". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Thursday, 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:

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 . . . .

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:

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]: " ]

     . . . . 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.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

People Still Read Real Books -- Sir Steven Runciman

      . . .  . Working my way through Steven Runciman's three volume history of the Crusades.

[ "  His three-volume A History Of The Crusades, published between 1951 and 1954, set out to exemplify his belief that the main duty of the historian was "to attempt to record, in one sweeping sequence, the greater events and movements that have swayed the destinies of man," and show that history's aim was to give a deeper understanding of humanity. He aimed as much at a non- specialist audience as at fellow academics.
For Runciman, the crusades were the last of the barbarian invasions; their disaster was their failure to understand Byzantium. "High ideals were besmirched by cruelty and greed, enterprise and endurance by a blind and narrow self-righteousness," he wrote, "and the holy war itself was nothing more than a long act of intolerance in the name of God, which is a sin against the holy ghost." ]

I came to 
Runciman (1903 - 2000) only two summers ago, and not for via the Crusades, but the enduring conflicts over the control of Italy via The Sicilian Vespers, among the Papacy, France, the Holy Roman Empire, Spain and the Angevins (i.e. also the English - Plantangenets, etc.).  So not even even the shocking insanity of Venice's organization of the 1203 - 04 Crusade to take out Constantinople and their great rival -- as they saw it -- for the trade via the Black Sea, in which they destroyed the bulwark between Europe (including Venice) and the great Islamic states > Ottomans, is new information by now. 

Nor, so far, am I impressed by the 'colorful' narrative style, which reads clunky to me.

HOWEVER!  These books were published 80 + years ago (1951- 1954), so -- wtf do I know?  So much has been written since, that references these books, including by Roger Crowley, who is a very fine writer as well as scholar.  Crowley does know all the languages, which is the most important aspect of this work -- Arabic, Latin, Greek, Turkish, French, etc. Runciman also references, as much as possible, only the contemporary works.  Though of course his references do roll ahead as far as the late 19th century and aughts of the 20th -- and so much was still not revealed that Crowley, et al. have had the advantages of.

I do wish I'd had access to Runciman's books back when I was decades younger. On the other hand, that I hadn't means I didn't imprint, and new work > research > information doesn't have a problem moving to the forefront of my thinking.

Whereas, when it comes to Mycenae Greece, I can never get Renault out of my thinking -- and, alas, she was wrong about so much.

 Runciman, though, he wasn't wrong in either facts or interpretation. He was ahead of his time.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Our Best Recent Thing: el V's BD and "The King"

     . . . .  Our best recent thing was el V's birthday party on Sunday.  We invited friends to attend the IFC theater for the new documentary, "The King."  

The premise is that the rise and decline of Elvis mirrors the decline of the USA -- and that it is fame that ultimately destroys everything.  It is driven through US geography and history via Elvis's Rolls Royce.

My interest then was piqued, because I had been thinking quite a bit about the only elements of the 2017 Blade Runner sequel, Blade Runner 2049 that seemed to have any actual significance -- 

of Las Vegas and the Elvis hologram that had remained in the ruins.  That is all that seems to have survived from the world and the nation that I had known . . . .

So, one can see that The King has aspects of interest -- and controversy -- for many of us.  Our group in particular had many a way of viewing this film, as among us were documentary film makers, historians, musicians and composers, fashion and costume designers, etc. One of the discussions within The King is cultural appropriation -- did he steal it all from black people and never given them proper due? (Many / most?) black people, as some of us who live up in Harlem made clear, have no doubt Elvis stole.  David Simon's white man's opinion is different. So the common conversation at dinner was more than lively.

The King's thesis is not necessarily wholly successful throughout but the eyes are always compelled by what is on the screen. 

First, the young Elvis Presley was simply one of the most beautiful people that ever lived.  Plus he had that charisma, that star power, that always drew all eyes to him, in person and on the screen and in photos. 

One of his few rivals for beauty, star power and charisma in the times during which he lived was Muhammad Ali, whom we do see and hear too during the course of the film. Muhammad Ali is the anti-Elvis, the one who spoke out against racism and the war in Vietnam, the one who didn't always choose the money, the one who went to jail rather than kill brown people across the world from where he lived.  Elvis joined the army and got addicted to pills and very young girls. And always chose the money.

There's historical video and film footage. Along with this there is extensive talking head footage in the Rolls that carried at different times hitch hikers, various writers like our friend Greil Marcus, actors, musicians and others such as David Simon opining on the meaning of the life of Elvis, fame and the wreck that is the USA, the then upcoming 2016 presidential election, and how in the world have we come to this? (Alec Baldwin, from inside the Rolls, informs us that the orange nazi shall never win.)

Sunday's weather cooperated. It was a beautiful summer day. When we exited IFC theater, the early evening was like, well, maybe sitting on a patio in Provence, looking toward the western ranges while the sun sets in super-saturated sherbet colors, and we dissolved into as one does in company at that limnal time of day, in company of dear friends and drinking (a good) rosé. The early evening continued more lovely as we tripped along the sidewalks of downtown Manhattan. When we left the first restaurant for dessert and coffee at another one, it was even more lovely. When we parted company the temperature had gotten cool enough for light jackets. Such a pleasure after the long string of brutal heat and humidity all day and all night.

Later, before falling into sleep I continued to think of the USA and whether it was really different from its European mother countries.  Italy gave us "sprezzatura," originating in Baldassare Castiglione's The Book of the Courtier, where it is defined by the author as "a certain nonchalance, so as to conceal all art and make whatever one does or says appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it." From France, we received "panache" the connotation of flamboyant manner, bravery and courage, even unto recklessness, as in Cyrano de Bergerac and The Three Musketeers.  Additionally France has given us through the ballet the concept of "ballon," the appearance of being lightweight and light-footed ,as though a dancer effortlessly becomes airborne, floats in the air, and lands softly.  The Brits gave us "swashbuckling" Robin Hood and the Scarlet Pimpernel.

What idea of effortless flair has the USA contributed to the world, that everyone strives to project of themselves?  "Cool," of course, the concept of cool. Even though he wasn't black, Elvis possessed cool in spades.   (Let us not forget though, that 'cool' was a concept that came to the USA from Africa, as brilliant Robert Farris Thompson has so well documented here and elsewhere.)

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Rumbatimba with Alain Pérez - Palo Quimbombó

      . . . . A new Postmambo Studies Rumbazo Youtube video. El V put it up a few days ago. Time to enjoy!

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Ivanhoe (BBC) 1997; A Very English Scandal (BBC One) 2018

     . . . . After the exertions of Saturday in the heat, and the heat ongoing without any prediction for an end, any time in the foreseeable future, I was a wrung out limp rag of a person, unfit for anything, which meant the traditional Pasta & Jazz Saturday night dinner was reduced to heritage tomato salad and a pre-cooked egg pappardelle, sweet sausage, eggplant and zucchini dish from Raffetto's (est. 1908!).     . . . . 

This meant a lot of weekend tv watching.

 . . . I don't know what to think about the three-part A Very English Scandal.  It seemed, o I dunno, inappropriately light-hearted and cheeky for an exploration of how a man loses his political career via the necessity of being a closeted queer and because he tried to have murdered another queer whose life has been warped by the laws about homosexuality -- and gets off from attempted murder charge because Eton etc.  I just don't know.

It was, of course, a delight to watch this mature, and o so not pretty, Hugh Grant in the role of disgraceful Labor party tentpole, Jeremy Thorpe, and the still very pretty Ben Whishaw as Norman Scott, Thorpe' lovely, but deeply disturbed young lover, whom Thorpe concludes must be killed to remove his inconvenient demands and loud mouth, once Thorpe tires of his 'bunny.' 

 . . .  I then comforted myself with the  BBC 1997 very sincere, yet a bit sly, 6-part miniseries adaoted from Walter Scott's Ivanhoe (1827 -- one of my favorite novels as an adolescent, and I still re-read it every so often) Among the many delights of this series is Ciarán Hinds as  Brian de Bois-Guilbert and Christopher Lee as Lucas de Beaumanoir.  Lee emotes in the role exactly as he does as Saruman in Jackson's Lord of the Rings. The scenery is splendid -- terrific forests and roads through them, and magnificent baileys, tilting fields and the rest. There are some impressive fight scenes during which the viewer will not miss CGI enhancement one bit.

The political slant of royals and the middle ages chosen present the Lion-Heart as heavier and less jovial than maybe Scott chose -- more in line with Steven Runciman's third volume of his classic history of the Crusades, though he's still a hero.

But then Scott's novel was not middle-ages light either.  Horrible torture, anti-semitism, slavery, corruption of all sectors of the society's institutions from the crown to the church, sexual abuse of innocent women are all essential plot points in Ivanhoe, which are not prettified out of the story here. There are departures from Scott's text though, and all for the good, particularly with the character of Rowena and Athelstane.

Ciaran Hinds as Bois Guilbert and Susan Lynch as Rebecca

Maybe the best of all the delights is the actress who plays Rebecca possesses the perfect sofa-divan pillow mouth,  hooded eyes and extravagant waves of hair so beloved of Pre-Raphaelite-Rossetti pseudo mid-Victorian fantasy of medieval sirens.

Every time she appears on the screen I am as riveted by the actress's mouth shaping her words as were those men staring at Rossetti's  paintings of Jane Morris (wife of William Morris) in "Proserpine,"

"Bocca baciate non perda ventura, anzi rinova come fa la luna’, which translated means ‘The mouth that has been kissed loses not its freshness; still it renews itself even as does the moon’.

 or  Fanny Cornforth in "Bocca Baciata" 

and his own wife, Elizabeth Siddel in "Beata Beatrix."

"It's too Darned Hot" dance sequence from Kiss Me Kate

Yah, it remains too darned hot.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Prisoner of Zenda (1984) - The Devil Always Gets Into It

     . . . . Prisoner of Zenda BBC (1984); novel (1894). This production lacked only a decade to have made it an anniversary celebration of this classic adventure tale, that has been adapted in many forms ever since publication.  But if it had been made in 1994, the characters would likely not have been quite as noble, maybe?  It's kind of fun to speculate, even though it's fruitless as it didn't happen.

I fell love with this old BBC miniseries, oddly enough.  I didn't care for the Ruritania or George Barr McCutcheon's Graustark books much, even though I encountered them relatively early (for me), like the summer between junior and senior h.s. years.  Even then these books seemed too glib in terms of how and what happens -- and most of all, I could not believe in Ruritania or Graustark as independent monarchies existing in the late 19th C Europe after Bismark's unitary success pulling all those German principalities, dukedoms, etc. together out of the ancient jigsaw of the Holy Roman Empire. Even then I knew about the Germanies and the Holy Roman the Empire then, though what I knew as sketchy.  It was all those years of church school studies,but I did know by then the German states were no longer it was parts of the Holy Roman Empire -- or as they called it even still, then, the Empire. It was now Germany, so this little place could not have had a king.  It could have a princeps, a duke, or something else equivalent but not a king!  Even Queen Vicky's Hanover family's kingdom was annexed by Prussia in the mid-1860s.

Indeed, I laughed every time I saw the Prussian Iron Cross worn by the characters in this BBC production -- though of course made of precious metals and studded with jewels and hung on jeweled gold chains.  would have been furious to see this honor that he devised intentionally to be the equal of honor of whoever it was awarded to, however rich, whatever rank or class, no matter how poor or lowly. This is why it was made of Prussian iron. That wouldn't be possible, not in an independent kingdom by a monarch and his entourage, etc. because it was Prussian! Also the Ruritanian crown was a enclosed crown, which only emperors or pope are entitled to wear.  Mere monarch have open crowns.  Historian's nitpicks.

But watching the way this BBC production rolls and all its subtext, was so much more engrossing than the books.  It's sly and cheeky in all kinds of way that the books never were. It really plays up the Great British Empire upon which the sun never sets with Rudolph Rassendyll, a man of little money, position or accomplishment beyond his good schooling and Britishness, who shows he's better fit to be a monarch than any monarch. It shows how quickly someone who is king for a day becomes accustomed to being king forever -- yet, Rassendyll is so honorable, at least as honorable as the honorables with whom he falls in with.  Not the least honorable is Princess Flavia.

Most of all I enjoyed how efficiently this slender novel was turned into 6 episodes, each a bit less than a half hour.  Nothing was sacrificed. The pacing and rhythm were perfection.  People don't know how to write like for the screen that any more.

Rudolph Rassendyll, who has been crowned King Rudolph V, and who has successfully rescued the true Rudolph V from a dire plot to murder him and put a regent on the throne of Ruritania, departs for the train, leaving Ruritania, and the woman who he loves and who loves him, behind forever.

"God doesn't always make the best men kings," observes loyal courtier, Fritz van Tarlenheim.

Wise Colonel Sapt responds, "The devil always gets into things."

Yet it was lovely to find a respite from black evil and destruction for those bits of time watching Prisoner of Zenda, in which honor and goodness win.

Streaming from Amazon Prime, for which, as mentioned a while back, I have been gifted a membership.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

We're Glad! So Glad! Ideas Bad! Bad! So Bad!

      . . . .  Yes! We're glad, we're glad, we're so glad that we do not have to, or feel any need to, do this!   Ladies, we give you -- Glitter Bums!

These are not the most unhygienic panties ever made. These are not the most uncomfortable tights a woman has been told by fashion to wriggle into.  NO! These are designs made of sequins and crystals and glitter applied directly to the skin of the bum of somebody who is trying too, too, hard.
Also, glitter bikinis . . . .

At this point, companies that manufacture cheap knockoffs for any so-called trend are calling it Festival Art and sell this stuff as kits in the UK version of convenience stores and so on -- at least in the UK.

     . . .  Another idea that should never been had but has showed up this summer in the UK -- 
crotch pocket trousers from Uniqlo:

PLUS! privileged white girls' problems!  The curse of summer 2018 --
 ripped jean tanlines.  O NOES!

Thank you!

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Why We Travel

     . . . . From a piece in the NY Times by one writer visiting a place another writer made famous within the small circles of the sorts of people who read such books: 
... it occurs to me that what Salter is actually writing about is the way we walk through our memories like a stranger in a forgotten town. 
“The myriad past, it enters us and disappears,” he writes. “Except that within it, somewhere, like diamonds, exist the fragments that refuse to be consumed. Sifting through … one discovers the true design.”
Which design helps one makes some, if, sometimes, only little, sense of the present, as well as the past of all those long-ago other times that came before us. 

I have felt this way myriad times in the places that are old and brimming with the past. I don't know about Salter, but for me though, they have to be places about which I bring a great deal of knowledge already acquired about the place's past. But however this takes possession of the visitor, these are the memories of the place that do not fade. Personal memory overlain on historical memory. History embedded in geography. Essential for historians or anyone who assumes to write of past times, places and people.

A place where I had the experience described above, the Cisalpine (South-east French and North-west Italian coasts) Provençal  French village perché of le Bar-sur-loup, in a range of Alps above Nice.

The photos in the NY Times piece would have appeared quite different to me if I had not spent so many hours walking in le Bar-sur-loup and taking my own photos.

I've had those fizzing electric sensations in, among other places, New England, Europe, the upper and lower South, the Caribbean, England, France, and often in various sections of New York City.  This allows me the freedom to write of these places.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Our Current Reading Cluster For Almost all Wednesdays So Far in 2018

     . . . . Our Current Reading Cluster . . . .

Time for reading has been severely truncated these last months due to so much travel and other things that involve often staying up late and most certainly not reading, not even our bedtime reading.  But we are crawling along progressively, nevertheless.  Our, particularly my, interest in the subjects have grown quite naturally out of the last two years' reading of the Roman Empire, the Dark Ages, Vikings, Mongolians, the Merovingians and Carolinians.

Two of the books we are currently reading are by medieval - Renaissance era scholar of Mediterranean History, Robert Crowley. I first learned of him two winters ago via his splendid history of the fall of Constantinople to Ottoman emperor, Mehmet II, 1453: The Holy War for Constantinople and the Clash of Islam and the West (2005). 

These two books continue the delving into the conflicts of the Ottoman Empire vs. the Roman Church, the various kingdoms and principalities of Europe and the Holy Roman Empire. 

El V was able to finish Empires of the Sea: The Siege of Malta, the Battle of Lepanto, and the Contest for the Center of the World (2008) over an IV schedule of  antibiotics. For the first course I'd brought two books with me, suspecting that he would finish the book he had before being able to go home. O lordessa, the Europeans are such dickheads, always screaming O NOES! the Muslims are going to get us! They even say so! They're taking away our trade!  -- which they seem not to have comprehended was the consequence of them giving no help to Constantine XI Palaiologos, no matter how much he personally begged and degraded himself through Europe and the Vatican.  So, of course, now in the 16th century, after losing Constantinople, as guardian and buffer of trade routes and destination, the Europeans all cry the same things, and just as the , don't do any frackin' thing to help out. The carnage is unbelievably savage on both sides -- and the bravery and stamina of the knights and other defenders of Rhodes, Cyprus and Malta fighting to hold their islands, incalculable. 

Aftre months of siege, unlike as at Rhode and Cyprus, Malta drove off the Turkish navy and army. It barely happened though, and wouldn't have, without the absolutely timely sudden infusion of help out of Sicily, led by basically independent out of Spain and Italy -- nothing official from any king or the Church. But if the original defending forces hadn't been so brilliant, if they hadn't held on so long that Suleiman the Magnificent's forces were already losing heart, it wouldn't have mattered, as outnumber and non-supplied as they were. 

Did the Europeans learn anything from this? Of course not, no more than they did from the fall of Constantinople in 1453, and no more than the US ever learns anything about the middle east from one lurch into disaster to another. 

I still have the even more bloody Battle of Lepanto to go. 

The second Crowley book further digs into the utter failures of the West to deal with the threats from Islam, City of Fortune: How Venice Ruled the Seas (2011). This one begins with the catastrophe that is known in western history as the Fourth Crusade of 1203 - 04, the one in which the Europeans sacked several Christian cities, including Constantinople, instead of fighting 'Sarcens.'  These cities should have been the Crusade's allies, but were trade rivals to the trade empire of Venice and others such as Genoa. Yes, Venice was another empire of these centuries, that played on the board with the Holy Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, the Angevin Empire, the various "Saracen" empires, and very soon now, the Mongol Empire. A business contracts, especially one made with Venice, always trumps everything.  You European noblemen have fewer volunteers than you thought?  You don't have as much funding as you told us you did?  You still owe us.  Destroy these rival cities for us and maybe we'll call it even. Honestly, I can't wait for Mehmet II to take Constantinople and leave Venice and the Western Mediterranean forces high and dry, now that they can't get to the trade routes of the Black Sea and Central Asia. They earned it.  (O well, they have all the riches and resources of the continents across the Atlantic to plunder and keep them rich -- not to mention Africa.) We're reading this one together before bed. 

I am reading four books on my own, not doing the cross-reading and discussion with el V as we have done with the Crowley books. These are all meaty and are taking a very long time. I go back-and-forth among them 

The first one is Peter H. Wilson's Heart of Europe: A History of the Holy Roman Empire (2016). In some ways this is a key book because it covers all the ground of all the books in this reading cluster. Despite what Voltaire quipped, the Holy Roman Empire was an empire, and it was very much formed by Rome, and though maybe not exactly holy, it's whole history was entwined with the Roman Church. And it survived in one form or another until the last vestiges were erased by WWI -- maybe.  I say maybe, because so many of the family names and titles that ruled one part and another of the empire over its many centuries, still survive, and many of those with those names and titles are still rich and still hold a great deal of land in Europe, from the Iberian peninsula on the edge of Europe east into Savoy, Germany, Poland, Hungary and the Balkans.

The endurance of the western Roman Empire dream is as incalculable as the courage of the defenders of Rhodes first, and Malta next,  in the 16th century. Among small facts gleaned that help illuminate history is the process by which kings in Europe were created.

No king can create another king. A king must be created - recognized by another greater power, which, in Europe's case would have been the Pope, i.e. heaven, or an emperor -- thus Holy Roman Emperor - Empire. In Europe's case, both Pope and Empire declare direct descent from the Roman Empire -- and thus we can see how inextricably the Church and the Empire were fused. Which created endless political - military conflicts over who has the ultimate power and who owns what.

This information makes it even easier to understand Napoleon's drive to marry a daughter of either Russia's or Austria's imperial family. He had crowned himself emperor, but his own heirs would not be recognized after his death as imperial unless the mother was. Josephine did not fit this criterian -- and, of course, she could no longer produce an heir at all, it was claimed, since a balcony on which was standing collapsed and the fall injured her lower body seriously. 

Empires, all these empires, and all their emperors claimed to be the western Roman empire's Caesar -- and that includes the Ottomans. How furious was Süleyman  for instance, who had declared himself Caesar, ruler of all Rome, when Charles V was crowned Holy Roman Emperor by the Pope. 

The Holy Empire continued, even when there was no crowned emperor which was the case often, for many reasons, particularly if the figure who might have been elected emperor by the Empire's electors was in a death struggle with the Pope for control of Italy and everything else.

Caroline Finkel's Osman's Dream: The History of the Ottoman Empire (2005) is exactly what it says. Osman's own father is the legendary Ertugruel, he of my beloved Turkish television historical series, Resurrection: Ertugrul. I so love this series that I have been sitting on the last 15 episodes since sometime this winter, incapable of finishing watching because -- there are no more! and then what shall I do? At least I've finally learned the name of Ertugrul's intelligent horse -- Altolgali.

The third book I'm reading is the almost excessively detailed of the 1683 Ottoman siege of Vienna (by no means their first attempt to take Vienna), The Enemy at the Gate: Habsburgs, Ottomans and the Battle for Europe (2008) by the Andrew Wheatcroft. 

The final work is Princeton professor Anders Winroth's The Age of the Vikings (2014). This is filled with illuminating information, such as the Norsemen didn't use sails until the 10th century. But the book I really want, and still haven't found, is the one that provides a detailed history of the Norse in France up into the Angevin Empire. 

The scholars / professors who have provided these wonderful books read all the languages, which include of course latin and greek, Turkish and the Venetian dialect, French, Spanish and German -- particularly Old French and Old German, and, as with Winroth, runes and various Norse languages, so all of these depend almost entirely on the primary documents, which is another reason these books are invaluable reading. The ability to read the Venetian dialect is particularly necessary since the Venetian ambassadors were often eye-witness historians of the events such as at Constantinople in the fall of 1453. 

These books will convince anyone that the most stupid move of Europe during all these centuries was one of omission.  They refused to shore up the Greek / Byzantine empire, which was the greatest buffer between them and the constant pressure of threats out of the east and Central Asia. But they wanted it all and could only see Constantinople as eating their profits. Once the Ottomans held the Dardanelles, the Bosphorus and the Mamara Sea, they owned the Black Sea, and all the infinitely ancient the routes north, east and south. So of course they were going to claim the White Sea too (the western Mediterranean). Then came the endless decades of endless piracy for booty and particularly slaves. Those galleys whether Ottoman or Venetian or just plain out and out pirates depended on galley slave rowers and their life expectancy was even shorter than that of the sugar slaves in the New World.

Gads, most human beings are cruel and stupid.