LINES OF THE DAY

". . . 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, October 13, 2018

Gilded Age: Reads That Go With the Watching

     . . . . Edith Wharton’s The Buccaneers and Age of Innocence are cited frequently by British Anne De Courcey in her The Husband Hunters: American Heiresses Who Married Into the British Aristocracy (2017). 


It is De Courcey's careful conversion of the obscene amounts spent by the women of this class to further their social rivalries and social climbing that is most revealing of the age. Though she doesn't dwell on this at all, this money was extracted by pillage and rapacious oppression of the laboring classes, who much of the time, due to the boom and bust US economic system, frequently were so poor they starved and froze to death on the streets outside these women's blunderbuss palaces, aimed at least as much toward the poor as at her rivals. The author's discovery that it was often the Gilded Age mothers who drove their daughters to marry into Europe's aristocracy is merely an appendage of the mothers' rivalry and climbing. Often these marriages were against what the daughters themselves may have wanted --  if, that is, they'd even been allowed in their rearing to consider themselves as a separate person at all, rather than yet another means of her mother's will.



The social world of this era was a pure matriarchy. Thus De Courcey also cites US economist Thorsten Veblen's The Theory of the Leisure Class, (1899) as to why this was so.  There wasn't much in this book that I or any historian of 19th century US, or its literature, particularly after the War of the Rebellion, wouldn't be familiar with, but it is an entertaining read, and the photos De Courcey chose are excellent.

     . . . . However, this book, along with the films mentioned in the previous entry,  further widens and deepens the history of New York City's Gilded Age eras, along with the books discussed  earlier this week by their authors at the CUNY Graduate Center:




Suspect Freedoms: The Racial and Sexual Politics of Cubanidad 
in New York 1823 – 1957 by Nancy Raquel Mirabal, 



and, Sugar, Cigars & Revolution: The Making of Cuban New York by Lisandro Pérez – both from NYU press. 

Both authors are Cubans though they've been in the US since childhood. Lisander's an academic sociologist and Nancy's an academic historian. Lisander's and Nancy's book cover the same years, much of the same issues of Cuban independence, revolution and abolition of slavery, but they do it with different focuses.

Lisander's research is primarily on the wealthy, for whom independence at times mattered, but, like the wealthy English colonists of North America,  true revolution, i.e. real change in the structures and system, and certainly abolition, were not their agenda. Nancy focuses on the poor and the Afro Cubans, and other essential parts of the Cuban revolutionary and independence clubs and movements, such as the labor movement. This contributed no little to the exciting evening of their co-presentation as they discussed and amplified each other's contributions to the subject of Cubans in New York City.

Their research into NYC and US history is massive and meticulous. But somehow they both missed the NY investment in the ship building and cargoes of the Africans brought to Cuba after the abolition of the African slave trade. Thus those very wealthy slave owning Cubans who were in New York also made connection between themselves and the wealthy Southern slave owners such as the governor of Mississippi, who wished to annex Cuba as a state, to which then, the African slave trade not allowed to the US, as protection for their slave breeding industry, they in turn could turn into a market for their overpopulation of slaves.

During the q&a an attendee asked them from where the Cuban slaves came from. In their responses about the 19th century, which only then did agricultural slavery become important in Cuba, neither mentioned the US false flag sales to many slave ships of many nationalities. As part of the Treaty of Ghent (War of 1812), one of the provisions was that the Brits, who were the ones to abolish the African slave trade, were not allowed to stop and inspect US shipping. So, naturally, the US wealthy classes from all along the coast, and New York and Boston particularly, invested heavily in building those slave ships and their cargoes. 

The wealthy Cuban power elite met these US investors fairly often in New York before the Waa, surely. They did plot with Southerners who planned to filibuster Cuba -- as we describe in Slave Coast, -- and surely they invested in the slave ships too (According to the royalty checks, Slave Coast continues to sell, and by the reviews posted on amazilla, is continues to be read!). 

But the authors weren't looking for this kind of information. Though they obviously know a great deal about Cuban slavery's history, that's not one of the subjects of their books, which they both worked on for years. Lisandro worked on this book for 13, and Nancy has worked on hers for over 20 years. 

Also they both cite the accounts of the obscenely wealthy Cuban daughters at Saratoga (quoting, of course, Edith Wharton) as evidence of how much this class of Cubans penetrated the highest social levels of NY. But that's not exactly right. The highest class, the truly old social class of Knickerbockers, the truly exclusive society, went to Newport. They'd not be seen dead in Saratoga, NY, or Long Branch, New Jersey, where the excluded coarse 'new' plutocrats and their families, like Jay Gould -- and that coarse little man, President Grant -- vacationed in summer. -- bringing their own stock tickers, telegraph machines, and later their own telephone lines, to keep track of the markets.



One of the purposes of Newport indeed, almost created by Mrs. Astor's social arbiter, Samuel Ward McCallister, was to keep those dark Cubans and others beyond the pale of marriage away from their sons and daughters, and themselves. Both Edith Wharton and Anne De Courcey speak to this in their writing. The only acceptable marrying out of their elite of the elite sets for Astors, Schermerhorns, Schuylers, Van Rensselaers was European aristocracy, preferably British aristocracy. A title always trumped wealth and background, opened every door of inclusion.  (It was permitted for the lesser families of their set to intermarry with the most powerful and elite of the Southern slaveocracy, however.)

As we too know personally these locations and these landscapes and histories of Cuba, of NYC, of the South, this event was particularly charged with pleasure in the work of these two splendid works of history.

This fall I've enjoyed the way P.F. Chisholm has put so many historical figures in her Sir Robert Carey novels, he himself also having lived and written books about his adventures. I could see doing that too with the Gilded Age. The heroic President Grant could be included -- countering the meanness with which he's been treated in fiction by Henry Adams, for instance.  That would be fun.

It was a lovely night of thought and hanging out -- after I took  a half THC20:1.  I’d forgotten not only to put on my jewelry, but had forgotten to take vitamins and pain meds, before leaving the apartment after lunch. By 7 PM I really needed that tablet, one of which el V happened to have with him. We ended up having dinner in the grad center area, at a classic Irish pub, with classic Irish pub food and classic undocumented young, pretty Irish wait girls. I suddenly peaked from the tab about the time our plates arrived. For about ten minutes there was absolutely no pain of any kind. physical or emotional, just this enormous sense of release and well being. I'd never taken one of those tabs -- and here I had taken a whole one! 

OK. Now I know how this works. Definitely taking some these with me on the January bus trip in Eastern Cuba.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Colette (2018)

     . . . . Keira Knightly as the title figure and Dominic West as Willy, with other recognizable Brit television actors in secondary and supporting roles.



Colette's an old-fashioned period piece Hollywood big movie featuring two internationally recognizable faces, playing recognizable celebrity faces of the time, expensive, slick and glossy.


    Emphasis on celebrity. The author and her husband, and the infamous Claudine books (1900 - 1904) she ghost wrote and Willy took the credit for (and all the very significant profits, which he threw away profligately on race horses, the gambling tables, wine, women and song), were indeed all the rage when they came out. Yet these celebrity sequences seem more like now than then, yah?

As usual with historical drama, it's rather too clean and flat in panorama, mise-en-scène and close-up to be convincing (no broken down horses pulling public hacks, no manure in the streets, no bad teeth).  As Colette and Willy are writers, and writing is not a dramatic moving, action act, we have lots of tasteful noisy sex instead.

This viewer found the all-British cast and production hilarious, as everyone speaks in posh Brit English, but, when they write, we’re shown French pouring out of the nib, voiced-over in the posh English. 

Further hilarity ensues due to Dominic West as Willy, who is best known for playing Usian Baltimore detective cad-to-women, McNulty, on The Wire, and lately, for at least 4 seasons, the Usian novelist cad-to-women, Noah Soloway, on The Affair. Another point of hilarity is the current Poldark’s Demelza’s actor, Eleanor Tomlinson, playing bisexual sex scenes, in one of the worst so-called Southern accents evah – she’s supposed to be from New Orleans. Brit actors always murder Southern accents, seemingly not even understanding that there are very many different Southern ways of speaking. (Personal unpopular opinion -- Tomlinson's Demelza annoys the heck outta me. So far there's been no indication that Tomilinson can act, whether in period Agatha Christie's Ordeal By Innocence (2018), or on Poldark or in Colette.)

Points in favor of the flick: if not provocative of thought, it's gorgeous to look at; Knightly impresses with her non-body double or stand-in lengthy action scenes that involve a variety out of the standard repertoire of theatrical skills, from miming to dancing; Knightly is more convincing -- despite not being believable for a second as a 17-year-old - as a fin de siècle, Gilded Age figure than she was as the Georgian era title character, in The Duchess.



    ....(Colette eventually goes on the stage after leaving Willy, traveling music halls and theater throughout France, many of them ramshackle and many a gig that doesn't pay much more than for wine and cheese. This is part of her biography, but the film makes it look far less grueling and impoverished than Colette's own testimony, and those of others, inform us.)



    .... (Knightly was as wrongly cast for that one as Winona Ryder was in Scorsese's Age of Innocence, her Gilded Age flick -- though Michelle Pfeiffer was perfect as the USian Polish Countess-by-marriage -- Knightly even looks like Winona Ryder in this. Her body type did not conform in any way to the fashions as they were, nor did her body language, just as Ryder's did not.)

(2008)


Michelle Pfeiffer, Daniel Day Lewis, Age of Innocence (1993)



Colette’s life in truth was messy, unlike this adult coloring book of luxe La Belle Époque France movie, which is splashed as “true feminist story!” Nor was Colette particularly feminist.  So much of her fiction, despite the bisexual frissons, was about women victimized by, sighing, dying for love – love of a male cad.


   



... (Her Chéri novels were a refreshing exception to that, as it is the young lover infatuated with an aging, retired courtesan is the one who dies for his love. The 2009 film, Chéri, centering one of my favorite to watch actors, Michelle Pfeiffer as Lea, the exquisite, retired courtesan from the days of les grandes horizontals, whom Chéri cannot grow beyond, is exquisite in all the right ways, faithful in tone and attitude to the novels.)


MIchelle Pfeiffer as Lea, Chéri, 2008




It was a holiday yesterday, but still the theater held a respectable number of audience members.  The variety of the audience was interesting: lesbian couples of various age cohorts; young hetero couples (one of whose male half kept getting up and coming back, disturbing everybody in lumbering oafish style for extended periods of time going and coming -- even clanging metal -- what? ); and a surprising number of young male-male couples, though these I had no way of knowing whether they were gay or not, and single young fellows.

The conversation in the line for the ladies room after the showing was disheartening due to the enormous amount of misinformation being bandied about as fact about Colette and her work.  I seem to have been the only one there possessing solid grounding in her life and the period she lived in, and the only person who had actually read her work.

A last point of hilarity: in the ladies room line, it was being repeated from the closing epilogue text verbatim, that "Colette was the most important woman writer in France. She changed fiction forever."  

This book, this edition, is still on my shelves.

This book is still on my shelves too.  I re-read it again, just last year.

I kept hearing Simone de Beauvoir's outrage. I recalled her gleeful, merciless dissection of Colette's helpless, hapless feminine dependency on having the love of a man, of being in love, in order to have meaning, significance and identity,  especially in The Second Sex (1949). This, though in many ways, hilariously, hers and Colette's novels have much more in common in this area than Beauvoir herself realized: so much doomed love, clothes making the woman, intellectual and creative and sexual rivalries as they contain. The difference though, is that Beauvoir’s stand-in in her autobiographical novel, She Came To Stay (1943), Françoise, literally, with her own hands, kills off her rival for Pierre’s devotion.  Perhaps Beauvoir believed Colette earned her condemnation by being too femininely weak to do the same . . . .  Actually, She Came to Stay is period novel I'd love to see turned into a film.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Reading Books! The Sir Robert Carey Historical Mystery Series

     . . . . I have discovered the Sir Robert Carey historical murder mysteries by P.F. Chisholm. I am reading the first volume, A Famine of Horses (1994). 



It was the title that drew me in.  How could it not have?  What ever in the world is a 'famine of ... horses?' Then, I discovered after enjoying the first pages, that there were several more books featuring Sir Robert Carey.

A Famine of Horses is the first volume of the waning days of the Virgin Queen (the historical Carey was a favored member of her court), and then in the following reign of King James. I believe the historical personage did gallop mightily to Scotland to be the first to bring the news to James's court that the Queen had died, and that he now was king of  Scotland and England and Wales.

Yes, the author is that George MacDonald Fraser, author of the Flashman series, etc.

The geography is mostly the infamous Borderlands, with Carlisle the governing center.  Though anyone who has read George MacDonald Fraser's Steel Bonnets (1971) knows, there was little governing going on in this Wild West march region, ruled by rival warlords and rievers.* Carey initially is sent to Carlisle to take on the outlaws, and, hopefully, instill a small modicum at least, of law and order, and get rather more revenue to the Queen's treasury.




One does feel that what makes the central character of Carey such a successful one is that Carey wrote books himself, including his still highly readable Memoirs of Robert Cary, Earl of Monmouth. Various versions can be found, as well as this free to read, online version

That Carey is almost surely the grandson of Henry VIII, therefore a cousin of Elizabeth, via Anne Bolyen's sister Mary, in many ways makes him the ideal figure to impose the Queen's will about these ungovernable sorts.  Carey has the roaring temper that gets even those raging inhabitants take note and heed of both his actions and words.  Yet, he is most certainly also a courtier par excellence -- which is how he maintained the Queen's good will.

The historical details in this first book in the series sometimes feel more than a little self-consciously inserted by the author, but they are interesting period details, so never mind.  There is are thrills, suspense and adventure galore -- and, of course, a romance.

--------------------
*  It is from this region, as well as the equally wild northern Irish lands that came to the colonies and the US, the Presbyterian "Scotch-Irish," whose most famous scion was Andrew Jackson.  These people settled widely in the less coveted regions of the Carolinas, Kentucky and Tennessee.


Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Labor Day's Labors, Labor Day's Relaxation: Cat, Friends, Music, Politics, Books, Films

     . . . . El V spent all his day from getting up until evening, when we for our friends' brownstone uptown shrimp boil, doing the final edits for his and T.J. English's Havana Nocturne mob tour 




weekend in Havana, February 12 - February 16, 2019, based on T.J. book.  Youtube with information ---


     , , , , Myself, spent the day working on a mission statement for the offering to various special archives at universities and libraries of a brilliantly curated collection of recorded Latin music in excellent condition that goes back to the 1940's until now.  Hardly such thing exists in cultural institutions and universities as of this moment.  It's time, as the greats are shuffling off the mortal coil . . . .

     . . . . Uptown then, in the heat and humidity to see friends and eat!

The New Cat, who came this summer to chez Our Hosts, about nine months since Tom the Old Cat passed away, buried in the yard under a rose bush, was not to be seen. Cat's been trying out names ever since coming to the Jumel Terrace brownstone, but none have stuck. Cat is currently is sporting a multi-syllabled name, is one that I can't remember on hearing only once.

Shortly before people thought we should depart due to next day -- today, being a work day for us all -- the Cat Himself came down to check out the commotion.

He stood, a four-legged statue, looking at the strangers at his table, then winded his lithe way around us, into the kitchen, out again, and departed. Nothing here of interest, his tail communicated -- so Aby of him. His general confirmation and very short, smooth, sleek, shiny coat is that of an Abyssinian -- maybe my favorite flavor of feline. However! his coloration is pure bright orange tabby. Further he is a dactyl paw cat. Those huge feet on such slender legs are eye-catching in their own way.

As ever we had a wonderful time, which wasn't due particularly to most of us present knowing each other well, for numerous years either.  It was entirely, I am certain, due to Our Hosts.

There was much, spirited conversation around Aretha Franklin's funeral. C knew Aretha quite well, having designed stage costumes for her often. One of the guests had watched all nine hours of the broadcast +.  Among us, lots of speculation and / or blame for the Obamas not showing up at the funeral, though two of the  guests were inclined to cut him more slack than some others. The older people, including el V and a music writer had been to Aretha shows back into the day when she was touring her first album and successfully crossing into pop from Gospel.

Cuba was another major topic of conversation.



Other subjects involved aspects of the fashion industry -- one of the Guests of Palor has just published a big book on Yves St. Laurent, Loulou & Yves. He had a house outside of Avignon for 20 years, so we also talked about France and Provence, wine and history.

There was discussion of the Nixon-Cuomo Dem Governor nomination primary on the 13th. Everyone present is voting for Nixon, not expecting her to win. So all will hold noses and vote Cuomo in the election in November. But we are the sorts of Dem voters who truly dislike him -- dislike him vastly more than we ever came to disliking his father.

This led inevitably to Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman, Boots Riley and his beef with BlacKkKlansman (Spike made cops heroes against white supremacy and racism; both films feature black guys who talk white on the telephone). Some of don't give a damn what Riley claimed BlacKkKlansman was, nor did we agree with Riley -- we thought it was one of the most interesting films cinematically that Spike's done in while. The night we went with a group of friends, we talked about it, not necessarily agreeing, all through dinner, and then carried on a spirited e-mail discussion about it for a week. 

This led the conversation into effective political activism and organization, and, again, what losers the Dems are. However, Boots Riley's own new film, Sorry to Bother You, is a worthwhile watch too. It's about labor and capitalism as well as race. Boots has a lot to say about this worth paying attention to, and does so in an interview on Democracy Now (the entirety of the interview is well worth reading) that I hadn't thought about before, as to why political activism is no longer as effective as it used to be:

[  ". . . . And for too long, the left has gone away from class struggle. Right? We’ve gone away from class struggle in favor of spectacle, and hidden in the arts and academia. So, a lot of our biggest fights are sometimes about not what we’re saying, but how we’re saying it. And I agree how we’re saying things are important. It means, though, that we have to look at how the working class is talking and what they really mean, as opposed to just trying to adjust how people are talking, and making a movement around things that we can do something about, because then people have a real choice of what they want to get involved in. You know, it’s not that people don’t hear that story, for instance, and think it’s ridiculous, but, even me, I’m sitting here like, “OK, how do I—is this something I can do? Let me move on from this. Like, what”—you know, throwing up my hands. . . . " ]

We spoke of the fire that has destroyed the National Museum of Brazil, a catastrophic loss of 200 years of research into the history of Brasil, as well as multitude of irreplaceable world-class art objects from Europe and other parts of the world. Why did this happen? Corporate thugs refusing to finance maintenance. Speculation: did one of those thugs want the ground on which the museum was located? Don't put that past Brasilian corporate thugs, though the slashed funding making it impossible to maintain an effective fire system was enough to enable this calamity all by itself.

Outrage was expressed independently by one and all over the morning's news that the New Yorker had invited Steve Bannon as the headline attraction to next month's New Yorker Festival.  This led us to speak of Jimmy Breslin and what he would have said about this, and then Pete Hamill -- both great New York journalists who both wrote/write (Pete's still with us, thank goodness, unlike Jimmy) fiction as good as their journalism. These men, now, these men had EARS for how NYers of every class and heritage talked.

Ay-up, a gathering of NYers who discuss local news -- Aretha and Cuba are both local news, at least in this circle, and so is Brasil -- one of the group spends a lot of time there, collecting art.

Much Aretha music played, and much Cuban music too, with the emphasis on the boleros of the 1940's and 1950's.

The food, o the food, was spectacular.

How C always does this, makes such memorable experience out of what doesn't look like anything -- beyond cooking her ass off all day, of course. She is a spectacular Southern hostess with the very most. Martha Stewart should go hide in a cobwebbed cave in shame for calling herself a hostess.

Like the rest of us C's been way too busy this summer to do much recreational at all. She just got shut of a most hideous and miserable project. Collapsed for three days -- which she used to finish the last 200 pages of Slave Coast, which she discussed in detail with me -- is that an honor or what? But get-togethers at K and C's are always memorable in the very best ways. Well, there was the Thanksgiving when the dining table collapsed in slo-mo, which maybe wasn't the best way but it was spectacular and never fails to be remembered.

Now, teeth grinding for at least two months -- will a hurricane(s) hit or not? Will one get here like Sandy did? Will it destroy the rebuilding throughout the Caribbean and the Gulf from last year's hurricane catastrophes?

On the subway coming home, I gave out dollar bills to 7 separate desperate homeless people who asked for food or money because they were so hungry. Three of them were vets.  Yah, this nation is such a grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr8 superpower.


Sunday, August 19, 2018

The Battles of Saratoga and Rip Van Winkle

     . . . . At the Saratoga battlefields Friday, we were surrounded by birds, butterflies and bees, as well as the multiple varieties of wild flowers I didn't know, milkweed, Queen Anne's Lace as well as lots of chamomile flowers -- the air was delightfully sodden with chamomile scent.

Neilson Farm, where Major General Benedict Arnold had his headquarters during Freeman's Farm battle, first battle of Saratoga, September 17, 1777.  Farmer Neilson was a Patriot.  Farmer Freeman was a Loyalist.  Freeman's farm was entirely destroyed by the British Army. Farmer Neilson brought enforcements from Schyulerville for the American army.

As at the pivotal War of the Rebellion Gettysburg battle site, at this pivotal battle site of the War of Independence, we were surrounded by contemporary farmland and -- vast tracks of trees and swathes of grass and dense woods, which one knew were filled with deer, deer who were populated with ticks.

There are still uprooted trees and broken trees everywhere from the terrible storm this last spring. Park service employees, or at least hired help with chain saws, were working in various parts. They sent up so much sawdust / chaff that people with allergies and other respiratory sensitivities had to stay far from where they were working.  So we missed some overlook sites of significant events of the two battles and the surrender.

Bemis Heights.  The American's cannon were able to shoot down at Burgoyne's forces holed up in a mess of gullies, ravines, and woods, where it was very hard to maneuver.  Way over, past that ridge of  woods, was the Hudson River, which the Americans controlled.
The battle of Freeman's Farm was September 19th, 1777, which Burgoyne barely won, with a greater loss of men than the Americans.  The battle of Bemis Heights was October 7, 1777, which Burgoyne definitively lost. The surrender by General Burgoyne came, finally, ten fuming days later, on October 17th, 1777.  General Burgoyne negotiated with Gates to turn the signing of a surrender into the signing of a "convention."  (How could he, a British lord, lose and surrender to hicks?) So we have the "Convention of Saratoga."  General Gates allowed Burgoyne to keep his sword, and the mostly Hessian army was awarded the honors of war -- doubtless the cause of yet another heated exchange between him and Arnold.

Both Colonel Morgan. who had served in Arnold's abortive campaign to take Quebec, and Colonel Andrzej Tadeusz Bonawentura Kościuszko played important roles in this pivotal historical event. 

Kościuszko Bridge across the Mohawk River

We, meaning our dear friend, Ben, Ned and me, cheered wildly when we crossed the  Kościuszko Bridge, on our way to the GWB -- i.e. the George Washington Bridge, which always tells us we're nearly home -- well, nearly home, depending on the traffic.  We happened to make great time Saturday -- no traffic.

At the battlefield park, we often we chose not to walk to overlooks of various sites of the battles because, despite the grass have been mowed short, it was still grass and we kept thinking of ticks, even though there were no overhanging tree branches -- but the grass was surrounded by trees. 

Despite the great damage wreaked by the spring storms up there, with the high heat, the high humidity, the rain -- it's become jungle-like. Things are beginning to look more like what the Dutch must have seen when they arrived in the 17th century, one imagines. 

Our Saratoga experiences were far from our everyday lives and environment. Monsoon Friday night -- Host's pool had to be out-pumped as it was overflowing from the amount of rain (more than one deluge) and then again starting about 7 PM. There are so many large windows in his wonderful house, that Saturday morning when we got up to go home, with the mist, the lowering skies, intermittent mizzle, and the condensation on the pane glass -- we felt we had been put in a massive, comfortable, mysterious aquarium. There was a world outside but we were imprisoned, thus shielded from it. Internet remained wonky at best, which it often is up there, particularly with as much thunder and lightning as went on Friday night. Somehow, nobody thought to turn on a tv or a radio. There are televisions in Host's house and state-of-the-art video / streaming hookup to them though there are no radios.

Host says he's forgotten about the televisions. They were used constantly while, over a very long year, his beloved, still mourned, wife died of a terrible cancer. During that year she watched repetitiously a certain cycle of BBC series. Once they reached the end of the final season, they'd start over immediately from the first episode of the first season. He hasn't bothered with television since her funeral.

As we drove home yesterday through the encroaching dense tree verges, under low clouds and rising mist we felt out of time, speeding silently among the strange and unknown. "Where are we?" Our lives seemed very far away and long ago. We were just -- here. We couldn't believe how short the time by clock was that we actually had been gone. In fact, almost immediately we arrived in his driveway, Host lost his watch. Had we been enchanted, we wondered as we drove south, back to New York City. 

Catskills, Adirondacks, they are really all one. Maybe we caught a whiff of what inspired Washington Irving to pen “Rip Van Winkle.”

It didn't hurt anything either that several sign-ups for Postmambo events came in while in Saratoga, and more after we arrived back home. -- events which also take the participants entirely out of their lives and where time stops, except for the rhythms measured by the drums.  Our Host has been on these with us.  He is going on two more -- to Haiti and to Havana. El V played Host Vodun muisc and showed videos recorded during his prospecting journey back in July.

Within 15 seconds of we having left his driveway, Our Host's watch reappeared.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Grant's Cottage

     . . . . The historic site where President Grant lived for the last six weeks of his life is located on McGregor's Mountain, in Wilcox, outside of Saratoga Springs.



The area in which the Cottage is located was, in that era, a very expensive resort for the Gilded Age rich, who arrived via a private bridge railway from Saratoga Springs. The resort was lit at night by that new-fangled electric light. Powered by generators, the lights went off then, at ten PM, because the generated noise kept people from sleeping.  The resort was just a short walking distance from the Cottage.

In agony from the  throat and tongue cancer that was Grant's death sentence, he completed his Personal Memoirs of the Mexican American War and the War of the Rebellion there. He was dead less than week after finishing. 

Half of the contents in the huge jar of his cocaine solution, with re-crystalized by now cocaine on the bottom, remains in the cottage.  All the furnishings, including the paintings and photos on the walls, are original to what Julia and the patron to who provided the Cottage put up there in 1885, when his doctors urged them to leave hot dirty NYC for the cooler, damper air of the Adirondacks.  All that summer Grant, with the same inexplicable, calm courage with which he defeated the CSA, battled to stay alive long enough to complete the Memoirs, which Mark Twain assured him would support his wife and family handsomely for the rest of their lives.  Recall, Grant had not only gone broke, but deeply in debt when his son's financial company, turned out to be his lying partner Ferdinand Ward's Ponzi scheme, financed entirely by President Grant's name. 

After his death, Grant's doctor said that his patient could never have lived so long if he had also imbibed the morphine prescribed for such agony. But he didn't because it would fuzz out his mind, sap his will, on his determined drive to finish the book.


This is the famous photo of Grant, finishing the Memoirs, in his chair on the corner of the veranda, outside his office, where most of the work, particularly the editing work by Mark Twain, took place.

I cannot believe I have stood there.


I knew all this but seeing the place was deeply affecting.  For years I've poured over the photographs of Grant and his family on the veranda of the Cottage.  Grant wrote a great deal on one of the corner's of the veranda.  There are photos of him in the chair there, the chair that still exists.  There are hand-written pages by him on view, and so many other items involved with the composition of the Memoirs.  Material bits and pieces of the celebrated do not hold much intrinsic interest for me, but these things, o they did!

And at the end, we viewed the bed where he died.  Above the headboard hung and still hangs his personal portrait of President Lincoln.

I choked up. Shed tears.


Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Yes It Has Been A Long Time Since Posting; Sun Tzh and The Art of War + Saratoga

     . . . . I have not posted since the penultimate day of July.  My goodness time does fly when busy with the present, including friends with medical emergencies, and planning the future, of which there is a lot of planning as so much travel is involved, from New Orleans and Texas, to the Caribbean, to Europe -- and lordessa save us, Abu Dahbi.

I have been reading some very interesting books, though, such as this Penguin edition of The Art of War: The Essential Translation of the Classic Book of Life (2009) by Sun=Tzu; Introduction by John Minford; Edited by John Minford; Translated by John Minford.



This edition was chosen because of the Introduction provides historical context and because the editor/translator has included extensive Commentary on the chapters by a variety of Chinese scholars and generals past and present.

These are the chapters of the bare text:

Chapter 1: Making of Plans 
Chapter 2: Waging of War 
Chapter 3: Strategic Offensive 
Chapter 4: Forms and Dispositions 
Chapter 5: Potential Energy 
Chapter 6: Empty and Full 
Chapter 7: The Fray 
Chapter 8: The Nine Changes 
Chapter 9: On the March 
Chapter 10: Forms of Terrain 
Chapter 11: The Nine Kinds of Ground 
Chapter 12: Attack by Fire 
Chapter 13: Espionage 

Last night I watched the Battle of Crecy episode from the television adaptation (2012) of the 14th century historical fiction doorstop, World Without End, by Ken Follett (no one loves rape and humiliation and degradation of women as much as he, not even GRRM).



I kept checking off the aspects of King Edward's plans for Crecy against Sun Tzh's instruction. It included everything Sun Tzu admonishes, about, including when to do or not to do a forced march. I was quite impressed. But then one sees how much all successful historical generals such Caesar, Napoleon and Grant follow his guidelines too, whether they did so consciously or not. The most important aspect evidently is speed of action, because Sun Tzu brings it up often, in more than one section of his advice.  One has noticed that most successful commanders before mechanized warfare and air warfare has rapid movement in common.

I could not help but compare and contrast Grant and Lee with Sun Tzu instructions -- and how Lee in so many ways did not adhere to the Sun Tzu exhortations, while Grant always did. 

Clausewitz had read Sun Tzu it is said. So might have Grant, though he never mentions it. Napoleon is widely thought to have carried the books with him everywhere. The first western translation of The Art of War was 1782, by a Jesuit priest, into French.

Why, since I have read Clausewitz, why had I not read The Art of War? It's so short too, quite unlike Clausewitz. But then, Clausewitz, though seemingly permeated with Sun-Tzu, is also Enlightenment in his approaches (which tends to really make him mostly out-of-date, experts say, for 19th and 20th century warfare -- what about 21st C warfare?), whereas, as mentioned, Sun-Tzh, who may well be the same sort of composite figure as Homer, is for the ages. Though warfare by plane, drone and intercontinental missiles changes everything, doesn't it? 

The Art of War, though so short, may actually be even more dense than Clausewitz, since so much is couched in metaphor that we (well, at least me) of our place and age are not able to quickly and easily penetrate and grasp. 

But I do recall how Grant is / was universally praised for the brevity and clarity of his battlefield plans and orders.

Now I'm thinking of The Art of War in terms of the battles of Saratoga, since as of tomorrow we're on a jaunt with a friend to visit a Postmambo Traveler amigo who lives there.  My two objectives for our mini vacay is to visit the ground where Benedict Arnold pulled the Continental Congress and the as yet unborn nation's chestnuts out of the British military fire, was dreadfully injured, but allowed the French to come in who really pulled the US chestnuts out of the fire -- and then that nasty piece of work, General Gates, stole all the credit for himself, when he earned none -- sulking the whole time in his tent. 




After that I'm going to take the tour of the cottage where Grant finished his Memoirs of the Mexican American War and the War of the Rebellion, one of the greatest works of military history, as great as Julius Caesar's War Commentaries on his Gallic Wars, and one of the United States great works of literature.

I'll probably look at some horses too, and who knows what else? There's no dearth of things to do and see in Saratoga.







Monday, July 30, 2018

El V -- Returned from Haiti

     . . . .  El V got home about 10:15 PM last night.  He'd been away only a short time but it felt so good to have him home again!



He decided he's going to put the Travelers in the Port-au-Prince le Plaza Hotel instead of the historic Olaffson. He moved there from The Olaffson the second night to check it out, as one does when prospecting for the best places to take Travelers.  Even though the veranda balconies of the Olaffson can't be beat, he loved it, and the balcony verandas are good at le Plaza too.  The photos in Google Images do look as though this is a very pleasant spot.

     . . . . He brought me back some beautiful face soap -- France and things done in the French way are deeply embedded in Haiti's history and culture after all.  These are made from natural, organic, local ingredients and fragrances. Also big blocks of chocolate to give to my amigas -- Haiti, like eastern Cuba, produces cocoa.  But he couldn't find any cocoa butter, still the best stuff for the skin, winter or summer.



He also brought back a toilet paper roller for the bathroom.  It's in the shape of an octopus head and arms, hand hammered out of tin. Haiti is perhaps the most intensely visual culture on the planet.  Everywhere one turns there is something.  Hand-made, all Haitians seem to have the talent to create beauty and color out of almost anything.  Their iron and metal work is particularly famous for how fine it is.

The octopus was sitting on the bathroom window sill last night. The moon these last nights has been so white, big and bright.  I got up about 4 AM -- sleep walked to the bathroom as one does -- and there was this -- shape! on the bathroom window! silhouetted by the moonlight behind it, and I suddenly woke up -- what in the world!

Listening to the music this morning that he'd recorded in P-a-P, I was struck by just how good it is.  The Travelers are going to like this trip a lot!

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Historian Receives Death Threat + Decline of Civil War Reenactments

     . . . . Historian and journalist, Minisha Sineha (her specialty is African American abolitionists and their writing) wrote this piece pointing out what our current administration and POTUS share with Andrew Johnson and his disastrous period in the White House:

https://edition.cnn.com/2018/07/25/opinions/what-happened-the-last-time-a-president-chose-americas-enemies-over-its-friends-sinha/index.html?



She then delineates what is different between then and now:
  Quote Congressional Republicans in the 1860s, tempered in the fire of the Civil War, put their country before a traitorous President. They first passed the Tenure of Office Act of 1867 to protect Republican Cabinet members and office holders from Johnson. When Johnson violated the law by firing Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, congressional Republicans drew up articles of impeachment against him. 
Congressional Republicans today, in contrast, have not lifted a finger to protect Justice Department officials and special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation from the threat of interference by Trump. In fact, they have aided and abetted the Trump administration's undermining of both.
The consequence for writing this piece is that Sinha received a death threat from an individual who knew her home address and other personal information -- cops were able to track him down in about 24 hours. Guess where the guy threatening to kill her lives . . . . 

https://twitter.com/profmsinha?lang=en

Always knew being an honest historian was a dangerous thing. 

Alas, today there are no Grants and Shermans to keep the wrecked ship of state from going under prior to the next election when Johnson was thrown out. 

This is also went up yesterday - today:

"Civil War Reenactors in Decline" in the NY Times -- PAYWALL: 

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/28/style/civil-war-reenactments.html?

Focus of the story is the annual Battle of Gettysburg reenactment. Great photos! 
  Quote “Up until the last five or 10 years, the social causes of the war did not come into what we do,” he said. “We were paying tribute to the fighting man.” 
“It wasn’t ‘I’m racist and I want to glorify slavery,’” he said. “Nobody really thought a lot about the social reasons of why the South went to war. It was just these poor guys who were underfed, undermanned, underequipped, fighting valiantly to the last man, until they couldn’t stand anymore.” 
Brad Keefer, a 61-year-old corporal in the Union re-enactor ranks and a professor of history at Kent State University, said: “Re-enactors look at the war as a four-year period between 1861 and 1865 in which you can cut out all the stuff leading up to the war and very much ignore everything that happened afterward.” 
It’s a vision of history placed in narrow context. The military details are meticulously researched and recreated down to the stitching of a uniform, but the broader social and political realities of the Civil War — the profound struggle over slavery and emancipation, racism and equality, citizenship and disenfranchisement — are largely confined to the margins. 
Still, those issues can’t be ignored. After a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017, where demonstrators wore swastikas and carried Confederate flags, and where an anti-racist protester named Heather Heyer was killed, at least two smaller Civil War re-enactments were canceled. That the battle flag Confederate re-enactors carry is still used as a means of intimidation makes it hard to defend as a purely historical object, independent of its racist implications. 
“You build a comfort zone for the hobby to function,” Mr. Keefer said. Pointing to the Confederate camp, he said: “And give them the benefit of the doubt that they weren’t at Charlottesville.” . . .
This is what happens when ignoring history and / or insisting on lies as history, and constantly pushing them out there as historical truth -- and there is a lot of that withing reenactment.

  Quote Some Confederate re-enactors, including Kenny Glass, 46, an emergency medical technician from Selma, Ala., said that slavery had little to do with Southern secession, an assertion that is at odds with historical scholarship. 
“I’ve been called a racist, a bigot, everything you could think of in the world when people find out I do this,” Mr. Glass said. “I tell them they need to learn their history. It wasn’t fought over slavery. It was fought over Southern rights, that’s just the way I see it.” 
Part of the problem is that the historical beliefs have modern day implications. Scrutiny of Civil War re-enacting from outside — as well as introspection and concern about its future on the inside — reached a fever pitch after the violence last year in Charlottesville, Va. But it built along with protests in many cities that demanded the removal of Confederate statues and monuments from state grounds, spurred by the murder of nine black worshipers in South Charleston, S.C., by the white supremacist Dylann Roof. 
 Last year a pipe bomb was found at a reenactment of the Battle of Cedar Creek (the culminating action in the 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign): 
  QuoteA month later, a threat was made against participants in a parade that commemorates Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
So, along with aging out, video games etc., white supremacy terrorism is having an effect on suppressing our Civil War's reenactment participation. 

So one can see why these two pieces of journalism seem to go together, right?  The forces of white supremacy commit  and / or try to commit violence, down to murder, of those they hate and disagree with, even  where innocent children are found.

Yet -- the anti-white supremacy, anti-bigotry, anti-immigration ban, anti-corporate money in elections, anti-voter repression, pro environmental and consumer regulations, pro gun regulation people -- are called uncivil because their words hurt the feelings of white supremacists, etc.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Hello! From el V, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti + Eastern Cuba!

    . . . .  From el V, prospecting for the upcoming Haiti visit, to ‎Cap-Haïtien and Port-au-Prince.

The Citadelle, World Heritage site, which the Travelers will visit.

Legendary Hotel Oloffson in Port-au-Prince, where the Travelers will stay.

El V writes:
[ "Hello from Port-au-Prince! I'm sitting on the balcony at the Hotel Oloffson watching the sun go down and wi-fi'ing my brains out as Konpa[al_zorra: very popular Haitian street music] plays . . . but what I wanted to tell you is that . . . 

The two-and-a-half-minute trailer for Postmambo Studies Cuban Music Seminar #9: Oriente (eastern Cuba), January 3-12, 2019, is live! Watch it here: 


Santiago de Cuba, El Cobre, Guantánamo, Cueto, Baracoa, Holguín: the culture of eastern Cuba is very different from that of Havana. 

Thanks to Lily Keber for making it real. Do subscribe to the Postmambo Studies channel if you like. 

p.s. There's a piece on the EGREM archive, where I've spent many happy hours, in today's WaPo [Washington Post paywall]:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/music/trying-to-protect--and-expand--cubas-undiscovered-musical-legacy/2018/07/23/7e890c06-8512-11e8-8553-a3ce89036c78_story.html? " ]


     . . . . A personal note:  The Oriente trip is so brilliant I'm going back for a second time around.  I couldn't resist the opportunity to visit Baracoa again, where Christopher Columbus established the first capital - port for Cuba, and which today, as it has been for a few centuries, a bustling center of arts and literature -- and the center of Cuba's cocoa plantations and chocolate making.  Cuba's chocolate is the very best I've ever tasted.  If I were to live in Cuba, Baracoa is where I'd be.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Edward the King (US) / Edward VII (UK). (1975). ATV. 13 episodes; 208 minutes approx.

     . . . . The" corpulent voluptuary," as Bertie - Edward VII (1841 - 1910) was called by Kipling,  reigned for only a short time. He was 59 when ascending to the throne. His mother didn't die until 1901, thus the odious toad, Queen Victoria, also dominates his biographical television series, based on the biography (1964) by Philip Magnus, just as she dominated his life.  She won't die until in the middle of the 10th episode.


Annette Crosbie, the actress ages the Queen subtly and yet visibly, in body, face, ex, egotistic monstrous royal that she was.  Prince Albert is equally so. Their terrible parenting created tragic consequences for at least a century of European history. This Vicky's not the adorable fairy princess of ITV's contemporary series, Victoria (2016 - ). For that matter, none of the figures of the endless 19th century are the gorgeous creatures they are in that series either. 

Lily Langtry in her iconic black dress; in ATV's Edward the Seventh she's blonde. Later the actress and  LL got their own tv series, Lillie, (1979).

The exception is Lily Langtry, reputedly one of the most beautiful women of her time, played by Francesca Annis, with an icy poise that doesn't really jibe with contemporary descriptions of this very successful stage performer who couldn't really act.  Though the portrait of Bertie here given is, at best, incomplete, the character is played with such flair by Timothy West that he effortlessly convinces the viewer that the prince is a very fine fellow indeed, whom history has unfairly estimated.  (It hasn't.)  He is played as as utterly charming, possessing a sweetness to his character that isn’t found in any other members of his family. 

The deep connections among the protestant 19th century’s ruling houses – Britain, the nordic and german states and reaching even into the imperial Russian family, despite their  Orthodoxy. Never allow conversion reluctance blockade entrée for familial European empire! We see war becoming inevitable, and the Russian Revolution too – the czar’s family for more than one generation have been living in a security prison made from terror of their own subjects and assassination. 


Edward VII provides a window into changing social attitudes within lifetimes. The view of Germans and Germany are deeply unattractive: rigid, cold, militaristic, poisoned by resentment and jealousy of the British royals.  In the early 1970’s hatred of Germany was still quite fresh in Britain, one thinks. Kaiser Wilhelm I is unhinged and terrifying – this is blamed on Bismark. The contemporary opulent preposterous that is the Victoria series also is much softer on the Germans (at least so far), particularly Albert the utterly loving and kind father -- utterly different from this one.

The problem with Edward VII is that Bertie is presented as a the most jovial, genial, socially skilled, nice all-around royal fellow who ever lived. There’s not a hint of his massive fecklessness with gambling debts, that he wouldn’t pay his other bills either,  frequently disappearing before the reckoning at a restaurant arrived, leaving others to pay his for his massive consumption of food and drink. There's no mention that he was as addicted to women as he was to gambling and food. No woman was safe from his sexual demands, whether an aristocrat or a kitchen maid, no matter her preference to not be humped and dumped a moment later by the royal whale.

The series also puffs up the very few things he ever did, which amount to greeting foreign heads of state, ribbon-cutting, and sitting on a couple of committees formed for matters such as a vague commitment to "improve the poor," making of this a vast enterprise that he administers with great skill, gravity and compassion. He’s also presented as a brilliant diplomat and far-seer in international affairs. This is undiluted bs, to put it honestly. Bertie couldn’t be bothered to interrupt changing his clothes seven times a day, drinking, eating, shooting, gambling and fornicating for anything like a semblance of real work. 

This Bertie, who had great talent and skill for ruling, who wasted by his nasty toad of a Queen Mother, is a false Bertie, despite the very real facts that his childhood was made a living hell by both his parents, and that Victoria was never going to share the spotlight with anyone.

However, the acting by all the cast provides a much closer sense to the periods the characters inhabit -- stiffly buttoned to a degree that one of course understands why Bertie so enjoys his select company of cronies.  It is via these aspects that this 1975 production presents a more accurate picture of the times than the two seasons so far of Victoria.  These actors, many of them very early in their careers in British television drama, do bring everyone to life.