". . . 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

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Went Walk About -- Ran Into A Bernie March

Here's a YouTube of the event:

One used to run into the welcome, random unexpected event or action all the time just walking around town, but no so much these days.  So this was all the more welcome on a chilly, but sunny, day.

The marchers were trying to get out the word to vote for Bernie in the April primary.  For the most part they were young, excited, cheerful and everybody loved them.  Even the police escorts seemed to find this an enjoyable experience.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Back in Tour State

So dehydrated when we left the store. Jittery from all the talking, all the emotion. Hungry, not having eaten since lunch. We didn't get to the restaurant until some time after 10 PM. (Our dear, extremely patient friends, hanging about, waiting, until the last book was signed, the last exchange of thoughts and ideas took place.)  We didn't get home until long after midnight as the trains running between where we are and Harlem don't run so often, particularly after midnight.  So, since one wishes to sleep, one didn't eat much at all, hoping to fuel up at brekkie.

The big difference is that I did not need to arise at a ridiculous hour, scramble desperately for caffeine of whatever kind and quality, pack and drive for hours to do it all over again tomorrow, or rather, yes, this is also how it goes, today. With a pod cast, radio interview, something else also today before hitting the main event. Feeling sick and sore until the adrenaline kicks in.

Those morning-after sensations out of the way  (it's currently quite cold here, with some snow predicted, which promotes the soreness), the event was fabulous.

The place was packed out. People brought in Slave Coasts they'd already been reading to be signed. There were friends there -- who didn't bring their books to be signed because we've already signed them. And friends of the friends.   Importantly, for the store and publisher, the stacks of TASCs sold through. Quite a few African American history teachers, yay! And many others of all kinds of people.

As per usual at such events, the real stars were those who attended and asked questions, made comments and observations in the q&a, during the signing, and the general mill-around at the end, while the employees patiently wait for the last lingerers to leave, and they too can find dinner and home.. Having one's work come back at oneself this way is indescribably valuable. These are important teaching moments for us. These audiences already, in one way and another, know all what's in the book.

It felt so -- well, we were starting it -- i.e. touring to get the word of TASC out -- all over again and I wasn't quite sure where / when I was.

The community couldn't have been more welcoming, more appreciative, more humbling than it was. Harlem. Malcolm X Blvd. The AME Church around the corner. African American history all around us. NYC African American history.

This is a local audience that gets to know about things first and foremost by word-of-mouth.

What was clear from talking with so many of them after the presentation that someone else they know had already known of the book / read the book and told them they had to read it too. It's exactly like what happened and continues to happen with The World That Made New Orleans, which is then, hopefully, will keep going for years to come.

Walking into Revolution Bookstore last night and seeing title after title of all the books we've read and admired published on slavery and U.S. History in the last 5 years, and TASC prominently among them -- that was an experience.

We got asked about reparations, in a lengthy, well-thought out, sensible, well-informed historically, inquiry by a young African American man. As with some other matters that come up in non-academic venues where the audience is predominately a community audience, this is the kind of question one should expect. There are also questions that can at times indicate a divide, to a degree, between a sense that too much attention is being given to 'feminist' issues of slavery and breeding and not enough to what these horrors have done to the black man.

However, it remains abundantly clear, that in these local, non-academic contexts, the community itself understands the antebellum south, and then the neo-slavery of Jim Crow, was a police state, the plantations, whether worked by slave labor or sharecropped labor, were vast prisons.

The communities know all too well from long family experience, what slavery,  Jim Crow, and now this latest incarnation of it in the police-prison industrial system, has done to the black family.  They know how this has systematically denied them from the moment of Africans setting foot on this continent, the means by which to strengthen the family, expand the family network into other areas of wealth and influence, aggregate personal and family wealth, while white families were able to do the opposite, and at the expense of the African American family.

This, which make no mistake, allowed the slave-owning class, which was the sole political class of the south, who made secession and rebellion, to get back on their economic and political high horses within a generation -- if not even within a year or two after their defeat in the War of Southern Aggression.

These are burning questions in communities all across the USA -- what are we going to do to change this?  What can we do?  How do we get to an equal playing field when we've been denied even the right to have a father for our children?  How indeed, when for hundreds of years we were denied even the right to have our own children, when we want them, and to keep them once we had them?

I do not have the answers.  I hope this nation can come up with some, and soon. Really good answers, for the sake of the nation, and most of all, for the sake of the continuity of this planet as a place that is good for plants, small animals and children.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Tonight: Revolution Books - The American Slave Coast

We will be appearing tonight (Thursday, 28) at 7 p.m. to talk about The American Slave Coast at Revolution Books, 437 Malcolm X Blvd/Lenox Ave., New York, NY 10037 (Take the 2 or 3 train to 135th St.)

Photo: opening ceremonies of Revolution Books opening in November 2015.

We're just getting going.  A spring tour is slowly, belatedly coming together. If you want to host an event for The American Slave Coast in your town in the next few months, let me know.

Additionally, I missed seeing the Smithsonian Magazine's editor's blog last month for which he included The American Slave Coast  among his top ten history titles of the 2015 -- along with -- be still mine own beating heart to be part of such illustrious company, Mary Beard's history of ancient Rome, SPQR!

And this week, meanwhile, this review has made some noise, and more to come:

* * *

"A Future History of the United States"

In 'The American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave-Breeding Industry,' Ned and Constance Sublette offer a radical re-interpretation of American history. It’s brutal and uncompromising, and, for better or worse, it’s how we should understand the country.

Malcolm Harris
Jan 26, 2016

The American Slave Coast is a big book, both physically (over 700 pages including citations) and conceptually. From the colonial period to the postbellum, the authors Ned and Constance Sublette cast slavery, and the slave-breeding industry, as the center of American history. It’s a provocative and nightmarish thesis, so distant from conventional ideas about America’s history that it feels like a dispatch from an entirely different time and place. If America had lost the Cold War, maybe this is how kids would be learning the nation’s story.
There’s an important fundamental difference between the history of slavery in the United States and a “history of the slave-breeding industry,” as The American Coast is subtitled. Slavery, in simplest terms, was unpaid labor. Slaves were shipped from Africa to the American South, where they cultivated tobacco and picked cotton and served owners but didn’t get paid and couldn’t leave. Slowly, reformers and abolitionists chipped away at the institution, first banning the Transatlantic trade, then fighting a civil war to eliminate human bondage. Freeing the slaves destroyed the South’s pseudo-feudal economy, ending the region’s economic dominance. That’s the story.
But to think about American slaves merely as coerced and unpaid laborers is to misunderstand the institution. Slaves weren’t just workers, the Sublettes remind the reader—they were human capital. The very idea that people could be property is so offensive that we tend retroactively to elide the designation, projecting onto history the less-noxious idea of the enslaved worker, rather than the slave as commodity. Mapping 20th-century labor models onto slavery spares us from reckoning with the full consequences of organized dehumanization, which lets us off too easy: To turn people into products means more than not paying them for their work.
One of the central misconceptions the Sublettes seek to debunk is the subordination of American slavery to the transatlantic trade. Conceptually locating the center of the slave trade offshore is good for America’s self-image, and it’s an old line. The Sublettes quote Southern slavers who blamed English firms for forcing the barbaric mode of transportation on America. In schools, the 1808 ban on capturing and shipping slaves is taught as part of the end of slavery, but the Sublettes re-frame it as simple protectionism: Domestic producers wanted to lock out foreign competition.
Slaves were, to slavers, worth more than everything else they could imagine combined.
In fact, most American slaves were not kidnapped on another continent. Though over 12.7 million Africans were forced onto ships to the Western hemisphere, estimates only have 400,000-500,000 landing in present-day America. How then to account for the four million black slaves who were tilling fields in 1860? “The South,” the Sublettes write, “did not only produce tobacco, rice, sugar, and cotton as commodities for sale; it produced people.” Slavers called slave-breeding “natural increase,” but there was nothing natural about producing slaves; it took scientific management. Thomas Jefferson bragged to George Washington that the birth of black children was increasing Virginia’s capital stock by four percent annually.
Here is how the American slave-breeding industry worked, according to the Sublettes: Some states (most importantly Virginia) produced slaves as their main domestic crop. The price of slaves was anchored by industry in other states that consumed slaves in the production of rice and sugar, and constant territorial expansion. As long as the slave power continued to grow, breeders could literally bank on future demand and increasing prices. That made slaves not just a commodity, but the closest thing to money that white breeders had. It’s hard to quantify just how valuable people were as commodities, but the Sublettes try to convey it: By a conservative estimate, in 1860 the total value of American slaves was $4 billion, far more than the gold and silver then circulating nationally ($228.3 million, “most of it in the North,” the authors add), total currency ($435.4 million), and even the value of the South’s total farmland ($1.92 billion). Slaves were, to slavers, worth more than everything else they could imagine combined.
At the same time, slave owners could not afford to rest. “Rebellions existed wherever there was slavery, in every era,” the Sublettes write, “because everywhere, always, the enslaved were at war with their condition.” Owners counted them as capital, but slaves were living laborers, too, with their own rosy myth: When the spell of indenture was lifted—an event they imagined often—their power would be gone, and they would be left running for their lives. Call it The Haiti Nightmare. In 1775 and again in 1812 the British offered freedom to slaves who fought against their owners. Spanish and British threats to colonial and then national independence were understood as threats to slavery; black Spanish soldiers in Florida, decked out in full military regalia, were particularly unsubtle. Preserving slavery was a central motive in the American colonies’ fight for independence.
Americans first learn about slavery as children, before adults are willing to explain finance capital or rape. By high school, young adults are ready to hear about sexual violence as an element of slavery and about how owners valued their property, but there’s no level of developmental maturity that prepares someone to grasp systemized monstrosity on this scale. Forced labor we can understand—maybe it’s even a historical constant so far. Mass murder too. But an entire economy built on imprisoning and raping children? One that enslaved near 40 percent of the population? Even for the secular, only religious words seem to carry enough weight: unholy, abomination, evil.
The Civil War, as part of the American myth, cleanses the nation of this evil. The nation tore itself apart, but in the end slavery was gone, the country re-baptized in an ocean of fraternal blood. It’s a compelling, almost Biblical narrative, with Abe Lincoln looming like an Old Testament patriarch. But, as the Sublettes make clear, the full renunciation of slavery never really happened. White Americans didn’t want a revolution; in the North, they wanted to suppress the secessionists and maintain national continuity, which meant continuity with the slave power. A reader need only recognize the surnames of slavery profiteers—like “Lehman,” as in “Brothers”—to see that we never truly broke this continuity.
The nation’s failure to break with the slaver class is best embodied in the figure of Nathan Bedford Forrest. An orphan by 17, Forrest built a fortune on inequity. As a wealthy planter, slave dealer, speculator, racist, and murderer, he was a classic “self-made” American of the mid-19th century. As a Confederate cavalry commander, Bedford ordered the massacre of hundreds of black Union soldiers at Fort Pillow. But when the South surrendered, the war criminal Forrest received a presidential pardon. When Forrest’s fellow Tennessee volunteers formed a paramilitary organization dedicated to white terror, they turned to the former lieutenant general for leadership. The “Wizard of the Saddle,” as Forrest was called, became the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.
The book directly addresses personal beliefs and behavior of presidents and other founders, but not as mere disturbing factoids that reveal heroes as villains. The authors indict the American ruling class as a whole, and in so doing they recast the fathers as, first and foremost, members of their class. The Sublettes don’t draw a line between political and economic history; legislation and state policy emerges directly from slaver class interest. America has always been run by millionaires, and by the time of secession, two-thirds of them lived in the South, with human beings composing most of their wealth.
To see the founders as first and foremost slavers is to see them as evil, but not necessarily in an epic or dynastic sense: The slaver class was paranoid and mean, petty and small. Contrary to the myths of American meritocracy, the country elevated the worst while terrorizing, torturing, and murdering the best. George Washington is introduced as the hapless jailer of Ona Judge, a 22-year-old slave of his wife Martha who escaped and “managed to avoid falling prey to the attempts at re-capture that George Washington attempted against her until he died.” The country’s great narratives, from independence to manifest destiny, the authors suggest, are all better understood as maintenance work on history’s most sinister asset bubble.
From rapist Jefferson who gave away his own daughter as a wedding present, to Andrew Jackson driving slaves shackled at the neck for Spanish gold, to Ben Franklin personally selling slaves on consignment as a newspaper publisher, to James Polk overseeing his brutal plantation from the floor of Congress, to young Woodrow Wilson at his father’s side while the latter preached the Christian virtue of white supremacy, there’s no end to the vicious degradation of Africans as America’s very foundation.
The idea that America is therefore doomed to uphold the legacy of slavery has gained mainstream credibility of late. Ta-Nehisi Coates has become the country’s most-recognized intellectual just as his work on slavery reparations and ongoing white predation has pushed him toward this sort of pessimism about the national project. It’s possible to pay reparations, and it’s possible to change signs and re-name buildings and print new money and issue posthumous pardons, but would such a place call itself America? This type of symbolic purge comes after a revolution where the flag burns, not after incremental reforms that magically redeem it.
One of the book’s most striking examples of America’s slave-centric history is the National Anthem. Francis Scott Key is best remembered as the song’s author, but he was also Washington, D.C.’s rabidly white-supremacist district attorney in the 1830s, where he prosecuted abolitionists for pamphlet possession and let anti-black mobs run wild. He also co-founded the American Colonization Society, which encouraged the self-deportation of free black people. In his younger days, Scott Key had been, in addition to a racist, an amateur poet. We take the Anthem from his War of 1812 poem “Defense of Fort McHenry” but we usually leave out the verse about slaughtering the slaves to whom the British had offered freedom for allegiance:
No refuge could save the hireling and the slave
From the terror of night or the gloom of the grave
Oh, say, does that star spangled banner yet wave
It sounds like a 1960s parody, a pointed joke from a time when anti-Americanism was an American political position. But it’s not—it’s the original. It’s not a historical quirk that Americans pledge allegiance to slavery before every baseball game, not any more so than the slavers’ names on our monuments and money, our schools and street signs. The class that rules America was built on securitized bondage, and, as history teachers declare with strange pride, there hasn’t been a revolution since. Just as Scott Key pledged, as long as that star-spangled banner waves, there will be no refuge.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Reading Wednesday -- Our Man in Charleston: Britain’s Secret Agent in the Civil War South

Our Man in Charleston: Britain’s Secret Agent in the Civil War South (2015) by Christopher Dickey.

Journalist and author Christopher Dickey
The title is misleading, as spying is not the point of the book.

What the book details is the diplomatic relations -- or attempts to establish diplomatic relations by the secession CSA slavocracy with the British government.

This never happened, and could not happen since the CSA was not a nation.

None of the world's nation-states, whether in Europe or elsewhere, ever accepted the CSA a nation-state, and indeed, could not do so, for then they would have had to declare the United States a non-state, and this no one was willing to do. Thus the CSA could not have a diplomatic, negotiating relationship with nations.

Somehow too, Charleston and South Carolina, cradle of secession and the War of Southern Aggression, conveniently forgot how long Britain had attempted to negotiate a roll-back of that evil law that permitted every kind of cruel excess, chicanery and extortion, of jailing every black sailor of every ship of every nation that came into its port (South Carolina was not the only southern state with this law) until the ship departed again, with the ship's captain having to pay for the jailing and other costs.  (Probably it's not necessary to say that many a black sailor went 'missing' -- i.e. sold for somebody's profit, free or not, or that young ship's boys and female stewards and cooks were raped in these jails.)  South Carolina and the south would not repeal these laws.

A very interesting review of this book can be found here, in an issue of the Charleston City Paper from last summer.  Here's a pull quote from the review:

The book also, however, offers a head-on view into not only the abject horrors of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade, but also the sickeningly bankrupt morality of 19th-century Charlestonians in particular, and Southerners in general, for whom slavery was an institution to be preserved and expanded at any cost — even, as we all know, the cost of war. In light of the recent Emanuel AME church shooting and the conflict around the removal of the Confederate flag from the S.C. Statehouse grounds, Our Man in Charleston is, sadly, a highly relevant look at the society that started the War Between the States.
The fact that preserving slavery was the reason for South Carolina's secession is not news to anyone who has studied the Civil War academically, rather than buying into the pervasive mythology that glorifies the Confederacy as a bright beacon of independence and states' rights while smoothly glossing over the slavery issue as if it were just a mild unpleasantness. But let's be honest: most of us haven't really studied the Civil War. The majority of books on the subject tend to be geared toward military buffs, while even those for a wider audience — Tony Horwitz' Confederates in the Attic comes to mind — do little, if anything, to show just how central slavery was to the cause of secession, especially in South Carolina.

When reading this review last summer I kept thinking of the secession era Charleston Mercury, owned and published by the most fire-eating of the fire-eating secessionists of Charleston and South Carolina, and how he must be howling in his grave even now to have such sentiments as above published in 'his' city, where in his day, by gum, anyone who spoke, wrote or even suspected of thinking such things would be attacked violently, tarred and feathered and even lynched.  It was illegal to think or speak or write such things in the days of Robert Barnwell Rhett.

So radical was Rhett that his paper was the anti-Jeff Davis, anti-Robert E. Lee paper (as well as highly critical of just about everyone in the CSA administration and armies), in contrast to the pro-Jeff Davis paper, the Charleston Courier.

Rhett's Charleston Mercury ceased with the Union occupation of Charleston, resumed publication in 1866, then permanently closed in 1868.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Eternal, Immortal Egypt

Ancient Egypt is eternal because they had the best make-up and design and had it first and had it longest.

That's my opinion and I'm sticking to it.

Plus, the Ancient Egyptians seem to be the first to understand  the fundamental feline character

is divine.

They also dressed sensibly for their climate, in clothes woven from sensible textiles.

However, Himself and I got into a long discussion at dinner Friday night, after leaving the museum: he seems to believe in Egypt the Eternal and Unchanging. I cannot understand how he could, after the very many times we have walked through the galleries of the old, middle and new kingdoms of Ancient Egypt, in the Met, the Brooklyn Museum, the British Museum and some others.  The dynamics of art and design change over the centuries and millennia, so other things do too.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Why Book Panels NEED Cheap Wine in Cheap Cups

Have any of us not encountered all these?  And more often than one would like, all four at the same panel?   Plus ineffectual and even bad moderator?

"Four Personality Types That Will Derail Your Literary Event," described here.

What it takes to be a good moderator.  Hint: it requires more than just showing up. A lot more . . . .

What isn't covered in the brief article is the effect of those dispiriting airless rooms in which conferences and conventions take place, whether academic or commercial.  When all the participants are male, it gets even more depressing.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

The American Slave Coast WSJ Review

The American Slave Coast is reviewed today in the Wall Street Journal, by Fergus Bordewich, whose work we so admire!

His book, America's Great Debate: Henry Clay, Stephen A. Douglas, and the Compromise That Preserved the Union (2012), the history of the year that D.C. shut down in the argument over California entering the U.S. as a free or slave state is splendid history -- and also a terrific read.  It's as exciting as a novel, with a vivid cast of characters. I recall equally vividly working my way through America's Great Debate that summer when el V was in Angola and Mbanza-Kongo, babbling happily to him over Skype about this great book.

The review has quibbles, including Bordewich is not entirely convinced there was a system of slave breeding, though, yes, certainly, slave-breeding went on.  He also thinks River of Dark Dreams to be superior to ours.

But he does us the great compliment of saying the book reads easily and quickly, and that our curiosity reveals often unexpected and interesting things.

Woo! Great thing to happen on this storm shut-down day, facing probably, at least two more days of shut-in due to 20" of snow, more or less, covering the entire region, including us.  Oops.  Update just now: the governor's office says that accumulation will quite surpass 20" and hit more likely 30".  This does indeed paralyze the city.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Just In Time For the Weekend Storm

The library notified me this AM that three of my holds were available for pick-up today, just in time to be trapped inside for a long weekend of snow, wind and maybe also ice and sleet and rain, beginning for at 4 AM Saturday.  If the storm effects that arrive here (it's going to be much worse further south) turn out as bad as They Say the potential is, we're supposed to stay inside for as long as possible, during the storm and the initial clean-up after.  Honestly, after having lost so much time traveling, the holidays, then traveling, then the long holiday weekend  and now another 3 - 4 day weekend due to weather, I could really do without this hiatus.

However, we're ready with all we need to be ready with.

Plus, now, three books I've been looking forward to reading: Cornwell's latest Saxon Chronicles, Warriors of the Storm (so appropriate a title for this weekend!), the biography of a Victorian marriage, Mr. and Mrs. Disraeli, by Daisy Hay, and Robert Harris's concluding fictionalization of his three volume life of Cicero, Dictator.

Additionally I have a dvd of a 1997 BBC production of Wilkie Collins's novel, The Woman in White.

Mostly though I'll be working on my 2015 Best Reading Round-up.

All I know so far is that Life On The Mississippi, and, Isabella: Warrior Queen, are on it. There are more, of course, but I haven't been able to get myself to go through my reading and watching journal for 2015 yet. It's a lot slimmer with commentary than previous years -- reading almost solely for The American Slave Coast, and mostly not reading at all,  in the final quarter of 2015.

As well, we'll  have to devote some time in the next two days getting our 3 -4 months calendar in order. We have some dates already scheduled, including here in townL the CUNY Grad Center, a bookstore in Harlem, The Museum of the Moving Image, and the Jumel Mansion. We've got other dates in Boston, Kentucky, Tennessee and Georgia -- and New Orleans again -- so far.

I guess we'll stay occupied, even if we feel trapped.

At least this evening we get to to attend the reception - event at the Metropolitan Museum of Art around African art.  Since the storm doesn't start until after midnight there was no need to cancel this.  I'm so glad since it means I'll get to see the exhibit of Ancient Egyptian Art: The Middle Kingdom, that closes on Sunday. I can use my Christmas camera some more.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

First Trailer for The Free State of Jones

Thank you, Andy Hall, of Dead Confederates, for tipping me to the trailer.

The Free State of Jones opens in theaters in May 2016. The protagonist of the film is a poor white yeoman farmer in Mississippi, played by Matthew McConaughey, who, never liking secession, rebels against forced conscription and the plundering of his community's poor white farmers by scions of the aristocratic planter class. Recall, the family of Jeff Davis, so-called president of the CSA, were Mississippi aristo planters.

The film isn't based on the book that reads best and is most interesting about Newt Knight, his Mississippi rebellion against the CSA, the history of his first, white, family, and his second, black family, before, during and after the CSA lost the War of Southern Rebellion.  The best book is The State of Jones: The Small Southern County that Seceded from the Confederacy (2010) by Sally Jenkins and John Stauffer. The people and events of this book describe clearly in microcosm everything that was wrong with the antebellum south, planter society and slavery, and why the secessionists, being who they were, could never have ever won a war against the North.*

Instead, the film based on the other, earlier book, The Free State of Jones: Mississippi's Longest Civil War  (2001) by Victoria E. Bynum, a collateral (white) descendant of Newton Knight. It's more about herself than it is about Newt and his community.

Nevermind, this film should be, and from trailer, looks to be, a winner.


 *  I mentioned some of the problems between these two books here.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Reading Wednesday - The Company: A Novel of the CIA by Robert Littel

The Company: A Novel of the CIA (2002) by Robert Littell is a very long novel -- 884 pages. The narrative begins immediately in post-WWII Germany, and is populated by thinly disguised real life figures and others such as Kim Philby who are not disguised at all. These figures were by-and-large extremely colorful people, judging by the many other non-fiction accounts I've read of these same years, people, events and matters. Yet in this novel they described, speak and think in remarkably in the same monotone, making for remarkably dull reading. Fortunately I was feeling unwell enough not to care about that.

The Company was turned into a television three hour minseries in 2007.  As mentioned, the novel is 894 pages, while the miniseries is only three hours.

Thus the miniseries concentrates on the beginning, with the CIA's recruitment of three of the protagonists', the disasters that the U.S. made of the Hungarian revolt, and the mess of the Kim Philby and his own  group of traitors to Britain and the U.S., who eventually defect to safety in the Soviet Union.  It's a slick and sleek production, not much resembling the liquor-bloated, rumpled appearance of government-employed D.C. males post WWII and the 1950's. Also, more heroic . . . .

I began reading  The Company on January 1st in Miami. I barely finished last night what felt like an endless slog through the hardly fictionalized material from non-fiction books, and from other novels movies and television series, as well as well as Norman Mailer’s Harlot’s Ghost, a novel just as long, but much more interesting and well written.

While still in Cuba (sick as I was, I stayed in most nights while the fellow Travelers were cavorting with Music and El Ron) I reached the thematic and narrative center of the novel.  Naturally, this would be the Bay of Pigs debacle, the run-up to the inevitable catastrophe itself, and the surprisingly little effect it has on thinking and operations afterwards at the highest military, executive and espionage in D.C.

This was the only section of The Company that had any kind of fictional kick for me, probably due to being in Cuba while reading it. But even for the author of this book, which appears to be a sort of admonishment of the US and the CIA, Littell's Cuba of 1960-1961 looks remarkably like the Cuba of 2000 - 2003, not at all like the Cuba of 1960-1961.  Littell seems to have not figured out that Cuba wouldn’t be looking the same in 1960 as it did in 2000 whenever, before the bushwahs put the hammer down on the Clinton's administration's People-to-People, etc. 1960's cars rusting old junkers in 1961? Not likely. (And not now either, as they've all been retrofitted in the last 3 - 5 years with diesel engines, painted, re-upolstered and make huge profits for the owners as taxis for US tourists with more money than sense or information.)

After the rescue of one of our central protagonists from the sea off the baie des Cochons, we skip past the Missile crisis and the JFK assassination, with the exception of a suggestion that Cubans were executing mafiosi in revenge for the failed Bay of Pigs invasion -- WHAT????? The general consensus is that it was the mafia that whacked JFK in revenge for not getting Cuba back, and particularly for allowing Bobby the Attorney General to prosecute them for a variety of crimes including tax evasion, when they had understood that they'd have immunity for helping old Jack Kennedy get JFK elected in the first place.

The subject of The Company is the long conflict between the US and the Soviets, as played out via their Great Game of espionage and counter espionage. Thus the novel concludes with the Afghani civil war (1989-1992), which contributed so much to the financial dissolution of the Soviet Empire.

Though it is a novel there appears no imaginative leap that another incarnation of Mother Russia and strong leader that could be a global player and a threat to the United States.

As with the 19th century Cuba filibusters sponsored by the southern fire eating secessionsists, the 20th century  Pentagon, the Oval Office, Capitol Hill and the CIA, when it comes to Cuba and Vietnam, it seems even in fiction D.C. cannot learn anything from past errors, but, rather, insist on making the same ones over and over again, far into the future.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

This AM I managed to uploaded 20 of my own Cuba photos to the Travelers' shared photo site.

Mine are the ones with --duh -- my name on them.

This is my personal favorite, "el tractor y los platanos", taken on the tabacco farm, which grows all kinds of food, as well as some coffee, pigs, chickens, cattle, horses, etc.  There were also cats and parrots. The hand of bananas is hanging from the banana tree on the right foreground.

along with "el tractor y la gallina" -- this hen could not stop cackling the news she'd laid an egg -- I tracked her down by her incessant shouting the news to the world.

However, this one is el V's favorite of the photos I took, "Fire Tuning los tambors de Yuka."  The Christmas Canon G-whatever is so good!  It captured not only the smoke, but the transparency of the flames in front of the drummer's hand.

What to Wear While Exploring, Fairyland Geography -- See Yesterday's Post!

At the Museum of Fashion Institute of Technology:

Inspired by The Snow Queen, naturally -- and purrfect for today's 18º F.
[ " . . . . Fairy Tale Fashion features more than 80 objects placed within dramatic, fantasy-like settings designed by architect Kim Ackert. Since fairy tales are not often set in a specific time period, Fairy Tale Fashion includes garments and accessories dating from the 18th century to the present. . . . " ]
[ " Fairy Tale Fashion is a unique and imaginative exhibition that examines fairy tales through the lens of high fashion. In versions of numerous fairy tales by authors such as Charles Perrault, the Brothers Grimm, and Hans Christian Andersen, it is evident that dress is often used to symbolize a character’s transformation, vanity, power, or privilege. The importance of Cinderella’s glass slippers is widely known, for example, yet these shoes represent only a fraction of the many references to clothing in fairy tales. " ]
[ " The exhibition’s introductory space features artwork that has played a role in shaping perceptions of a “fairy tale” aesthetic. These include illustrations by renowned early 20th-century artists such as Edmund Dulac, Arthur Rackham, and A.H. Watson. Several recent, large-scale photographs from Kirsty Mitchell’s award-winning Wonderland series are also on display. . . .  Connections between fashion and storytelling are further emphasized by a small selection of clothing and accessories, including a clutch bag by Charlotte Olympia that resembles a leather-bound storybook. " ]
Fairytale Fashion Magazine.
A video of a runway Fairy Tale Fashion show from 2010:

Monday, January 18, 2016

Mapping Fairyland's Geography

"A Beautiful, Escapist Map of “Fairyland,” Published in Britain at the End of World War I . . . ."
A map which mashes up all sorts of make-believe geographies, not leaving out even "Below These Starres Lyeth the Lost Citie of Atlantis . . . ."

One can be lost in this map for hours, zooming into and enlarging its many regions.

See it here, to zoom in and out. The image above won't do for that.

The map itself is in the holdings of the Library of Congress.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Dreaming Cuba and New Orleans

Since returning from Cuba my nightly dreams have all been about Cuban places and landscapes.  However, last night's dreams inserted New Orleans into the surge and flow of Cuban experience imagery.

Which brings to mind that I never went to New Orleans or the French Caribbean (other than the Hotel Oloffson, an oasis, in Port-au-Prince) until after the 1990 - 2003 Cuban experiences, until now. We lived in NO 2004 - 2005, and have returned there repeatedly every year since, but I'd not been there until 2003, during the year of my last trips to Cuba.

The dream New Orleans city blends seamlessly with the dream Habana Vieja in my dreams. The landscapes outside of these cities in Cuba and Louisiana blend as well. Perhaps this is because of many places in the Cuban sugar regions we visited on this trip, including ruins of 17th, 18th and 19th sugar plantations and mills, shut down sugar plantations and mills and sugar plantations from the 19th century, where we were served foods that the slaves created, had hair styles, clothing and dances demonstrated to us by descendants of the slave labor forces, and in the community created slave era museums. We also visited mills that are in continued sugar production currently, that employ the descendants of the slave labor force of the 19th century, particularly in Matanzas* province.

The two places also blend seamlessly due to NO and Louisiana belonging to Spain in the 18th century, and governed from Havana by the Spanish Military General O'Reilly-- see, particularly,

Habana Vieja, plaza des armas; a monument honoring Carlos Manuels Céspedes, 19th C Independista.  Behind the viewer's perspective is the Cabildo.

Csbildo, plaza des arms, Habana Vieja.
Cabildo, Jackson Square, New Orleans.

La plaza des armas in Habana Vieja and Jackson Square in New Orleans (though Jackson Square is a lot smaller, naturally --

Marshal Alejandro, Conde de O'Reilly (1722, Dublin, Ireland – March 23, 1794, Bonete, Spain)
who also built NO's Jackson Square (though it wasn't called that then). These fortresses built by Spain throughout the Spanish Antilles, New Orleans and Latin America, are all built on the same system.  So the one in Matanzas, Cuba looks just like the one in St. Augustine, Florida and the remains of the barracks etc. in New Orleans Jackson Square.

Both BL and I kept having New Orleans flashbacks/ For instance, passing by three guys squatting after work hours by a warehouse situated on the Regla train tracks,* *drinking beer. We both thought for a second we were on the street from NO's Quarter on the way to the Bywater.  El V, however, sneered at both of us, for he sees Havana and Cuba only as themselves, period, and knows them both far more intimately than I, or even Blake.  Nevertheless, Blake and I saw what we saw, and Blake knows NO so very well due to his years as music supervisor for the David Simon HBO series, Treme.

In the meantime BL keeps adding to the Travelers' shared google photo site,
which, if I have it right, is available to anyone with a google and / or gmail account.


Things were a mess weather-wise during a fair amount of our tour.  Here, in Colon, Matanzas, is horse went down in the drenching rain.  Horses remain a major part of transportation, along with oxen, in much of Cuba's rural areas, as riding animals, pulling buggies with passengers, and carts loaded with produce.  Also to herd cattle.
*  Here is one ruin we visited in Matanzas province, where were taken to see the sacred Ceiba tree (alas, it was too dark by the time I got to the ceiba in Colon, Matanzas, for any photo to have come out), their community effort slavery museum, various templos to seven of the orishas, and given a tremendous performance of both rumba and santería drumming and dance.  Then we came back to the primitive, i.e. for the working man, hotel, the only hotel in Matanzas, still, at this time, when the city's just booming!

The (famous) ferry that connects Regla and Havana muncipios.  Can't help it: this reminds me of the New Orleans Canal St. ferry that connects West and East Banks.

New Orleans's Canal Street ferry, connecting to Algiers, on the West Bank. 
** Regla, is the west-central district across the Havana bay.  It's harbor is where the slave ships landed their tragic cargo throughout the later 18th and 19th centuries.  It's the birth place of the rumba and where the Abaqua society -- the Leopard secret society from the Five Rivers area of Nigeria and Cameroon -- took control of the docks.

Historical Museum of Guanabacoa
Regla beats out even Guanabocoa, situated in eastern Havana, the part of Havana known for brujeria, for the distinction of being the poorest and blackest of Havana's 15 municipios.

Friday, January 15, 2016


Perhaps the hugest change I noticed about Cuba between the last time I was there in July - August 2003 and now, is the relentless walking and texting / reading texts that has entirely taken over even Cuba in this last year, now that Verizon’s there. The phones can’t connect to the internet, but now everyone has personal phone communication with their vast and dense webs of family and friendships, and the abuelas are so there!

In all my previous Cuba trips the phone centers of the state communications agency, Etecsa, were the busiest places everywhere, at times with people lined up for blocks to make phone calls.

These centers functioned like community centers where hustlers hustled and others just hung out, people exchanged information about everything from who had brought in eggs from the country, to who in the area could change dollars to Cuban pesos (which no longer exists as a working currency at all, except for the

Etecsa phone center, back in the day.
very poorest who are still forced to depend on the ration books), or just waiting for something, anything, to happen. Now they’re dead street space, while all around them people are walking, texting and working.

This is my first venture onto the internets, etc. in two weeks. I shut off my phone after boarding the flight to Havana on the 1st, and I left my other digital devices at home. Camera, pen and moleskine, and conversations — brilliant conversations with our Travelers, and with old Cuban friends — more than covered sociability. Several of the Travelers were on our flight out of NYC to Miami. With began immediately the dense, intense, relentless cascade of actions, events and people, so much so that I was unaware that I was 100% unconnected until on the plane to return home. All my fellow Travelers and passengers plugged themselves in immediately, taking advantage of the plane’s wiffy (in Cuba wi-fi is called “el wiffy”).

Though perhaps labeling the ubiquitous cell phone the biggest change is inaccurate, as in effect the cell phone itself is a reflection of the bustle of business of all kinds, particularly that of private, individual entrepreneurship that is going on all over the island. Cities like Matanzas which were dead dead dead, with nothing going on at all other than sugar can work, with people just sitting around all day -- today snaps, crackles and pops, and may be even more prosperous generally than Havana, and is exuting more Cuban business, as opposed to Havana where so many pathetically live from tourism, and whose greed is going to kill that goose in another year or so.

This January's trip's special guest was Puerto Rican / Nyorican music / tres playing star, Nelson González. Nelson was a huge hit with the Americans as well as with very Cuban he met -- and then, of course, he knows a lot of Cuban musicians too, with whom he's very popular, particularly with the son groups. (We went to the Cuban birthlandia of the Son in Pinar del Rio, where Nelson was adored, and begged to play-play-play with the conjuntos and solo.)

The only reason we learned that David Bowie had died, is because one of the other music stars among the Travelers was first call sax player, who managed to connect at the hotel's "business center" and thus found e-mail from Bowie's people that he'd passed. LP had played on the Serious Moonlight era albums, and was on that 3 year global Serious Moonlight tour. (LP also played on many of the cuts on el V's albums.  Some of these were played, via flash drive, on the bus. el V also played on some of LP's own albums too.)

Ned's on the board of a foundation called Horns to Havana.  As part of this, at the farewell dinner in Havana, LP presented a fresh from construction saxophone to a 16 year old in training jazz star.  The instrument he played when his mentor had him up on stage to show him off was such a wreck it could hardly be called a saxophone.  It took the kid a very long time to fully realize what had happened to him.  I watched him back at his table, just looking at the case and then finally touching it.  When it truly hit him, what had happened, and that this instrument -- plus a bunch of reeds -- was now his, he just crumpled.  Then he ran to LP and hugged him and hugged him and hugged him.

The farewell dinner was a glittering event, with so many of the bold face Cuban musician names -- if, of course, Cuba had a media that covered such events and wrote about them the next day, which it doesn't. Which circumstance muchly amused 30 sophisticated, experienced travelers with us, including the the presence of USA musicians who are their equal -- which, I admit, made me feel very proud!

This was a physically grueling trip that concluded with the Havana Libre flooding as we were all preparing to depart for the airport to come home. ALL the elevators quit working and the stairwells were flooded. We Travelers were on 13th, 14th and 15th floors -- with no way to get our luggage down to the lobby, and the hotel didn't give a damn. A 4-star hotel . . . . or as one German tourist shouted at the bewildered, helpless and hapless staff, "You have NO STARS!"

Despite all this and many other glitches, not least the weather mostly chilly, with several severe downpours due to a cold front sitting right on top of Cuba -- the Travelers were so brilliant, not a single person complained a single time. and they loved everything and were totally in awe of el V, who never stopped imparting information about everything musical and historical, and who knew everybody in Cuba's music galaxy, and everybody in Cuba's music galaxy love him.  I also was, and remain as always, in awe of el V He stayed back a couple of days to do some business and will be back tomorrow night.

I'm so glad about all this and that the Travelers felt and experienced Cuba so differently from me.  I got sick immediately, hated everything, never want to go back to Cuba, despise the country's neo capitalist corruption that has made everything in Cuba even more dysfunctional than it was when there was no money there, hate the food that literally makes me sick, etc.  The charms of overcoming the bathrooms (rather, overcoming the lack of them and the frequent dysfunction where there is one available), the food and lack of most comforts wore off for me around the 5th visit, I think.  The only events I enjoyed were in the the two glitzy jazz clubs with everything imported from the U.S. including the fancy bathroom fixtures -- in which, the transparent,sinks' water didn't work, of course, but my! the design!

I couldn't eat the food served out of these club - restaurants either, even though prepared in the most up-to-date kitchens with stainless steel appliances and counters (which are part of the attraction of theses places, on view to the customers behind floor to ceiling windows.  Cubans don't have any idea of how to cook, living without any real food or ingredients for so long -- and even in the old days Cuban food was at the very best heavy and boring.  Also I deeply dislike rum.  At the outset of the tour, due to upset stomach, I ate nothing at all for nearly four days -- I couldn't even contemplate swallowing a vitamin.  The rest of the trip I ate a bit of breakfast and nothing else except the desserts at dinner.  Just the thought of those chunks of monotonous  chicken and fat-larded pork made my stomach lurch. As well, as I feared, there was way too much time on the bus and I'm fairly crippled now.  I wouldn't have been able to even get out of JFK if there weren't all these wonderful men, including the Tour's biz partner, to take care of it all.

However, the intrepid Travelers went everywhere, ate everything and ate it with gusto, drank rum all day and all night, and still were perky and alert at early AM lobby call for a day of  driving many hours in a most uncomfortable bus for more heavy food provided as feasts at the music and dance events they'd come to hear and experience and  -- no bathrooms.  Most of them are a lot younger than we are but I could never do when in my 20's what they did daily in their late 30's and 40's.

They all knew why they were there, and it was for what they got: Ned and music, rum and the real Cuba. As well, partly one thinks, because so many of the Travelers were musicians they know about the rigors of touring.  Others are producers of big music festivals and other productions, some are theater producers and directors.  The Travelers integrated almost immediately as a group, and functioned cooperatively -- and if there were any inter-personal chafing, they all knew how to smooth it out before it became a problem.  It didn't hurt at all that several of the Travelers other than Ned, including Special Guest, Nelson, spoke Spanish.

Coming through loud and clear, from looking on and now looking back: not only are these Travelers exceptional generally -- beyond that, they all are "actives," the people who drive civilization, as we so far understand it.

Civilization is all about trade, of every kind, and most particularly creative exchange. We talked about that a bit, and I'm chewing even harder on this, i.e these Travelers have the dna that pushed ourselves out of Mother Africa and around the world.

These Travelers also seem to me to be the very best of what the USA stands for, or is supposed to be, the promise of what our country can be, fulfilled in their generosity, intelligence, talent, comprehension, curiosity and joy.

Totally Post Mambo!