's sins return to haunt you. Look at Mrs. S's own mum.

Lovely show, but I do not like the boy clones -- they are a distraction, particularly as they have their own Mother, the dark reflection of Mrs. S. Recall what was remarked above about adding to add and the detrimental effect on structure and also on pacing and rhythm. As in fantasy, if there's a magical flying creature, do not have a second, different magical flying creature. It's clunky composition.

The response, then to the above is this:
Thanks for your crunchy response which contains much intriguing stuff to consider.
I hadn't considered the female/reproduction: male/intellection contrast, which when you pointed it out made me facepalm: how did I not see it before? 
I'd been thinking more about how the brain defect causes loss of identity before eventually, death, which is also a powerful element, identity being a major theme of Orphan Black. (Personally, I'd rather lose my ability to reproduce than my sense of self.)
 I don't know if the creators have an endpoint in mind, I hope they do and they don't screw up the ending. It's definitely a challenge when creating an episodic work; you can't go back and change earlier episodes because they're already out there, part of canon.
The Crystal question is an interesting one too because you could argue that they are protecting their sister be leaving her out of the circle, though that may change in coming episodes. Knowing one is a clone comes with a cost.
Thank you for thinking this is "crunchy."

We miss this stuff all the time -- f=heart/uterus/feeling and the undifferentiated primative, while it's male=head/brain/intelligence/rationality/meaning and significance -- or, as you have noticed, Real Identity, unlike the heart/uterus -- which is just icky non-rational, non-creative >!< blobness -- which justifies any kind of exploitation for the benefit of the real people, men, particularly wealthy men.

It's interesting here, to think of Buffy and her family, particularly her relationship with her own mother, Joyce, and then with Dawn, for whom Buffy will sacrifice anything -- Dawn's her sister, but she feels for her like a mother much of the time.

This business of the clone club and sisters, particularly as it is expressed via Helena, who, with Sarah, is the only one of them who can have babies -- gets more interesting all the time.  Even though I do fear the writers fear exploring these gendered matters very deeply, Orphan Black is vastly superior to, say the over-hyped Jessica Jones, which concentrated entirely upon abuse and victimization. The Orphan Black women are very different, including those, like Mrs. S, who are not clones.

All this is in such contrast with Jessica Jones, maybe the most over-hyped series in a year of a large number of over-hyping series.

Jessica Jones is part of a bloated bunch of comic franchises.  As such, like all its siblings, JJ's rhythm is that of thud. Orphan Black is an original, which by the grace of its actors and writers, can handle a variety of rhythms and to. Even the solo star turns reference those of the other characters, particularly the primary Clone Clubbers (the club references and locations thus have an authentic purpose among OP's many other spaces).

Some have criticized Helena's character as a cartoon -- because, she isn't evidencing enough suffering from her abuse.

If one isn't seeing Helena's actions partly in light of what she's suffered, one is looking rather blindly, one might think, yes?  Why is she so obsessed with the entire concept of sisters and babies?

Moreover, as with episode 8 in season three -- much of this is played deliberately as comic relief (see, as in Hamlet) in contrast with heart wrench betrayal of a non-member of Clone Club that follows. Much of this depends on the impeccable timing the actress and supporting actors possess, along with the writers, to riff off many ancient comic tropes starting with Greek and Roman theater. Also with other of these tropes such as the Mexican cantina, and the entrance of Mrs. S in the best classical grade B western manner, the moment after Helena declares she's going to kill Mrs. S, then their showdown, with Mrs. S's secret superweapon -- love. It's a brilliant episode that rings so many changes. The plodding JJ, mired in superhero graphix/comix tropelandia, was incapable to getting anywhere near this snap crackle and pop in any episode.

This sort of episode was present in OB from the first season. These scenes in which the writers and actors -- and audience -- can relax from threat for a few beats are essential, otherwise the very weight of what they are all up against is too heavy for the show to dance -- and then it would be just another comix franchise thudder. There is more than enough authentic suspense and fear for our characters in peril provoked in us, the audience.

This is something that Buffy did so well as well.

Morevoer this broad comedy is consistently anchored by Alison and her suburban milieu (which works beautifully to be played for laughs, even though the laughs remind us of the gravity of what's at stake -- even, for pete's sake exploring how a marriage can derail and yet be saved, and even become stronger and better than anyone previously could have imagined -- this stuff really happens!). This is also the case to a lesser degree with Helena, within different contexts.

 Dancing and singing along to pop music in a group and as individuals as relaxation, blowing off steam and celebration has also become a continuity marker of group or individual fleeting moments of perfect well-being, as also happens when Helena and Alison's contexts interpenetrate the previous separating boundaries between them. It's beautiful in season 3, seeing Alison and Donny jumping on the bed, playing together with their ill-gotten gains, and later seeing Helena singing and dancing by herself while making soap.

Bringing ng Helena to live with Alison, Donny and their family was a brilliant move. And then -- we get the blood, a la River from Firefly (another pop culture television reference by the writers who revel in these, and who know their audience) thanks to Helena, who is all about saving the family. For me this stuff is brilliant, and it is executed beat - pace perfect.

To me, the most salient point of difference between Jessica Jones and Orphan Black is that OP explores what one's class background growing up means for each of the characters. They all came up differently, other than Sarah and Fe, who grew up learning street smarts and griftering fairly naturally considering Mrs. S's own capacities in these areas, as well as her skills with violence. Which is why season 3 bringing in Alison's mother and Mrs. S's mother works.

All the women have different gifts, and they are learning to wield them to work for their own futures as autonomous, rather than property.

Whereas, Jessica Jones is situated within a locus of hopelessness, the sense of no future, that the genuine poor possess, whether they have successful friends and acquaintances or not.  Yet here are successful, connected, wealthy friends that make a great deal possible for Jessica that she couldn't do for herself. That's the single part of JJ that felt right to me, even though geographically the locations, i.e. mise en scèene, are mostly all wrong.

The thing is, that even among the authentically poor, there are moments of happiness and relaxation.  Look at the children playing in refugee camps.  Thus even Helena is changing, thanks to her sisters.  Well, to a degree.  Man, that bloody white coat and blood up that dangling machete and up to her elbows -- but if you have a River, its good to have her on your side, yes?  :)


* This has changed to a degree within genres of all kinds, as writers, producers, publishers desperately seek franchise expansion. Back story! unleashing the plague of prequels upon the land!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

We're Still Busy!

We're getting invitations to do things with The American Slave Coast -- one came in just today for Porter Books in Boston, for Feb. 29th (Black History Month).  Thank goodness Boston isn't buried in snow this winter. And another arrived yesterday for Revolution! a new bookstore in Harlem.  We've been invited to address a meeting of NYC's public employees' union too, among other things.

The first Christmas card,  created by Henry Cole, in Victorian London 1843.

I have made my Christmas letter, which this year is a run-down of the history of the Christmas card, which begins in Victorian England in 1843. I can't stop being a historian, evidently, even in the holidays.   Before that the tradition was to write Christmas letters (see, this isn't a contemporary phenomenon at all). The fellow who came up with the concept of the Christmas card was a fellow with too many friends: he simply couldn't write a letter to them all.

There are many illos in my Christmas letter of Christmas cards in Victorian England and the U.S., and more modern ones.  It's 6 pages long but printed on both sides, so it's only three sheets of paper. I enjoyed doing this so much that I'm even enjoying addressing the envelopes.  I even enjoyed going out to find Christmas cards into which to put the Christmas letter, even though it's 62 degrees and dark dark dark with pouring rain.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Orphan Black, Season 3 Episode 7 "Community of Dreadful Fear and Hate"

Gotta say: Orphan Black's season 3 would have been worth it if it depended only upon the second scene of the 7th episode, "Community of Dreadful Fear and Hate."

I do believe I'm in love.
This is the scene in which Mrs. Ess walks through the Mexican cantina's doors got up in dusty bass ass to the max degree, including hat and otk (over the knee) boots. This happens right after Helena states she's going to kill Mrs. Ess.

While Sarah femmes out with a shower and change of clothes, it's show down, shoot it out time between  Orphan Black's two baddest asses of them all in the best of movie Westerns' traditions. Who will survive?  Did we see it coming that Mrs. Ess has a secret weapon?

This is followed by an extended clone club identity switcheroo, in, what Orphan Black does so well, that this character in one door and another character out the other door classic comic choreography that is always done so well when Alison is involved (also some of what is going on here involves pee). One could be tempted to conclude that the writers are having waaaaaaaaaaaaay too much fun with all sorts of classic movie and tv tropes..  But this, my best beloved, is what is called comic relief, because we have a heart wrenching betrayal coming right up, with yet another clone identity switcheroo, but this is not at all comic.

Sometimes Orphan Black's breathless pace works to push the viewer along before she can begin asking pesky questions, questions that can be on the order of would he really not have shot her, and just run away? or also -- um, plot holes? and how many Sarah clones are there anyway, and why are they all so conveniently located within easy access distance?

Cosima may not survive the disease but she's getting terrific treatment from Shay, played by the marvel that is Ksenia Solo,  who we met first on Lost Girl, where she wasn't a blonde.
But more often the viewer is deeply impressed -- as long as the writers can restrain themselves from generically geeking out waaaaaaaaaaay too much. The following episode 8, "Purpose and Insidious in Method," skated dangerously close to that.  Actually, that episode went over that line, alas.

There is so much more, so very much more, to Orphan Black, though it's not always clear whether the writers are willing to actually go there. This show was exploring women's right to their most personal and intimate places.

By dragging in the Castor Project of clone brothers it feels as though the writers didn't trust that all this icky female stuff was good enough to be the sole subject of a several season series. Too many females. Lets have males, and, o, their situation is o so tragic, and they are Our Brothers!

The family theme is getting pushed a little too hard here. But some of it is fun, as things always are around Alison.  Helena and her entire lack of table manners and personal hygiene come to live ... with Alison and Donny! Imagine!  Shenanigans ensue.

What about all the women who don't have family, who aren't fortunate enough to be taken in?

Crystal, you were merely smart, not bad ass or exceptional, and Clone Club, in the words of Fe, didn't want to take you in. Yet they took in Gracie, who wasn't a sister. And they were willing to save / redeem super villain sister Rachel.
Maybe episode 8 provides the answer with clone Crystal: she gets used and disappeared. Clone club helped . . . .

Well, I haven't yet watched the two final episodes. Perhaps Clone Club will redeem itself concerning Crystal.

Monday, December 14, 2015

The American Slave Coast's Next Printing

amazilla still has copies but CRP itself ran out. The reprint took 5 weeks to manufacture, but they'll have copies again either today, tomorrow or Wednesday. So orders for CRP's  Christmas deal of 50% off will be able to be serviced -- before Christmas arrives, yay.

Of course CRP's e-book edition continued / continues to be available even though they sold out of the hardcover print copies.

At the party yesterday, four people ordered copies of TASC via their phones, right before our eyes, after our hostess brought out her copy to show the other guests. And then, of course, we had to talk about it.  This was fun, since we hadn't seen a lot of the other guests since a party at the 4th of July, when we were killing ourselves to get the final book turned in.

This was a party of latinos, mostly Puerto Rican and from the Dominican Republic, mostly young or youngish. For those whose roots are in the DR, many of them were first generation here, coming to NYC mostly when adolescents, to live here with other relatives and get an education, leaving their parents in the DR. They work in fashion, music, art, film, theater, marketing, publicity: for instance, one of the women from the DR had played a role in the Lincoln Center

performance of John Guare's Free Man of Color at Lincoln Center and for a limited Broadway run, (2010 - 2011) based on The World That Made New Orleans. Not exactly intellectuals, but sharp, well-informed, well-rounded, inquiring and, of course, fun. And very good dancers.

So, I think the Publisher's right about The American Slave Coast. No matter how ignored by the mainstream white publishing industry [ a/k/a to quote one of our African American friends, "Welcome brother and sister to being black!]  whenever anyone finds out about this book, they want to have it, and they go and get it. So Publisher categorized this as an "evergreen title," meaning one that will, like

The World That Made New Orleans, and Cuba and Its Music, continue to sell for years.

The reviews at amazilla (when someone else reads the new ones to me) seem to indicate this is so as well.

And soon, The Year Before the Flood: A Story of New Orleans, about experiencing last annual New Orleans cycle before Katrina and the developer/politician agenda shredded so much of what had been as constant as the Nile River's cycle before Aswan -- will be re-published in a trade paperback.

Not bad Christmas news, this.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Chauncey DeVega Podcast re The American Slave Coast

This brilliant, well-read, charming, young intellectual interviewed us concerning the matters of The American Slave Coast the first week of this month for his weekly podcast. It was a considerable pleasure -- if that word can be used in connection with such a terrible subject -- talking with him.  He's so smart!  Every time we get to interact with people like him who are so much younger than we are is a blessing.  At his age I sure wasn't as smart and well-informed as he is.

This was our final scheduled support event this year for the publication of The American Slave Coast, which made this special experience even more so.

The links for the variety of methods to hear it can be found in this entry, "A Conversation With Historians Ned and Constance Sublette About Their New Book "The American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave-Breeding Industry" " on his website, Indomitable, here.

"Ned and Constance do some serious teaching and sharing on a very difficult subject for this week’s show. Chauncey and his guests work through questions regarding the scale and scope of The Transatlantic Slave Trade, how many people were killed during that horrific business, why did the slave population in the United States grow as compared to other parts of the world, and what is “the capitalized womb” and “slave-breeding?”
"Ned and Constance also take on common white supremacist and other myths about how chattel slavery in the “New World” was not as harsh as the labor experienced by European serfs or North American urban white industrial workers."

Saturday, December 12, 2015

End of Year Holiday Season Weekends in the Neighborhood 2015

Today, the climate-change way above normal temperature in the 60's has people sitting outside again while drinking their coffee, eating their weekend brunch, and talking with their companions.

I am hearing discussions and explanations up and down the sidewalks as one person in the duet or the group attempts to explain what the Second Amendment is really about, how the NRA has played the history of guns and racism and slavery for decades to achieve such power with extremists of all kinds in this nation, including the police.  These discussions and explanations are couched in the same terms as we explain them in The American Coast: A History of the Slave-Breeding Industry, that puts the history of slavery and violence front and center in the history of the U.S. from the earliest colonial era through 1865.

We were not hearing this, reading this everywhere even after the Sandy Hook massacre that took place three years ago this month, or even last year after, o, say, which mass gun murder should we randomly grab from 2014? how about May 23, 2014 -- a killer left 6 dead, 7 wounded in Isla Vista, California. We heard about this terrorist because he targeted white, middle-class sorority women (though of course there is no relationship between a man's hatred and resentment of women and his sense of entitlement and gun violence against women, o no! so this cannot be terrorism -- ask any NRA philosopher).

Scrolling through the mass murders in the database linked to above, many -- most -- of them, never made the mass media. These mass shootings are so common there has to be some very specific hook for the national media to even report. Yet, by now, with this many going on every day, and some days more than one, we can't see this as terrorism, aided, abetted by the gun industry and other political and financial agendas at work in the U.S.

People are talking about this now, and particularly in terms of racism and #blacklivesmatter.  But how many black lives were taken by random terrorists like George Zimmerman and police across the nation, before the media would even begin to notice this connection?  It took a massacre in Charleston, South Carolina, in the basement of a black church, of all black victims by a self-declared white racist who self-declared he wanted a race war, for the media to even touch on these ideas.

But today, on the sidewalks of my neighborhood as climate change manifests, where so much of it has been despoiled literally by the demagogue who would be POTUS, people are talking about this.

Beyond that, there is this also in my neighborhood today:

Around the St. Anthony's of Padua Church are a group of women singing carols, beautifully acapela.  They are doing this to raise money from passers-by for City-Food.  They have dressed their small, cute dogs in Christmas finery and brought them along.  The dogs are enjoying the outing with each other and greeting all the other dogs passing by.  Their barks fit nicely somehow with their persons' voices soaring into "Glory to God, In the Highest Heaven."  The temperatures say it's spring but the sky and slant of light still inform us it's December.

I dropped a five into their donation bucket. Then I stood there listening, looking up at the winter sky. I have an anti-singing voice, but I know these carols -- they were my first music -- all the verses.  I sang them thousands of times growing up. I sing along -- well, really, more mouthing along in respect for these real singers. Yet I am soaring too, up up ever up into the rapidly darkening sky.  I realize more and more people have stopped.  They are singing too.

So I go on my way, which as usual in this season includes paying my respects several times a day to the creche St. Anthony's puts up  on the Houston Street side every year.

As well, there's a vendors market all along Houston, including vendors set up in front the creche.  Passerby are stopping, many of them buying.  Beautiful wares, including blankets and scarves made by the Peruvians of alpaca wool in jewel-tone colors. I want one so much.  And maybe, if we were having a real winter, I might have broken down and bought one.  I may still do so, since at some point there's going to be a repeat of the last two very cold, endless winters.

Everywhere colored lights twinkle among swags of greenery.  Today's also that hideous commercial spew called Santa Fest, in which college students from everywhere come to NYC to drink cheap in a succession of bars all day and night. But they've created so much havoc in past years that many bars have refused to participate -- almost all the bars in our neighborhood among them.  So it's pleasant to see people in Santa and elf costumes because they aren't drunk and screaming.

So that's how the holidays are behaving in my neighborhood today.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Dirty and Flea-bitten - The Stuart Restoration

You know, the more one learns of the era and court of Charles II, the more strongly it emerges is a court of slatterns.

Dogs and people pissing and shitting anywhere they pleased, vomiting and farting from their daily excesses. Stinking of sweat and other essences including the excrescences on their mouths, noses and fingers caused by their inveterate snuff taking, drenching themselves in perfumes and oils. Fleas and lice.

The rest of their behaviors mirror their lack of elegance, taste, and interest in the arts, even as the  poor man's monarch, Charlie 2, aped the genuine article in France.

Every Stuart monarch was a disaster, though each of them was a disaster in a different way. Charles II cared far too little about being a monarch and its day-to-day responsibilities and obligations -- perhaps he'd dreamed so long about becoming one but had never dreamed beyond taking back the crown?  But once he received the crown, ruling mattered little to him.  He left all that to his brother and others, while courting affection by giving away what should have been in the kingdom's treasury. Not even his Queen's own properties, not even excluding her personal jewels and furniture, were exempted from his compulsive gifting to his favorites, male and female alike.

What, beyond amusement, interested him at all seems to be going to war with the Dutch to take their conquests in West African and India for his own.  For that he needed a navy, but the responsibility of making one was left to his brother, James.

The two sides of the Elephant and Castle, from Charles II's Royal African Company coin, soon and thereafter commonly known as the "guinea." *  There's a section in The American Slave Coast explicating this, as part of the only goods for which Africans would take in trade for their captives -- which is why it was so difficult for the English colonists to engage directly in the African trade themselves.  As colonists they did not have  the goods that Africans would accept, and as colonists, they were forbidden to manufacture them. Nor were there significant sources of gold and other precious metals in North America, and would not be until the 1848 California Gold Strike after the Mexican-American War.
Thus one cannot be surprised that he and his favorites turned to slave trading to enrich their private purses. The Royal African Company was set up specifically to trade in "negroes" up and down the West African Coast, selling them to the voracious New World markets. It was led by James, Duke of York, Charlie 2's brother.

When it came to the Royal African Company, even Pepys must have felt a bit of queasiness since as often as he mentions talking business there, and on many occasion with the Duke of York himself, in the course of serving his Majesty's navy, he never mentions in his own personal diaries what the purpose of Africa House is.

Anyone wishing to romanticize the reign of Charles II has to scrub and scrub and scrub and white wash and white wash and white wash, while wearing nose plugs and blinders, and then deliberately choose not to read the primary record, to get there.


*   Even now the guinea generates more money: we paid $300 to the British Museum for permission to reproduce the elephant and castle in The American Slave Coast. We had taken the photo ourselves, but it was from a display in the museum.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

50% Off The American Slave Coast From Chicago Review Press

Chicago Review Press's holiday season half-off their books offer isn't only about The American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave Breeding Industry -- it applies to all Chicago Review Press's books. Single copy orders are fine.

Their Kindle e-book version -- Mobiepocket --  can be bought online as well.

What you need for your book order to be half-off is to enter on the Chicago Review Press site, the code:

To celebrate the holidays, we are offering a special discount to our Authors, Friends, and Family. 
From November 26 to December 31, Chicago Review Press authors, friends, and family can receive 50% off their entire order at 
when they use the code HOLIDAY2015
This offer is valid online only. Shipping and preorders are not included in this offer.

The CRP has many terrific books that will of interest to any inquiring, interested reader, as well as The American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave-Breeding Industry, The Year Before the Flood: A Story of New Orleans, The World That Made New Orleans: From Spanish Silver to Congo Square, and Cuba and Its Music: From the First Drums to the Mambo.  So check out their online catalog here.

The site is a little slow to load -- at least on my system.  But do not be anxious as it does get there after about 20 seconds. When you arrive at this link, it is our book, but at the top there's a link to their larger catalog too.

Shop away, for yourself, for your family, for your friends.

Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Today In U.S. History, 150 Years Ago

Today, December 6th, is the 150th anniversary of the ratification of The 13th Amendment.

Abraham Lincoln had been dead for most of the year, and thus never saw his proclamation of 1863 become the law law of the land.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

The Time When the World Halts (We Wish . . . .RIP, The Gun-Murdered Many This Year)

December is currently my favorite month. Especially this year with the temperatures and weather generally mild. It's breathtakingly beautiful. The concerted pocket garden and tree planting that's been going on for the last 25 years really pays off at this time of the year, Brilliant colors on the foliage still clinging to twigs, branches and stems, but thinned out so the bones of the skeleton which they usually veil show through.

I barely touch the sidewalk, in a dream-state.  I hear Winter's approach. Time and time again, I must stop, catch my breath and admire. The southern slant of the light shines through the gauzes that time has made of the leaves like it does through my friend's martini glass when she toasts me for surviving 9 weeks non-stop promotion of The American Slave Coast, when we meet for an al fresco lunch in one of the pocket parks.  Lovely lady: she brings martinis in a flask and crystal martini glasses.

I've not been feeling much love for my city lately, but still, Manhattan in December, particularly by mid-afternoon and early evening, is a magical place. It crackles with delight and anticipation as people rush from work to bars, restaurants, home to dress for a Christmas party, the decorative lights brilliant, the stores' windows whimsical and enticing fantasy lands of winter and holiday dreams.

The White House  Christmas 2015
A Hall of Snowflakes.
 There are different snowflakes, including a special one designed for each state.

The lovely time of year, the crawl up to the winter solstice, is here, days of light filtered through the ending of another yearly cycle, night dark and sweet as deep piled blue velvet. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the greatest poetic tribute to Christmas, was written about this time of year.

Party time and hibernation time.  For ex, two mornings in a row now, we haven't gotten out of bed until 11:30!  That never happens!  But it does this week, it seems. Wassail for all!  And good night!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Best of Enemies (2015)

The film, Best of Enemies (2015), documents and puts into historical context the importance of the Gore Vidal - William Buckley feud via the televised debates of 1968.

One of these two men considered 'feline' a term of opprobrium.  One did not.
Part of the argument made by Buckley's friends and family (they think he's a political warrior hero, while Vidal is beneath contempt) is that Buckley founded in The National Review the 'philosophical' foundation and the platform from which to launch the extremism -- though they see the extremism to be those others over there, not themselves --  are presently experiencing. They believe, or at least believe Buckley believed, that his philosophy and his movement were necessary in order to take back the country from the sewer FDR, the Reds and the Civil Rights Movement had made of it.

He liked cats.  Dogs, too.

This viewer's viewpoint differs with theirs.

Moreover this viewer, with caveats for the historical untruths that Vidal preferred or perhaps wasn't even self-aware of holding, continues to admire Vidal's attempts to write American history as fiction in his series of novels collectively known as Narratives of Empire, from the era of Burr, Hamilton and Jefferson through WWII. In all of them he always included the the primary role played in political and historical events by media, from the newspapers and anonymously funded broadsides of Jefferson's day, to radio, movies and television in the later books.

Almost everyone, however, involved with this documentary, does agree that the Vidal-Buckley ABC debates at the 1968 nominating conventions (R-Miami; D-Chicago) opened the floodgates to celebrity names fighting on television, hosts saying the most provocative of incitements to actions of violence, and calling it 'news.'  However, some others think that it had already begun with Buckley himself and his "Firing Line."

Bonus -- views of Vidal's spectacular cliff side Ravello home on the Amalfi coast of Italy

Recommended for anyone with the least bit of interest in media and U.S. history. Just watching the scenes of the Chicago cops going off on helpless, unarmed people -- coupled with the mentions of Buckley's sense that the very idea of a Civil Rights Movement was appalling and beyond the pale -- shows just how much where we are now was already there, ready to explode through all the media and politics.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

'Tis the Dark Season - Short Days and Long Nights - Reading Wednesday

The lovely time of year, the crawl up to the winter solstice, is here, days of light filtered as through a martini, night dark and sweet as deep piled blue velvet.  We want our pleasure reading to enhance the alternating chill and coziness. The high Middle Ages and the Plantagenets fill this seasonal bill so well, since so many of our anglo Christmas and Yule traditions are associated the periods of their reigns. Here follow some suggestions.

Thus we may begin in the 13th century with Four Queens: The Provencal Sisters Who Ruled Europe  (2007) by Nancy Goldstone.  The four sisters in question are Marguerite (married to the King of France), Eleanor (married to the King of England), Sanchia (married to the King of Germany), and Beatrice (married to the eventual King of Sicily). Born and raised in Provence, these sisters played a large role in European politics for most of the 13th century.  These four sisters were as unequal in the power to influence politics as they were in the happiness of their marriages. There was much sisterly jealousy, jostling for first position in the great public feasts of the day, and therefore, some very public temper tantrums, and less public plotting against each other.

We continue with The Greatest Knight: The Remarkable Life of William Marshal, the Power Behind Five English Thrones (2014) by Thomas Asbridge.

William the Marshall was known throughout Europe as the greatest warrior of his time. But despite having served five different kings in close and trusted capacity, much of his life was difficult, not to mention dangerous.  Shoot, without even factoring in wars and battles, being close to rulers is dangerous in itself.  He  ascended to acting regent for the young Henry III (cr. 1216 - d.1272), son of the catastrophe that was King John, by the close of his long, remarkable life.

It was in the reign of Henry III that the "Tales of Robin Hood" began to circulate, due to Henry III's grasping nature and general incompetency (yet, considering he kept his throne all those years, he must have known how to do something right).  He it was who expelled the Jews from England, which, as the consequence, as we have seen elsewhere and in other eras, made the country poorer.  Much of what he grasped went into the beautification of his many homes and sumptuous living.

Henry III was father to Edward I, Hammer of the Scots.

Certainly the word pictures of the luxuries to be found in the castles of the Romances so popular in these times were what Edward I grew up among in the homes of his father, and his mother, Eleanor of Provence (this is one of the sisters of Four Queens).  Eating on gold and silver, drinking the finest wines and wearing the finest silks was matter of course.

A Great and Terrible King: Edward I and the Forging of Britain (2008) by Marc Morris tells the long tale of Longshanks, as this Edward was also known because his legs were long, was long-lived -- 1239 - 1307, and had a long reign -- 1272 - 1307. However that Scots business and Wallace were right at the very end of his reign.

After Longshank's own death, another generation of luxurious Christmas living in the reign of his son, Edward II, is celebrated in that wonderful Christmas poem, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

Richard's reign had problems but it was certainly a period of high literary achievement. Other excellent associated reading for the season is Geoffrey Chaucer's Romaunt of the Rose, and The Book of the Duchess, dedicated to the deceased Blanche of Lancaster, wife of the First Duke of Lancaster,l John of Gaunt, (1340- 1399. Lancaster was uncle to King Richard II.  Lancaster eventually made his mistress, Katherine Swynford, his third wife. Katherine's sister, Philippa, was married to Geoffrey Chaucer and had served the Duchess Blanche.  Further, Katherine, with the Duke of Lancaster, became an ancestor of Princess Diana Spencer as well as to members of all the dynasties that followed the end of that of the Plantagenets.

By now we're heading out of the medieval era into the modern the world, the 1400's, which will bring us the Age of Exploration and the collision of Europe with North and South America.  However, in Spain, the light of the Renaissance and the modern had not yet dawned.  It was pretty darned dark there in the mountain hideway where Isabella's mother secreted herself and her children from the murderous intentions of her husband the King.

The story of Isabella: The Warrior Queen (2014) by Kirstin Downey, who funded Christopher Columbus, makes a solid bookend to stories of the Plantagenets -- which are deeply entwined with that of the Iberian Peninsula during the preceding century via marriage, including that of Duke of Lancanster to his second wife, Constance, a Spanish infanta.  (Alas, this marriage never led to Lancaster crowned King of Spain, as he'd hoped.)

Isabella, who was the driving force to the union of Spain and driving out the Moors, is as exciting* as the Cantar de Mio Cid, and one essentially unknown to English-only reading readers.  For this reason alone I'd be grateful to Downey for writing this book.  It fills in much about British and French history in the 13th and 14th centuries as well, because the author carefully fills us in on Isabella's immediate family. Her survival in earlier years was as precarious as any princess's or prince'd in the family of the Delhi Moghul rulers of a somewhat later era.  Spain was a literally cutthroat political situation -- but then no more so that that of England, which all these works show in great and fascinating detail.

The greatest difficulty faced in reading these books is that everyone -- except for Blanche and Constance -- have the same names, over and over, generation after generation.  Especially Eleanor.  And I didn't even include a book specifically about her!  But then, she's 11th and 12th centuries.

However, her life certainly influenced many of the Arthurian Romances, particularly via the popularity of Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain, which remained equally popular in the time of Henry III and Edward I.


*   This is not to be taken as an endorsement for what the Isabella and Ferdinand did, expelling both the Moors and the Jews. See, above, that Spain wasn't feelin' the Renaissance, or at least not in the way other parts of Europe did.  They definitely felt the invade and conquer part.

Even in Edward I's time, the English court made as much fun of the clothes and customs of his Spanish bride, Eleanor of Castile (she put carpets on the stone floors!) as it reputedly did about Henry VIII's Spanish Catherine of Aragon -- though that seems to be rather exaggerated or perhaps even pure invention of fiction and drama writers -- and Charles II's Portuguese bride -- she who brought him the profits of several trading cities of western India. Not that even that was enough to fill Charlie's constantly empty coffers and privy purse and to satisfy the ever demanding paws of his favorites and consorts.  For that he had to resort to slave trading. And selling his wife's personal jewels and furniture.

The American Slave Coast on SiriusXm Satellite Radio

At SiriusXm Radio, Rockefeller Center,  November 30, 2015 -- The "Tell Me Everything" show, hosted by John Fugelsahn. This is how one is greeted when going on SiriusXm Insight Radio:

As we have dino phones (we're slowly being coerced by circumstance to change this condition), Neil, the producer very kindly offered to photograph the sign with our names and e-mail to our Publicist, so she could forward them to us. That's how cool people are at Sirius.