". . . 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

Friday, March 9, 2018

Jessica Jones, Season 2 -- 4 Episodes In -- + Cooba

     . . . . Yesterday was the mad vortex that inevitably envelops the household the day prior to flying off to Cuba.

As this time  I am staying home I had nothing to do contribute, beyond decent food and reminders of what should not be left behind, and finding what has been lost or misplaced. I stayed out of the way of el V and B's whirlwinding unannounced and constant in and outs of the apartment, as they collected ever more good to to take to Havana such as adult diapers, an audio and cam recorder, hard drives, and the containers in which to carry all the goods.  One cannot bring any electronics etc. into Cuba in their own boxes, because it will be assumed they are brought in to be sold on the black market and confiscated.  So such things must appear to be part of one's personal luggage.  This is a huge job of packing in itself.

Love Jones's jeans and the whole outfit.  So practical.  Why yes, Jones can fight in such clothes.  Since she does so much climbing, leaping, throwing about of massively heavy objects and fighting, this is superimportant and supersmart. For what can only be sexist reasons a lot of male reviewers object to the way Jones dresses, and feel superentitled to complain about it in public, just like the a-holes who even now will occasionally be found admonishing women for making themselves uunattractive by wearing sensible shoes on the NY Times op pages

     . . . So.  The best way to dispose myself while providing dinner, cleaning up and before bed was to begin the new season of Jessica Jones, which went up on Netflix yesterday, as part of observing International Woman's Day.  This made sense since almost all the episodes were written and directed by women this time around.

I didn't want to stop watching, I liked it so much. I liked much more than the first season's opening episodes, not least because of what the reviewers seem to be complaining about, particularly the lack of a Super supervillain, and particularly the absence of Killgrave. And Jones's clothes, particularly her jeans and boots

So many of these favored writers complained about the episodes being "flabby", unfocused, lacking any real Big Bad, no action, blahblahblah.  I disagree wholly.  I am fascinated as the episodes dig into Jessica and Company's condition since season 1, their so-called mundane challenges.  But even for Super Sorts, threat of losing one's apartment, revelation that one is sentenced with a mortal health condition, loneliness, the knowledge that one is 'different' and disliked, even hated for it by society at large, even paying the gddamned rent, and the constant struggle with the traumas visited on body and soul in the past, and the deeds one has committed oneself that whether or not justified, were terrible and wrong -- these are far more real opponents than yet another Super Other.

And Jessica and / or her cohorts have all these on their shoulders like a ton of steel I-beams. It shows in all their faces, particularly Jessica's.  She's worn looking, fatigued from the endless struggle which seems to be going nowhere.

This watcher is admiring of this approach to a Super series that so much is established and so quickly.  And deeply interested in how all of the people I am seeing on screen handle everything as the series continues.

What this watcher is not, is bored!

In the meantime el V, after having felt rotten for two days, is feeling splendid and thrilled to have (already!) landing in sunny Havana, into daytime temperatures in the 80's.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Netflix's 2017 Marvel "Defenders" Mini Series

     . . . . QUESTION:  Was Netflix's 2017 Marvel Comix Defenders mini series a bottle series?

     . . . . Jessica Jones returns Thursday for her second season, as we all know (YAY!). 

What I didn't know is that Luke Cage is coming back for a second season too, June 2 -- currently the most handsome man on tv! Nobody wears a hoodie with the perfection that Luke wears one.

Not being a comix fan of any sort, following them not at all, reading them never, don't go to their movie versions, when these two series arrived on Netflix, this watcher was unaware that both Jones and Cage were ancient Marvel comix superheroes. Generally, this means they come with an enormous amount of superhero history and superhero relationship baggage. But in their Netflix incarnations,  if they displayed the baggage, I saw none of it -- and it didn't matter!  I didn't notice I was missing anything. I enjoyed the characters, found them interesting, felt badly for their struggles, and sympathized with them. 

However, there were aspects that I didn't enjoy so much -- because they were comic bookishly unreal -- guess what, they were comic book ridiculous. For example, as a person who lives in the locale of their shows, I know these neighborhoods since young adulthood. These and the city generally are nothing like what the series tell us they are: gritty, crime-ridden, drug-sodden, filled with cheap dives, cheap diners, and cheap apartments. And Cottonmouth, villain of Luke Cage, why yes he did behave like a comic book supervillain, so I lost interest in all that. 

Claire Temple, Luke Cage's love interest, though there have been hints, alas, that she's also a super something.

I could listen to Detective Misty Knight talk all day.  Alas I hear she's also a super something in season 2 of Luke Cage.  O. Dear.

It was Cage himself and his relationships with the people in his life who weren't super comic cut-outs, but there got to be less and less of that, in terms of anything but action.  It was Pops, Nurse Claire and Detective Misty Knight and how they related to Luke that I found fascinating.

Having discovered by chance yesterday that the Netflix Defenders (2017) included Jones and Cage, I watched the first four eps -- it moved well enough to do that. Plus, you know, Jones and Cage! plus Sigourney Weaver.

But what the eff?  This Daredevil -- huh?  No self-respecting man, blind or not, would ever run around the image-conscious streets of NYC dressed like like a dork. And this childish Iron Fist, comes from what sort of mysterious oriental city [sic -- coz that's how its presented -- not Asia or Asian, but some inscrutable oriental sorcerous hidden location from white folks' fantasies of the 1920's] complete with ninja Asian girly side-kick -- and, Lordessa, is he really Batman, with all his vast inherited wealth? He can't be Iron Man, since Iron Man actually works . . . .  And why does Sigourney Weaver care?  And what is this timeline of 1991 or something and then "TODAY"?  Not to mention how obvious the choreography of the fight and action scenes were, how obviously edited and body doubled.  (I have enjoyed seeing Justified's Raylon Given's dad on screen again though -- Stick.  I guess he's a superhero too? Justified consistently had some of the best actors matched with the most perfect roles -- one of my all time favorite series.)

There was so much baggage in our faces, about which I knew and cared nothing.  Especially the relationships. I kept getting thrown out of episodes in utter disbelief of anything that was going on -- except for Cage and Jones.  I loved them!

Except -- they were merely cool with each other, not even sending a Valentine text, since 2015, so to speak. Which maybe them not even having a coffee catch-up  since 2015 barely made sense since Cage had gone to prison in 2016. But what was Jones doing for three years? [Perhaps though, we'll learn the answer to that starting tomorrow!] And suddenly this this quest to save the city with a ridiculous beyond speaking Iron Fist -- what's his name anyway? and Daredevil -- what's his name anyway?

In other words having two action figures who are real people with real names, sans silly costumed superhero secret identities of vast wealth or connections, works a whole lot better.  It makes for better characters with whom one can invest feelings. 

   . . . Whereas, how in the world could anyone invest in anything looking so foolish? No man with any self-regard would venture on the streets of self-consciously stylish NYC looking like this!  

Defenders was in 2017, the first season of Luke Cage was 2016, and the first season of Jessica Jones in 2105. Both Cage and Jones get their second Netflix seasons this year -- so -- was last year's mini series, Defenders a bottle season?

Friday, March 2, 2018

The Fishing Fleet: Husband-Hunting in the Raj

     . . . . A while back an amiga mentioned she was reading Anne De Coucey's 2012 The Fishing Fleet: Husband-Hunting in the Raj. 

I'd wanted to read this book when hearing about its publication, but it wasn't possible at that time.  However, this last week I've been seriously sidelined from almost all real life due to a very bad pinched nerve condition that has made sitting at desk and many other things impossible.  So this was a good time for books I don't always have room for during real life.

It's a good enough book.  The research is extensive and broad.  De Coucey is a good writer, and with this name, presumably is part of the class out of which the Fishers who could presume alliances with the Heaven Born came.

Also, I love these sorts of histories, and I particularly enjoy books from the era of John Company -- the East India Trading Company from before the Mutiny and the imposition of the Raj by the British imperial govenment, and after, once it was imposed.  Much changes between those two eras of the British dominance of India, from when the Company imposed its will unimpeded and when the English began governing as opposed to 'only' extracting India's resources.

The first Fishers of men, English women looking for decent marriages, were coming out before the Raj.  The Company paid young women who qualified a fee as well as their carriage costs, and provided various goods and services.  All through these decades there were more women of marriageable age in England due to Napoleon first, and after WWI and the Influenza.  There were all these white British  men in India with no white English women to marry. Early in the history of the Company it didn't matter, and British men from the army and the Company married into Indian families.

But after Cornwallis came out as governor general -- post surrendering to the French and Washington at Yorktown -- that changed.  Laws of all sorts were passed that kept the children of anglo-Indian marriages from any significant post in the companies or in government.  With the Raj this was already hard social and economic reality -- no posts were open to anyone Indian or of Indian background.  This was equally true of the government as of the military and of business -- which continued even though the Company no longer ran things.

Along with these conditions things changed a great deal for the Fishing Fleet ladies as well.  Now they had to pay the equivalent of $30,000 to go out to India as a license to travel there as an unmarried woman without family waiting for them, they needed to supply all their own needs and they need to pay their own way.

Now these are the times that would have been really interesting to read about -- who were these women, how did it work out for them, all sorts of things.  However, the author isn't interested in these women, and authors get to write about what they want.

The author is interested in the young women of her own class, who don't have to pay to come out, and who are related or connected in some way with those running India.  So we're in the early 1900's and mostly in the 1920's and 1930's.  These are the people she knows . . . .

So the book, interesting enough in its own way, is also quite disappointing in my way.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Versailles (2017) Season 2

     . . . . Adoring Versailles (BBC 2) season 2  It's sumptuous, gorgeous, bitchy, poisonous (in more ways than one!), gossipy, cross-dressing, witty, over-the-top.

The Sun King played by George Blagdon
THE two actors playing King Louis XIV, George Blagdon (the muchly reviled byaudiences after a certain point, Athelstan, captured monk and object of life long yearning of Vikings's Ragnar) and his 

Philippe I, Duc de Orléans, Louis XIV's brother, played by Alexander Vlahos

brother Monsieur, Philippe I, Duke de Orléans, Alexander Vlahos, who played Mordred in Merlin, make a great job of their roles, because they know better than to be sérieux. It's only the astounding gowns and suits -- and scenery -- that anyone takes seriously. Beats the hella outta the earnest endless emo of Reign, while managing to stay far closer to history than that travesty. (There really was an epidemic of poisonings at Louis's Versailles, and spells cast, etc -- or at least so the court was convinced, and people were executed for it.)  

Though again, with contemporary historic costume drama set in courts and filled with royals, the protocols are much truncated and people are much too familiar with these figures for historical reality. Not even the maîtresse-en-titre would be allowed to take the lead when the wife of a royal Duke arrives in a room -- especially in the Sun King's Versailles.  Montespan would have been required to rise and curtsy -- the Princess and Duchess does not sit in a corner and wait to be noticed by her. But all those endless heralding, bowings and curtsies and other formalities would eat an entire episode's time if done accurately, and following the forms correctly allow for less delicious cattiness.

Princess Palantine, Wife to Monsieur, Philippe I

This season was added the character of the German Princess Palantine, Elizabeth Charlotte, second wife of Monseiur -- and she's fabulous.  Happy, healthy, hearty, smart, pretty -- not scrawny -- sensible, she rapidly became my favorite lady, no matter what the court ladies may have thought.

She wasn't this pleasant to other people in real life, however.  In her real life, haughty and filled with self-importance, and quite homely, she took to having heralds preceding her and following her, announcing her presence where ever she went -- in other words she was as much a theatrical raging queen as Philippe I, her husband. Which, from this vantage point in time I find hilarious rather than the disgusting class bs that it was, and which helped bring in the Era of Revolutions

Amusing it is, this series set in Louis XIV's France, but produced by Brits and played by Brit actors.  They are all talented professionals, who do a praiseworthy job of not tripping on their lines, robes or high heels or the writers' fooling with the manners of the period. There are many familiar faces from many other series, including The Tudors and Got.

The film locations included many of France's most fabulous palaces and châteaux, not least including Versailles itself.

The horses' beauty, elegance and grace are more than equal to that of the inhabitants of the palace.

There will be at least a third season, which makes me happy. 

Season 1 and 2 stream on Netflix.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Frankenstein Chronicles - Sean Bean

     . . . . The Frankenstein Chronicles first aired 2015 on ITV, Sean Bean as associate producer of the first series/season.  Picked up in the US by A&E, both season 1 and season 2 are now streaming on Netflix. 

It's pleasant seeing Sean Bean on screen again. This time he's John Marlott, a grizzled river police officer, diffident, who knows his place. He's carrying, naturally a heavy burden of guilt that has something to do with his dead wife and child.

London, 1827. There are some sly references to previous roles. Sharpe’s Napoleonic wars are part of them, as his character served in the Second Battalion 95th Rifles; he has the green jaket and a Waterloo Medal. At one point Marlott hums Sharpe's theme, "Over the Hills and Far Away." Another musical signal of a past part were in an appropriate scene that referenced Lord of the Rings motifs.

Robert Peel tasks Marlott with investigating who it is digging up the bodies of young children, and / or murdering them.  Robert Peel, "father of modern British policing",  during his first stint as Home Secretary (1822- 1827) will soon be organizing his London "peelers."

Some other characters from the period participate, about which I could be rather skeptical, particularly the deathbed William Blake and widow Mary Shelley's relationship. It was Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley's mother, who knew Blake; he illustrated her instruction book,  Original Stories from Real Life (1791).* In the show, a page of Blake illustration to one of his own works plays a role, so maybe it is fine that  Mary Shelley knows Blake intimately enough to attend his deathbed. Additionally Mary Shelley's dead husband, Percy Shelley, admired Blake greatly. 

Boz / Charlie Dickens; do you believe it?

Boz/Dickens getting involved in such a grim and grisly case is easily believable -- except he was still a kid in 1827, not writing or working on a newspaper. 

Still, I admit to a certain amount of satisfaction with a series that earnestly attempts connect bloody insane butchery with London's literary scene. 

Lots of the wet, filthy, grey, miserable 19th c London mean streets whose mud we've traversed so often via historic period television thrillers such Ripper Street, Taboo, etc., whether set in the eras of the Napoleonic Wars, the British East India Trading Company, or in that of the Boer Wars (but never, of course, in the frothy fandangos of the ilks of Downton Abbey!).

Many of the scenes are that "let's slit our wrists right now from the sheer misery of this mud blue screen."  

Another criticism, if one feels the need, is that there might be too much the sense of check off the boxes of what an historical period drama must have: one black character (in a subordinate role) 🗸; at least one strong woman (probably in a subordinate role) 🗸; burden of guilt or sin or deep secret on the protagonist 🗸; a temptress woman of a higher social rank who may well be eviLe, or just needing the heart of gold belonging to the man who is the protagonist 🗸 -- well you get the idea.

Still, it is Bean and a highly professional, talented cast, and the writing is not bad and a lot better than much.


*  Wollstonecraft's Original Stories From Real Life with Blake's engravings can be found here on Gutenberg. 

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Hitler's Playbook - Eleanor Roosevelt - Babylon Berlin

     . . . . I am immersed in the disasters of 1920's, 1930's and 1940's Europe and the US and the sheer idiocy of so many of those catastrophes. Marx and Engles predicted much of this. (Their work isn't Stalinism or Maoism, etc. which are always used to derail the descriptive brilliance of Das Kapital: Critique of Political Economy.) 

It's not only Babylon Berlin, with the starved poor, the scapegoated labor unions that pulls me down into the disasters leading up to the Great Catastrophe of WWII, but the second volume of Blanche Weisen Cook's biography of Eleanor Roosevelt: The Defining Years, 1933 - 1938 (1999).  This volume of ER's biography so many reviewers back then, and still now, professional critics and readers -- not just males -- seem to sneer at: it's way too long for such a short period of time; don 't want or care about HER personal life, stop with the lesbian stuff; so tired of Lorena Hicks (pioneer woman who rose to the top of the cut throat masculine newspaper reporter profession); nothing happens.  This latter accusation in particular -- in this close, detailed coverage of the Roosevelts and their circles in 1933-1938, these readers don't see anything happening? These are the years in which the US's sexism and racism are shown in all their depressing detail as to who gets what help and who doesn't get any.  

Volume II is a brilliant book. Among its many unarguable strengths are the explanations of the many many angles of Hitler and the nazis' playbook, how and why and when all the terrible things happen, which the plans were laid in the 1920's, and came to fruition in the 1930's. These are  disturbingly like the horrors our country is experiencing right now, including deliberate deniers of reality and construction of fake news, all with the objective of taking down the legitimate governments and replacing them with a terrible new world order. 

Here in the USA, at the moment the problem for our US neo nazi libertarians is that with the ADD Orange supposedly leading the charges, there are too many enemies.  He's s easily distracted, which is exactly what Hitler says one must not have. Only a single enemy and beat beat beat beat on it -- for them it was the Jews, behind which they planned and performed their tragically successful project to eliminate everyone not conforming to their concept of worthy to live.

Charlotte Ritter, one of the principals of Babylon Berlin.  She's a single Berlin woman in 1928; born of the WWI generation  who never had enough food.  Unless she marries soon, she will be targeted for the camps . . . .
 The unworthy included single women who were excess mouths devouring food that the worthy should have, and they too were sent to the camps, early on. Germany had nearly 2 million single women after the first world war. These women were the earliest and first group the nazis successfully did away with. 

Dr. Alice Hamilton, first female faculty at Harvard's School of Medicine.
The reports of ER's friend and colleague, Dr. Alice Hamilton (among Hamilton's sisters, all of whom became educated, credentialed professionals, was the famed classicist Edith Hamilton whose works include The Greek Way, The Roman Way, and Mythology), from her her philanthropy mission to Germany in 1933 to research and relieve the many starving there -- that the world could and did demand denial about Hitler remains incomprehensible.  These women certainly thought so.

Perhaps that is why critics and reviewers from Maureen Dowd on dislike this book so much.  It's about women, all those brilliant, often wealthy women with a burning passion for justice, educated, who worked so hard to change the world starting even back the era we call the Gilded Age.  They tended to gather around ER. As First Lady she did everything she could to give them their heads to make the USA and the world different from the cruel, hard-hearted, mean and selfish place it was to where everyone could at least have a decent meal and place to sleep, and catch a decent break as well as their breath.  O those men in D.C. hated her.

Monday, February 19, 2018

La Vie en Rose - Babylon Berlin - Sala One Nine

     . . . . Friday night the temperatures plummeted again.  The wind blew mean and sharp.  Yet two of our most beloved friends joined us at Sala One Nine to celebrate my birthday, with an endless flow of tapas dishes and wines, concluded with a melt in the mouth, not too sweet not too bland, but all perfectly balanced Almond Cake with a mountain of whipped cream, port and coffee.  The mostly Cuban music played was of the best -- and there are no televisions anywhere in Sala One Nine, a basic criterian for us all.

 As Darling C, who creates, fabricates and sews high fashion and designer outfits happens to be doing the costumes for Ballet Hispánico Nueva York at the moment she wore over her sparkly dress an authentic matador's jacket, which is part of the entire costume she picked up some time back in Mexico, though it was constructed in Spain. Sala One Nine is owned and principally staffed by a family whose home town is Madrid. The gorgeously handsome young maitre d',  as well as the rest of the attractive staff who were serving us, immediately noticed this jacket, and swooned.  They recognized it as the real thing of the most high quality.  It turns out their uncle back in Madrid manages matadors.  Trust Darlin' C to always be wearing the exactly right thing at the right moment in the right place!

"La Vie en Rose," Winter, NYC 2018, by Darlin' K
I have been watching Babylon Berlin, the German television series set in Weimar Republic Berlin, adapted from the Detective Gereon Rath novels of Volker Kutscher, becoming more enthralled with every episode.  Though netflix doesn't so designate -- it doesn't break the available episodes into season 1 and season 2 -- the first two seasons are both up. The third is being written now.

It took nearly three episodes, watched far apart, before I submerged into this narrative cop drama. I'd read the first novel in Kutscher's series, and there was little on screen that resembled that book.  Also, unlike RAI TV's brilliant Gommorah, or its Suburra, which consciously follow in Italian fashion the US treatments of such crime dramas, this German production isn't in your face.  It is as stylish and elegant as the Italian show, but deliberately understated, in that restrained way of Mitteleuropa.  Both taste and proportion are exercised in every frame, even those of torture and sexual abuse, but there's ample tension and suspense. Which is funny in a way, since the Italians are doing opera, and the Germans are doing the nightclubs, music halls and bars.  O lordessa -- the song and dance sequences of Babylon Berlin are worth the price of time alone -- they are just brilliant.

Best of all, which takes a while to notice, there are many small moments unlike any usual television moments (it's that inability to resist being in the audience's face of this selfie era perhaps), particularly not 'cop' television or movies, and they are adding up to be more than the sum of their parts.  As well, without changing any of the beats or emphasis of the historical - political events in Germany at the end of the 1920's -- and in the larger world, particularly the Soviet Union -- these  have disturbing ripples when looked at in the context of our own mid - to end second decade of the 21st century.  Yet, as the Cubana who sang us boleros Valentine's Day evening said so movingly, "In these times we still must look for and make the light in any corner that we can."

I think the photo by K has captured both the disturbance and the light perfectly.

Monday, February 12, 2018

It's A Comic Fer Pete's Sake!

     . . . . How can any film, even if it weren't merely part of a superhero COMIX franchise, fulfill the astounding amount of hype-aspiration-inspiration-political-cultural significance that has been piled upon Black Panther?

See the New York Times Magazine article earnestly explaining in detailed personal terms how this is the messiah of the second coming of the brave new world in which, finally African Americans are taking their more than well-earned position.  

URL rather than link presented since this is NY Times pay wall article: 

No matter that Black Panther surely is more imaginative and beautifully designed than the general dreary samey-same muddy brutality of the general superhero comix movie -- it is still a superhero comic movie, which means it must follow the endless arcs of blow it up, beat it up, zoom it up, throw it down, all to a howling decibel sound track, and do it for 30 minutes at a time.  Especially when the movie leaves the Panther's Wakanda kingdom and goes to hum drum superhero mundane 'white' cities . . .  as evidently it must?

Which, the Black Panther soundtrack, brings us to the accusations that British-Liberian artist, Lina Iris Viktor has brought against Kendrick Lamar -- already well-known for grabbing hold of other people's work and passing it off as his own -- has stolen her work for a sequence design of a music video that goes along with the Black Panther music album. A description of the problem is covered in this New York Times Arts section article:

The sequence in question shows up about 3.03 in this Youtube of the Vevo video:

Viktor's standing in the art world  is  high enough that she can have one woman exhibitions well reputed venues-- one at the New Orleans Museum of Art is scheduled for October. To some eyes her work actually looks like graphic superhero panels anyway, so her work would be a natural to be considered for Black Panther on that level alone. Then, the work's got all that gold on it, providing weight and -- cheap? -- authority, or so it appears.  Viktor's work can be seen easily via Google Image.

In any case the rabid puppies - alt right - white supremacist - racist - sexist conspiracy to destroy Black Panther's record breaking, record setting ratings from fans and critics alike, as they did with the female Ghostbusters (they did do damage to this Ghostbusters, I fear) and Wonder Woman has failed miserably. As with Wonder Woman,the advance ticket sales are through the roof, and beating Wonder Woman all to heck -- there's never been anything like it before for a comic book movie. There's not a single person who lurves superhero comic movies who is going to stay away from this one. Not to mention how the hype machines of every media platform going has been cascading ooooo and awwwwwwwwwwwwsume! and life-changing for over a year already. 

On the other hand, this is Black History Month, all month, and there's not much happening on the main stream media platforms with that this year. So at least Black History Month has a comic book superhero as a platform on which to speak to and perform Black in this nation's current actively vicious virulent racism roiling south and north, from sea to shining sea. 

I'm such a cynic. 

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Reading Blanche Wiesen Cook's 3 volume Biography of Eleanor Roosevelt

     . . . .  I began, naturally at the beginning with Vol. I The Early Years, 1884-1933  (1992).

Blanche Wiesen Cook

I had read this volume around the time it was published as I was working at its publisher, Viking - Penguin, at the time.  

This is pure Gilded Age era material, and Eleanor Roosevelt was as at the center of the Gilded Age as one could be as a member of the ruling, affluent class of old Dutch New York families. Recall Eleanor's uncle was Theodore Roosevelt, so like Henry Adams, Roosevelts could fairly believe the White House was part of their natural heritage.  But unlike the bitter and disappointed New England aristocrat, Henry Adams, Franklin and Eleanor actually did do politics, and hold political offices -- even if Eleanor, despite her many breakthroughs, could only do so through her husband, so to speak. 

This re-reading, in the depths of our own Gilded Age, while like the previous one should also be more aptly named the Age of Miseries, has me noticing things that must have just slipped by back at the start of the 1990's. Back then I  knew much less of our history than I do now, and truly far less of this period of bottomless corruption and cruelty, ushered in by end to the War of the Rebellion, than I do now. 

ER in Inaugural Ball Gown
Which is why I shudder at the preening announcements of shallow Julian Fellows and his joy in 'the 400' of New York where and when he's locating his new television series, title, of course, The Gilded Age, which was not in use until much later, taken from the title dreamed up by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner for The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today 1873),  their still famous satire of the era's idiocies and excesses.

As Theodore Roosevelt was Eleanor's uncle -- brother to her alcoholic father -- Cook gives us a great deal of background to his family.  What I didn't recall on the first reading was that David McCullough's Mornings on Horseback (1981) contained all this material too (I re-read this one too, rather recently, back in 2015).  As mentioned that the first time I read Vol I. I didn't know all the history I now do -- and I sure didn't know it when reading Mornings on Horseback on the subway to work, morning and night, and at lunch, These two works make good introductions to the residents of their class, for good and a whole lot for ill, who lived at the apex of the age's vaunted opulence, snobbery, bigotry, exploitation and racism.

Having finished Vol I over the weekend I immediately started Vol. II The  Defining Years, 1933-1938 (2000). In the later chapters of Vol I., when Franklin goes through his first campaigns and other election experiences, and takes full advantage of everything Eleanor can and does contribute -- without even acknowledging to anyone else much less ER (throughout the work Cook refers to Eleanor Roosevelt as ER) that she's contributing anything.  It was just what he was entitled to, and many women held him up at all times, beginning with his mother and her money.  The portrait of FDR in these books isn't flattering.  Cook gives him credit when credit is due, but in many ways and far too often FDR shows himself a selfish sob, and even just plain mean, and certainly ready to descend into political skullduggery against other politicians -- but then, he was a consummate politician and that's how they roll.

When ER begins to think politically and of politics and of unfathomable obstacles to women emerging in this sphere, I thought constantly of Hillary Clinton's What Happened (2017). I was certain, of course, that Clinton has read these books, and many more about Eleanor Roosevelt. With what knowing bitterness she has had to recognize ER's conclusions.  So it was exciting then, when the Acknowledgments and Introduction to Vol. II, Cook names First Lady, Mrs. Clinton, who gave her personally a guided tour of the White House in preparation for ER's own White House years.

As ER, with the help of an ever growing circle of brilliant and close friends, began her education in feminism and then became one herself, FDR was already deeply in politics.  ER found everything about politics exciting and felt right at home in all the phases of campaign, and particularly policy, but didn't allow herself to say so, either to herself or the public. She wrote and spoke constantly of the dislike of women by the political patriarchy, and their loathing and disdain at the very idea that a woman could be one of them, either as a designer of policy and strategy or as a candidate herself.  Among her many articles on these subjects in these years she shared with other women in the 'ladies' magazines that when a woman was allowed to run, it would be in elections for seats in which there was no chance of the party winning. This way the party men could say they lost the election because "the candidate was a woman."  ER wrote and spoke of these matters openly and often.

Kirkus review here; NY Times review here.
This project took Cook's adult life, as we see since the concluding  Vol. III The War Years And After, 1939-1962  didn't find publication until two years ago, year of That Election, 2016.   Nothing she learned about the reception of an effective and influential woman at the higher levels of politics either for policy or as a candidate seems to have changed, not even a bit.  Clinton isn't the only one who reads these texts with bitter familiarity.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Charlie Stross Runs With My Anti-Vampire Holy Water Humidifier

     . . . . That dream / nightmare I had, about fending off vampires with my humidifier filled with holy water (see here) -- remember that?

Well, via el V's twitter feeds he learns that science fiction writer Charlie Stross presented my Holy Water Anti-Vampire Humidifier to the twitverse -- go here to see the discussion:

Reading through this twit discussion I see that though I dreamed my Holy Water Humidifier, many others have also  thought of such or related anti-vamp devices. Charlie just didn't know about them until reading the account of my nightmare, any more than I knew of them. Ha! 

SO -- is this great minds think alike or just a buncha monkey brains sloshing around in night time primeval oooze?

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Cuba 1 - Adventure Travel

     . . . . Got back about 10 PM Sunday, the 14th, knackered.

A palmetto fan gifted me by a performer, and an orchid double-blossom gifted me by the grower from his yard filled with nearly 300 varieties of orchids. Here it is in the pocket in front of my bus seat.  The orchid survived being carried around all day, and then into the next two days when I passed it off to the woman who ran the Casa where we were staying.  She put it in water, and for all I know, it still spreading its beauty to those who see it.

     . . . . It was a most brilliant trip, but a very hard trip, starting with the schedule which had built in a day of recovery from the travel day itself for me, which never happened due to the storm Thursday (the 4th, when we were scheduled to leave) delaying our departure for a day. This happened to all of us Postmamboist Institute Travelers who are in New York state and city, which were 8, including Our Fearless Jefe, and myself.

The other Travelers, from other parts of the country where the storm wasn't happening, got to Havana on the 4th, even R, in New Orleans, whose flight was delayed due to the plan's being  de-iced.  (New Orleans, like Miami, Mobile and other parts of the Gulf got snow from this storm as well.)  As all the other flights to Havana were delayed too, this group managed to arrive in Havana's José Marti Airport together, where they were met by members of Postmambo's Cuban ground crew, and thus had all the first day events as scheduled, even without el Vaquero -- though they had to buy visas to enter Cuba, as el V had them, and he wasn't there.

Eight of we NYers departed on Friday then, (the 5th ) getting up at 5 AM in 6 degrees, and heading to JFK, which was a shambles. As it turned out, our 8th NYC Traveler couldn't get a flight to Havana until Saturday -- partly due to two planes colliding wings on the runway and everything getting set back again.  She was met on the 6th by Postmambo Cubans (she speaks Spanish, which helped a lot), taken to dinner, given a tour of Havana, and then driven the next day to meet us in Santa Clara, quite far from Havana.

The full story of what has happened at JFK, and which has made air travel a shambles for at least two weeks -- even when we returned on the 14th -- is here on Slate dot com.
Everything That Went Wrong After the Bomb Cyclone Hit JFK Airport
 “People were screaming, ‘Give me the application, I’ll become a flight attendant!’ ”

Under the circumstances, we New York Travelers -- S, C, M, D, J, el V and I got off easy. The second S -- well, she didn't get off easy, but she did get out, finally and join us. At least she was at home, and not having to camp out in JFK -- which doesn't sell diapers anywhere, a previous Postmambo traveler told me, who was there for two days, trying to get to Paris. There were a LOT of babies in JFK . . . .

S2 remained a trooper through it all: trick knee, etc. Cuba is filled with the kindest people you will ever meet. Moreover, their religions don't see disabilities as curses but as gifts of the orishas. They loved S2. Everywhere we went, good looking young Cuban men danced with her, just as long as she wanted to dance -- S2 loves to dance. Everyone loved conversing with her.  She made Cuban friends wherever she went.

This may have been the largest number of Postmambo Travelers on a single tour of professionals who were not musicians, though we did have a professional musician who is also a professional DJ (LCD Sound System) and another pro DJ.  with advanced degrees in anything from anthropology to  law to finance --  all of whom adore music and are experienced travelers. There was a husband-wife with us who could dance Cuban styles fabulously.

And, as per usual, about half way through the trip, I fell in love with everybody on the bus.

Most of of Cuban ground crew.  On the far right is Yosvani, our incredible bus driver.  At one point he even herded cattle with our bus! 

Again, we had the best bus driver, and the Cuban ground crew performed above and beyond.

We were constantly moving and there wasn't even enough time for me to take the kind of notes I usually do.  To make up for it I took far more photos than I usually do, which I haven't begun to sort through. There was no time to go online either, though I had my little travel laptop and wifi was available.  Nobody else went online either.

However, no internet meant we didn't have to see, hear or speak of the unspeakable for this whole time, and all that space that is increasingly taken up by the sheer insanity of this nation, squeezing intelligence sut, got to be opened up, cleaned and breathe fresh air. It helps one to keep going, all right. But I crashed in every way, even before I got home again. The home travel day was excruciating -- and Ft. Lauderdale, where we had to change flights and terminals, was still a wreck, on the 14th. JFK didn't look so good either. The married couple I mentioned above didn't get their baggage, though it did get to Ft. Lauderdale, which we know because we had to re-enter our luggage along with ourselves at passport control to get back into the country.

Anyway, many adventures -- and -- you will not believe this, many excellent meals, of food I'd never think I'd eat in Cuba, in places in Cuba where I never thought even a minimally decent meal would be be had. Lamb! beautifully prepared, presented and served, for instance, in Cienfuegos. How did that happen? This trip is the only one on which I didn't lose weight. Partly from eating so well, but also because it's the least walking on any Cuba trip ever. It was sitting, sitting, sitting, for hours and hours and hours on the bus, and then in restaurants, and most of all at the music events of which there were always at least 3 a day, and often more than that. 

Still, things went so well! The Travelers were thrilled.  Even if things went wrong, which one has to expect will happen, due to weather, humans and Cuba, el Jefe and the ground crew resolved them seemingly effortlessly, and the Travelers were kept comfortable -- or at least a comfortable as possible in the circumstances.

The weather in Cuba was quite unpleasant for Cuba, due to the storms and weather disturbances in the US. What happens in el Norte always impacts Cuba, at least on the northern, Atlantic side.  Havana is only 90 miles from Miami and not that much further from New Orleans -- and both Miami and New Orleans got snow from that storm in the first week of January. As it stayed cold here too, it was cold on the north side of Cuba, relatively speaking.  The people in Havana where it was windy, rainy and down in the 60's in the daytime wore parkas (those who have them) and were certain the end of the world had arrived. The Caribbean, southern side, was, of course, exquisitely warm and sunny, exactly what one wants when NYC is sitting at 8°.

Nor were there any whiners or hysterics.  This has been the case with all the postmamboist trips, which probably explains why I fall in love with the Travelers.  

Almost all of us are not group kinds people.  But we effectively function as a group quickly.  Ya, without traveling with a person, in situations in which things can't always be predicted, including the weather, that person is not known.

We were in Central Cuba, the Cuba least visited by tourists, and with the largest population of truly poor people, because this is the agricultural heartland of Cuba: cattle, chicken (for the eggs principally -- they import a lot of their chicken), pigs, goats, sheep, rice and other cereals -- and, of course, like everywhere in Cuba, sugar cane.

We were in the Caribbean side with the Haitians.  This Haitian traditional dance and drum presentation was one of the trip's highlights for me, not least for the spectacular fineness of the costumes, the very best fabricated of any costumes I've ever seen in Cuba, anywhere, anytime.  They were are fine as those in Guadelupe and the French Caribbean in general.  See all the details -- nothing fussy though, and all with that French chic and care in construction and design.  The madras is traditional fabric for such Haitian dances.

Sugar labor was always black i.e. slave labor, so these are the people who started off already far behind everyone else when the Revolution came -- and they supported it almost to every single person.  But they're still, as a group, not achieving the equality of white Cubans.

And now, we see the Russian billionaires' effect from the last year or so down there in lovely, Caribbean Trinidad -- their yachts are filling the bay of Cienfuegos too. The Casa in which we stayed our one night in Havana was having an elevator installed in the building -- the elevator parts and design are Russian, as is most of the agricultural machinery.  This wasn't the case even up to 2016.  As el V and I have been saying, the unspeakable has handed off Cuba to Putin and Russia by trying to erase what Obama achieved in the reconciliation of the US and Cuba.

Thank goodness the the JetBlue flight from Ft Lauderdale to JFK had a movie channel and it played that truly stupid movie, Victoria and Abdul. My brain power was below even that level, and the film lasted the length of the flight, ending in time for me go to the bathroom and ready myself for descent. Thank goodness we had such a strong cold wind blowing behind us to shorten the flight. Thank goodness el V had booked me extra leg room and the aisle seat. 

Because -- the flight out of Lauderdale to NY was filled with many passengers who are not like Postmambo Travelers, and their horrible children who were too old to be screaming like that. For reasons unfathomable to me, they all wore pink 'leisure wear' that had PINK written all over in black felt or something. Next to me was a person who flowed into my seat. She was a nice passenger though, who, when she kept shutting off my tv with her arm, leaned forward most of the flight. There were also the HUGE football players on this flight, one of whom was carrying a trophy that was as tall and wide as a six year old child. Plus a large contingent of Jewish Orthodox males and their male children who put up fusses about everything, including sitting next to strangers. So sleeping on the flight was out of the question. There wasn't a single seat that wasn't filled.

El V remained behind to do accounting and attend Havana's Jazz Fest and do other business. He also arranged for a big Postmambo Event later this year. He had a wonderful time. He was able to decompress from herding so many people, putting out so many fires and translating all the time.

I was so glad to be back. It was something like 18 degrees and blowing hard when B picked D and me up at JFK to bring us home. The wind was freezing. Yet, I was so happy! Or as happy as anyone in my glazed state could be. Every bit of me hurt and had been hurting for some time, and stayed hurting even at home. I worked out most of it, except for the lower back -- then came down with the muscle aches of the flu.

The first 10 days back I slept most of the time, made chicken-chili-tortilla soup -- no appetite for anything else. (Now with the flu still have appetite for nothing else) Did the alps of laundry. I grazed in James Lee Burke's maybe final novel, Robicheaux, soon shut off the lights and went to sleep instead. There was also a day in there in which it either snowed or rained freezing rain all day and night. Fortunately, I had prepared for something like this before we left. I had everything I needed, including milk in those long shelf-life cartons, so I never even left the apartment until Thursday (returned on a Sunday night). I've drunk gallons of tea, herbal and oolong and green.

If / when I go back to Cuba, I am NOT riding in a bus and rushing from one event and place to another.  I'm staying put and will be there only 4 days maximum!

And I think this is going to happen, sooner than expected . . . .  Some incredible things are in the works.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Flu, Nomads, the Eurasian Steppes and Ertugrul, the Brave Man

     . . . . Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How It Changed the World (2017) by Laura Spinney is given a substantial review in the LRB: 

I listened to some Spinney interviews last year,  though I haven't read the book --  I do have the flu currently, alas.  (Yes -- I got the flu shot, back at the start of September, but we know this year was iffy for protection against the Big Mutator.)

With the current flu getting so much news coverage one does think of this book, as well as because this is the centenary of the Spanish flu pandemic. 

I learned from the review, (written by a physician) the three centers from which its global spread probably issued. I didn't know any of this before.

Maybe for me the most interesting factoid I got though -- is that perhaps the first flu epidemic was in 'Asia' 2000 years ago, acquired from horses. Was this the first strike against the rest of humanity by the Eurasian steppes and the nomads. long before the Mongols?

Baiju Noyan is a bad man, a VERY bad man.

I think of such a thing since I am watching the second season of Resurrection: Ertugrul, in which the big bad is the Mongols, and particularly Ogedei's general, Baiju Noyan.

Unlike in Jack Weatherford's histories of the Mongols, they are really eviLe here (though Weatherford pulls no punches when it comes to Genghis's sons, whom he holds responsible for what the Mongols came known for). They are worse by far than the first season's Crusaders. Even the nomad tent and their warriors (alps) say this is so.  Certainly more prone to random acts of cruelty and torture for the sake of it, and bloody on a grand scale. This season is more graphically violent and grisly than the second one, which is only one large difference between the series' season 1 and season 2.

Initially, with the first episodes, I thought the second season was going to retell the first one, merely shifting roles around as to antagonists and protagonists and maybe even recreating the same characters but with different names and tribal membership.

But once I'd gotten a few episodes in, it was clear this season was very different.  The poetry and passion of romance have almost disappeared.  Halime Hatun, Ertugrul's love, to whom he now is married, is pregnant -- the longest pregnancy ever -- but she hardly ever appears except for him to order her "to be patient and wait." (I fear tremendously the Big Bad is going to kidnap her.) Mother Hayme seems to have lost her great wisdom just when she needed it most -- but plausibly so.

This season is far less concentrated on God's will, and the gorgeous mysticism and maybe, even the magic, of Islam.  (However, we have a hermit who appears whenever Ertugrul is in the direst of straits, feeds him, hides him his cave, reunites him with his loyal alps -- some are traitors). Other annoyances of the first season, such as the predictable episode arc of at least one exceedingly lengthy battle scene, and the truly annoying predictable slo-mo, stop action, of horses galloping, have been dropped. Each episode moves faster than in the first season, and seem shorter though they are the same length.

Season 2's Ertugrul (called "Brave Man") is focused in utter desperation on keeping the promised arrival of the Golden Horde from overrunning all of Anatolia -- and perhaps, though much of this is vague, particularly in terms of the years involved, the Persian Seljuk Anatolian Sultanate of Rûm (Rome, i.e Byzantium, though that word wasn't used until the 16th century, while Istanbul didn't come into use until 1923), which borders the lands of Byzantium.

Along with this comes something I really like, the often overlooked aspect of the Mongolian generals' front line operations in the lands they are targeting for conquest. It didn't happen in one sudden, massive invasion.

Cohorts were sent ahead long before the arrival of the Golden or the Blue Hordes -- sometimes years. Not only did they perform terrorist lightning strikes along the borders and penetrate deeply into the targeted territory. They spent years subverting tribal influencers with bribery, kidnapping of family members controlling and using them behind the scenes. 

Yet another aspect was to disrupt the local economies of trade,  herding and manufacture (this is in the charge of women) as much as possible. As Baiju Noyan says, "The only thing I love more than fighting is winning a battle without having to fight it." 

However, the Turkmen Seljuks employed the same tactics themselves when moving out of Central Asia into Asia Minor, with the same devastating effects upon the population and trade as the Mongols accomplished. 
Battle of Köse Dağ; Mongols won, Seljuks lost.

From this I'm picking up that even today the Turks harbor no forgiveness for the Mongols, recalling with hatred their subjection of over a century, which happened after getting clobbered at the battle of Köse Dağ (1243) -- won, not coincidentally one might think, by -- Baiju Noyan.

Seemingly (I don't know -- my ignorance is abysmal) this subjection of the 300 year Seljuk Empire in Anatolia by the Mongols until their own empire fell apart is the reason there aren't histories of the Anatolian Seljuks per se as there are of other Seljuk spheres as in Persia, or the Arab eras, etc.

Additionally, Anatolia was where the Byzantines Greeks and the Ilkhanate Empire (the Mongolian dynasty that took over from Seljuk Rûm) clashed the most, constantly ceding and conquering and reconquering, despite their many alliances. So the region was in state of flux and disruption at the best of times for all these years. 
"The Mongols and the "Franks" [including the Venetians] made many alliances against the Egyptian Mamluks, the wall against which Mongols and Europeans always broke. Also Frankish-Mongol alliances weren't very effective to start with. The Mongols, i.e. the Ilkhanate Empire [see above] were allied with Byzantium -- though that also broke down constantly as well. Despite many attempts, neither Hulagu [brother of Kublai; ruler of the Ilkhanate Empire, including most if not all of Anatolia] nor his successors were able to form an alliance with Europe, although Mongol culture in the West was in vogue in the 13th century. Many new-born children in Italy were named after Mongol rulers, including Hulagu: names such as Can Grande ("Great Khan"), Alaone (Hulagu), Argone (Arghun), and Cassano (Ghazan) are recorded.[27]"
Which reminds me of how often I see the name 'Attila' in the credit rolls of Italian television series -- another legendary hero's name (depending on one's perspective) that never lost in Italy associations of overwhelming power.

OTOH, this perhaps provided the liminal space where flourished the legendary aspects of the Oghuz and Osmans, from of whom rose the origin stories of the Ottomans, and the legendary warriors such as Ertugrul of the Kayi tribe. This season his trajectory has Ertugrul resembling both Christ and King Arthur, i.e. sharing aspects, as mythical figures invariably do.

This is the era when the Mongol conquers in Asia Minor converted to Islam, while also importing vast numbers of Chinese scholars and administrators from the Yuan dynasty back in Eastern Asia. 

What these alliances did do (as with Venice) was facilitate trade routes and exchange between east and west across Asia Minor to China and back -- and across Africa too. 

A reading done by Ifá; versus the Dilogun, produces 256 possible combinations of symbols which define specific combinations of Odu. The Odu are indicted by throwing cowrie shells in the sand tray.

The I Ching advisories are found via throwing coins.
This is probably when Ifá probably came to the burgeoning West African kingdom of Oyo, home of the Yoruba. El V has always believed that the Ifá readings of shells and trays and signature advice was based on the I Ching. By the 13th and 14th century the Yoruba had firmly embedded Muslim counselors from "the North," i.e. Islamic Africa 

El V studied the I Ching when he was taking Chinese classes, and of course he's studied Ifá -- which, it seems not too many, or anybody else, has done both. And now he's got me to bring him the historical trajectory of trade and conquest that made this cultural interpenetration possible. (The Yoruba have always been brilliant at taking something from another culture and transforming it to fit their own expression -- they still do it, as we see in Cuba all the time. Or here, for that matter -- Africans and African Americans are just brilliant at expression, form and style.) 

History is so exciting! I think telling el Vaquero this stuff made him fall in love with all over again.  

Ha! And to think this all is because I watch a Turkish telenovella. At one point a primary character is wearing a robe that I swore had Chinese designs on it. So I went looking at more history again. And by golly, that's yet another historic detail the series has right. It's always all about trade.

We've only resumed treading aloud, now that el V's back from Cuba, Barry Cunliffe's By Steppe, Desert, and Ocean: The Birth of Eurasia.  The maps are brilliant. It's extra exciting when we hit sections that deal with the same peoples I've beeen watching on Qin Empire: Alliance, and Resurrection: Ertugrul, as well as in Jack Weatherford's books on the history of the Mongols.

I've been thinking about the steppes, nomads, Mongolians, China, Islam, and trade for several years now.  But it's so complicated, and I have no grounding in the geography, so it's  hard to grasp this. 

Once again, I understand how impossible it is to deal with history without geography and vice versa.  Ertugrul sends me back to both after every episode I watch, and I think I'm all the more improved because of it.

It's worse than sad though, that we, as USians and Europeans do NOT know this geography and history -- history of actual, long-standing empires that we've never even heard of.  If we did have more than a passing acquaintance, at best, with these matters, maybe the world wouldn't in quite the state it is currently.