". . . 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

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

We Take Refuge Where And When We Can

     . . . . Not been a good month here despite el V's lovely birthday, two superb Postmambo Events, and, additionally, the ophthalmologist monitoring the eye with the damaged optic nerve -- though what's going on can be signs of incipient glaucoma -- found actual improvement from the last check-up.  Maybe it's the new lenses?  Another positive thing is the spectacular greenery and the variety of greens, due to the heat and the moisture. Related to that positive are the flowers, particularly in the community garden that's been allowed to grow as it wants pretty much, without being cut back or off.  The range of vivid blossoms erupting out of the head tall greens is balm to the soul. That's purely personal though. Beyond the purely personal, things are very far away from good.

It's unnecessary for me to provide the details as to why both Haiti and Cuba are tragedies of political history, and our personal histories, that need not have happened, as surely by now all have heard of them and formed opinions, if there is among all and sundry enough interest to even bother forming an opinion -- or learning facts. Climate change feeds into both Haiti's and Cuba's disasters as well as political forces forcing both nations to go without medical supplies and food -- which forces merge into catastrophe for both the island nations. For Cuba certainly, there is no light at the end of the tunnel that begins and ends in Miami. Haiti too, as we've been told that's from where the conspiracy was hatched.

Weather They Sayers announced today our city has the most dangerous air quality of any city on the planet, due to the western US wildfires' smoke blowing right into us. One wishes to wear a good mask if one needs to go outdoors for this reason now too. Rain fell for a little while, so all that particulate from the West and Northwest can be flushed into our gardens, sewers, into the East and Hudson Rivers, the harbor and the ocean.  Like pandemics, climate catastrophe never stays in one place. No man is an island, what affects thee, affects me, and so on and so forth.

Yet despite the experts of many nations begging governments to impose mask mandates in public spaces and limit gatherings, like our own stupid mayor, the politicians and governments everywhere refuse to mandate masking and distance in public spaces now, because THE ECONOMY -- and future office seeking. So -- here we are again, spiking like crazy, including right here, when barely 2 weeks ago, our own zip code and so many others in the city and state were essentially at zero for positive tests, new infections, hospitalizations and deaths. All those anti-vaxxers, enemies of the people, surely are pleased with themselves all over again, as they bring down what's left of a health system. 

Again, with COVID, extreme weather, bikers, skateboarders, stupid tourists, guns/crime/mad/desperate people, mosquitos showing up infected with the Nile Virus, etc. etc. etc., being outdoors means anything but relaxation and refreshment, even at night. In many ways, particularly at night. But for the out-of-control, whether from racist hatred or years of being homeless or the conviction of utter privilege that no laws or regulations apply to ME shoving my Porsche at 90 MPH through the crowded streets and killing people so what? day and night make no difference.

     . . . . Spouses, Lovers, Friends, one way and another, these purely personal relationships are the greatest refuge from the horrors overwhelming our present cursed "interesting times."   About once a week, el V, B and I dine with, and catch-up with, 2 or 3 friends -- all of us vaccinated.  We've been to visit another historian in his Rhode Island beach shack, making us a mini history conference.  At the beginning of August, we will visit one of our terrific Postmambo friends in his beautiful, large old historic house upstate -- with a pool, massive yard and huge screened in annex, where we will have Thanksgiving in August, the Thanksgiving we'd planned for last November, but prudently called off due to Covid spiking, which it continued to do until the blessed vaccines showed up. But we are vaccinated, so we are keeping to the plan made last year to do our cancelled holiday celebration feast with friends this summer. Still, as originally planned, this will be a small gathering of 4 people, perhaps 5, depending on another's work schedule.

     . . . . History provides refuge and escape. One does speculate others too are looking for refuge in the past, thus so very many time-travel series showing up lately -- none of which I have the least inclination to look at even the first episodes.  How fortunate, one further speculates, that it is not possible to subject the present or the past to the pressures of future colonialism for the sake of the yet unborn's survival. The future would have every right to do so, considering how ours and every preceding generation has abused Earth. But alas, we cannot go back in time and save ourselves, since we didn't already do it. Beside, those who benefit would be, as usual the very rich and protected, not the future sort of thee and me -- while the already mentioned 0.01% make massive profit out of our lack of salvation.  Until, perhaps they too, despite anal dildo shaped escape space craft, are crushed by lack of oxygen and water.

Some of these latter sorts are getting spooked by Delta, getting the idea that the economy can tank from it.  This is the only way of course we will ever get a federal mandate anywhere in the world for masking and vaccination.  One does fear it's way too late now.

We continue our own plundering of the Dark Ages with Wickham's The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages 400 – 1000. Wickham's thesis of the real changes and transformations of the West in the 5th century was the changes in the signatures of the wealthy and powerful. Free time, leisure, was the signature of wealth and power. Much of that was spent in the luxury of the country villas, where they cultivated the arts and learning, particularly the literary arts, as well as government and administration.  By the end of the 5th C, the signature of the wealthy and powerful were the manly martial arts.  The ruling class no longer affected togas as sartorial signatures of their status, but dressed like Roman army commanders.  However, even more so, the ruling class needed as much land as they could wheedle, conquer or steal. And steal away they did, which went on for centuries, as we know.

     . . . . Television has provided some good historical escape.

Straight-up historical - period scripted drama created in the present:  El Cid, 11th C, Spain and Andalus, season 2; No Sudden Move, 1950's Detroit, scripted now; The Rising Hawk, 13th C, refugeed tribes in the Carpathians invaded by the Blue Horde, scipted now; Borsalino, which was looked at here last time, is another splendid example, scripted at the end of the 1960's, located in 1930's

Women in the past re-created in the present: Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries (the 1920s, Melborne, scripted in the second decade of the 21st century); Ms Fisher's Modern Murder Mysteries (sequel series scripted in the second decade of the 20th C, set in  1960's Melborne when niece inherits Aunt Fisher's possession and calling) Both of these were eras in which women claimed freedom and rights Horatio had not yet dreamed of. 

The present that is now the past: Bergerac, first season of 9, begins in 1981, on bi-lingual island of Jersey, featuring the young John Nettles who grew up to become Midsomer Murders's Barnaby, scripted then; House of Cards (the original, British version -- forget Kevin Spacey -- scripted then); The Midnight Garden of  Good and Evil, set in the late 1970's, semi-fictional, scripted then, and oops can't forget Spacey coz he's the driver. These three share the commonality of period: late 1970's and the first years of the '80's.

     . . . . Fiction has provided two works of historic escape that eschew cloying froth: Katherine (the Lady Swynford, Duke of Lancaster's mistress, eventually his wife, whose children ultimately ancestored many royal figures, while living in the England of Edward II and Richard and the Bubonic Plagues) by Anya Seton; The Noble Outlaw: Crowner John Mystery Series, Book 11 by Bernard Knight. This is a  series in which it seems to be always cold, always snowing.  "Crowner" in 12th century Essex, is our contemporary "coroner"; author's day job was as coroner.

Monday, July 5, 2021

Books, There Are Many!

     . . . .  Spending the holiday weekend trying to catch up. It only took until 1 AM from arriving at the Miami airport when They Said get there for the 2:35 PM flight, until into the next day to get home.  At one point the plane even turned around on the runway and went back to the gate and all the passengers deplaned again, and sat in the terminal for hours.  A long, masked day.  But at least Miami Airport had food places and good coffee.   So now we're trying to get ready for Thursday's Zoom Postmambo Meet-up, which is, el V's birthday, and the following Thursday's Postmambo Movie Night, as well as other things.

~~~~~~~~ In the Meantime -- About Money and a Librarian!

     . . . . By chance this spring I've been listening to several books of financial history. which inevitably becomes the history of political and mercantile corruption and crime, financial busts, bubbles, panics and depressions, corruption, wars. Among these histories is Ron Chernow's (1990) The House of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Finance.  Needless to say, a great deal has changed in the perspectives of the history of banking and the finance and 'investment' industries that devoured the banking business since the passing of another 30+ decades. This is equally true for the much later books such Liaquat Ahamed (2009) Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World.

But even in Ahamad's book, the reader learns, if only peripherally, about Bella da Costa Greene, the Pierpont Morgans's private librarian for their great collections here at the library and museum Pierpont built at Madison Avenue.  

Learning of Bella da Costa Greene, who was born into a black activist family as Jim Crow tighened its noose of the US, and to have her career -- as woman yet! -- had to pass for white, of course this signaled an excellent entry point for an historical fiction for somebody to write (not me).  Evidently others thought a fiction featuring this fascinating figure was something to do too, and did it.

Here in The Washington Post (paywalled) we have an interview with the co-authors of The Personal Librarian, Heather Terrell and Victoria Christopher Murray.

~~~~~~~~  Reading Histories:

    . . . . Chris Wickham's (2009) The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages 400 – 1000. This book’s first section covers the same ground, though with a different perspective in some areas, as the also read-aloud, Peter Brown's (1971) The World of Late Antiquity. The perspectives are very different generally, since Wickham’s work is firmly within contemporary data based, statistical, demographic, archaeological, linguistic, etc. work that has changed historiography so much in the last half century. I also relatively recently, i.e. this year, learned a great deal of the late Roman Empire in Douglas Boin's (2020) Alaric the Goth: An Outsider's History of the Fall of the Roman Empire

These histories fit well into June's discussion on Bret Devereaux's blog "Collection" -- The Queen's Latin: Or Who Were the Romans Part I, and so far, Part II Though he does seem (so far) to ignore that Alaric, despite how Romanized in all ways that he was, was refused citizenship, and even advancement beyond a certain level, in the army -- quite like what George Washington with the Brits in the French and Indian Wars. 

What is clear, past, and present, is the two opposing arguments continue about the Roman West vs. East.  Continuity / transition vs. Sharp change / fall? 

Both of these depend on one's perspective as to Western vs. Eastern Empire, Latin Empire vs. Greek Empire -- the same fiber, weave and cloth, or different from the beginning?

I've been reading continuously the newer "Roman" histories for the 'general' reader over the the last few years, such as Adrian Galsworthy's (2016) Pax Romana: War, Peace and Conquest in the Roman World, and James O'Donnell's (2009) The Ruin of the Roman Empire: A New History.*

However, my reading in Roman history is fertile preparation ground for my real recreational historical interest,**  the transition from late antiquity to the middle ages -- Goths! Vandals! Visigoths! Ostrogoths! and mine real favorite, the Merovingians (along with, later, past the scope of this book, the Mongols and Turks)! Franks! Norse! --  which Wickham's book determines to cover in detail. One does have to consider this is 600 years, and the book's less than 700 pages, which might mean a page per year? It doesn't really work out that way, thank goodness, but still, this is Big History, of which, ah-hem,  I'm in favor. And certainly anything Wickham misses here, he's covered in his other works.

The one thing we know certainly is the 6th century was a terrible time into which to be born. One signal that informs us of this: we have less written documentary evidence for the 6th than just about any other century of "Europe" except the 4th. This would explain then, too. why the Western Church possessed more land in "Europe" in the 6th C than it has ever since. But in the last decades we've fortunately been able to learn some of what is not in the tiny written record of documentary history, from historical archaeology.

I'm still waiting for the history of Merovingian Gaul, and Visigothic Spain.

~~~~~~~~~ Reading Fiction

     . . . . It took a long time this year for a novel I wanted to read to show up one way and another.  Fortunately for me I have acquired the final three novels in Andrea Camilleri's Inspector Montalbano series set in the regional of the fictional Sicilian city of Vigatta -- The Sicilian Method (2020) – third to final Montalbano.  The Cook of the Halcyon, and Riccardino are the last two titles, both published in the US in 2021. the Author died in 2019.

Mr. Camilleri prepared years ago for the end of the Montalbano series.

“I finished him off five years ago,” he said in 2012. “That’s to say, the final novel in the series of Montalbano is already written and deposited at the publishing house. When I get fed up with him or am not able to write any more, I’ll tell the publisher: Publish that book.”

Also, the latest Martin Walker’s  a Bruno Chief of Police series set in past and present Provence, The Coldest Case. I've been looking forward to this since finishing up all the previous Bruno novels by the end of last summer.

~~~~~~~~~~Ranking First Half 2021 Reading

     . . . . Now that half of 2021 has passed, I can speak definitely as to which books were my most enjoyable, most informative reading, for the first half of this year:

Robert Irwin's (2018) Ibn Khaldun: An Intellectual Biography;

James Grant's (2019) Bagehot: The Life and Times of the Greatest Victorian;

Marie Favereau's (2021) The Horde: How the Mongols Changed the World;

And already, the history noted above, Chris Wickham's (2009) Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages 400 - 1000 qualifies.


* Oddly, as much as I respect and appreciate Mary Beard's work, I find reading her books a chore. Not her fault, but mine.

** Just in case: my professional specialization is the history of the colonial Americans, and the history of the United States, via the lenses of the African Slave Trade and slavery in the Americas, and specifically the slave system of the United States.

Friday, July 2, 2021

2021: Half Empty? Still Half Full? How Did It Get To Be July?

      . . . . Return from Miami scheduled tomorrow, just ahead of Hurricane Elsa, in time for Pasta and Jazz Saturday at home.  Miami is, um, shall we say, terrified, having to admit it being ground between Condo Collapse and Climate Collapse, which latter involves both rising sea levels and rising numbers of tropical storms and hurricanes. Surfside's beach front condo catastrophe seems quite in the cards for so many, and not only in Miami-Dade. People in Canada, due to their own massive salt soaks due to highways, streets, sidewalks and roofs, with their own massive condo population, and now astounding high temperatures, are pretty terrified too.

In the meantime:

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

     . . . . Though at one time I watched many French New Wave films, the French gangster noir was a subset mostly missing, perhaps because my mentors weren't interested in it themselves?  So I just watched for the first time Borsalino and Co. (1974),  featuring Alain Delon and produced by Alain Delon, on Amazon Prime. This is the 1974 sequel to the 1970 Borsalino, which co-starred Jean Paul Belmondo and Delain. Amazon provides subtitles or one can watch a dubbed into English version. As the time line is 1930’s Marseille, from the perspective of 2021, this is doubly a period film. As with most period screen work prior to very recently, and even now,  see women’s shoes! --  the women’s hair is anachronistic – still following that teased, sprayed variations on the Bardot big hair flip of the swingin’ 60’s. Otherwise, the details, whether the vehicles -- which includes horse's harness -- and particularly the men's suits, are period accurate. Men's suits, to die for, for sure -- hey the characters are French and Italian, so of course.  The women mostly don't wear much, but what they do wear would fit right into what is unworn mostly in contemporary fifty years after Borsalino and Co., in today's "Gentleman's Clubs." 

We begin in a cemetery, in silence, followed by a long, silent take of the hearse advancing out of the cemetery, front-on toward the viewer, infinitesimally slowly, during the credits roll.  First 5 + minutes, nobody speaks. People are merely watching, attending the action, as are we, the viewers. Yet, we quickly learn, that in the tradition of ancient connection between southern Italy and southern Gaul/France, the antagonists-protagonists are Mafia gangsters, who have the paid cooperation of the French police and politicians.

The plot emerges out of collusion of the Mafia w/ the contemporary fascist-nazi international movements, and their proponents in local and national governance, law enforcement and finance – German, Austrian, Italian, Spanish, and yes, in France's and the UK's too  -- who use them to get guns and muscle, financed by the gangsters' free rein with bootleg and smuggled booze, and the manufacture and distribution of heroin. Volpone, the bad Mafia Big, displays autographed photos of Mussolini, never specifically focused upon by the camera eye, but part of scenic decor. Volpone's sneers that Siffredi's style, taking revenge, is out-of-date and over for their kind; we gangsters are now part of the establishment, and taking over the whole world in tandem with the politics of the fascist international. 

When Siffredi gets his mojo kicking in again after his hero's arc reversal, he leaves Marseille for Genoa, to get the money to recruit for vengeance. Nothing during the Genoese chapter of Siffredi's life is shown or told as to how he and his no-back-story to explain his boy's bottomless loyalty, obtain the money and mojo to take “Borsalino and Co.” to France again, and work out that out-of-date revenge. But surely we the viewers know it wasn't done politely or legally, and surely there are bodies piled up.

Cinematic and history's style, period, tone, culture, meld elegantly. We see throughout what Peckinpah, Scorsese, Coppola -- particularly Scorsese -- took note of in their close studies of the French New Wave, particularly with the set dressing, mise-en-scéne in scenic structure. Demonstrated on the screen we see what the French directors learned from US directors of the gangster and western films. At one point, ever so suave Seffredi, not yet broken by the bad bad guy, shoots with a revolver in one hand and double barreled shot gun in the other, bodies falling over balconies, down stairs, blasted into wall, piled up in an anonymous heap of nobodies who matter only to illustrate how competent the Siffredi character is with guns. In a reflection of the silent credit roll of the opening, in the opening sequence to Our Hero's arc of redemption of his Marseille fall, is a long sequence which is a train speeding through the night, car after car, brightly lit inside, so we outside in the dark see into every compartment, even the details of passengers reading, eating, talking, sleeping, until the car in which Our Boys are interested appears. This long sequence is simple, elegant, hypnotic, so much longer on screen than anything we will see today, except overt, graphic scenes of violence. But, never fear, this section concludes with an act of brutality that not even Tarantino has out-done (who was nine when this film was made).

The film concludes on a luxury liner, with Siffredi, his boys (and one girl) going to America in 1937. Where "We surely will find  and make some very good friends." Which leaves me with my 2021 sensibility resenting that I've had to root for just-as-bad guy protagonists vs. their bad-bad guy antagonists, that the dominance of the screen has me cheering on bad guys. All of them are black Borsalinos.* Nevertheless, I was entirely engaged with the film's artistic, historic and political vision.

* In case: Borsalino.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Summer 2021 Is In the House And Here Come A Lot of Firsts Since Before

     . . . .Today’s the Summer Solstice.  

Yesterday was the first day of summer.  Saturday was Juneteenth -- and a birthday party!

Saturday, f or the first time in nearly 16 months I applied some cosmetic. Lipstick cannot be done until arrival, after washing hands, of course, due to masks. Left the apartment about 5 PM, for the first time in nearly 16 months got on the subway. We took the elevator to Hosts' apartment, spent 4 hours in a NYC apartment, with ‘many’ people – about 20? – all unmasked -- but all vaccinated, it should go without saying -- again rode on the subway in company of some of the other guests,  and got home about 10:45. 

I don’t even know how to describe this thing of simultaneously ‘it was just like life as we knew it Before pandemic with each other and in those rooms’ and ‘what the ??????’  It was so normal. Except it wasn’t.

I seem to have expected that all of us have gone through some great physical transformation. But it was as in Lucifer, the final 5 eps that went up recently on Netflix, after the long hiatus to shoot After pandemic -- everybody everybody looked, sounded and behaved just like themselves -- maybe a bit thinner, but that's to be expected.  Everybody has been productive, come through well. People who were coupled before the pandemic are still with each other, clearly all of us even more strongly bonded with our partners than Before. 

But unlike previous get-togethers, the conversation was dominated, not by discussions of art, technology, gigs, teaching, and so on, but by a pandemic. Other than that the conversation tended to slide around to the real good old days, of UC-SD, and of the Kitchen, the real days of Before, when we all (mostly) met each other first.  And those who might have been with us, but had already gone, well before pandemic.

Some people at Saturday's party had gotten sick with covid. Their experiences were all over the place, none the same, except those who contracted covid did so very early in the pandemic -- and one of them, if I heard correctly, two days before New York locked down in March 2020. Travel seems to be involved one way or another. The second is that the young ones -- I'm talking under thirty -- got it far worse, and were sick much longer than the older ones who got it.

It was so interesting to hear everyone's experiences, reactions and thoughts.  Even though we are all among the privileged (though nobody rich or super rich, but we all have enough, with a little to spare; some had much larger spaces to isolate in, and some of us, well, we didn't, some of us even had even been able to leave the city), still, all our experiences were different -- other than as relationships.  We were all in good ones Before, and it is clear that these relationships are stronger than ever. None of us had seen each other physically in all this time. All of us have just in the last 10 days or week, just now, begun to re-enter 'the world' despite having been vaccinated for so long -- some since January and February even.

None of us have bee able though, or even desirous of flinging ourselves right back into our lives Before, for all kinds of reasons. Some of the institutions where people worked are gone, including a small liberal arts college that closed down for good this winter.  Live music, and traveling for it, is still not regarded as safe among our kind.  Artists have lost galleries, and some have lost their museum commissions, even as the institutions shut down. Flying all over the world, all the time, living half the year in a different country -- none of this is possible right now.  Moreover, none of us really want to go back to schedules we had Before, it seems, particularly the traveling part. That is particularly unexpected by many of us: we liked staying home, with family.  None of us are racing to go to restaurants. We have no interest in going to movies. Any travel this summer is about seeing family, or something like, as in our case, research.  

All of us isolated immediately, wore masks and gloves, disinfected everything, and got vaccinated as soon as we possibly could.  Several of us were among those standing in the extreme cold and snow at the mass vaccination sites -- many of us went through hell trying get a vaccination appointment, not just once, but for the second dose too.  Every one is well informed about covid, and believes another surge is inevitable due to delta and gamma and other variants. 

Out came this big birthday cake -- a carrot cake.  I don't know about anyone else but it was my first carrot cake in probably two years.  

Of course we had a champagne toast. We are all still alive and healthy, still standing, still creating, still loving our partners and families, and each other. How more privileged than that can we get?

We are part of the archetype of our city that makes the fascist international shudder and sneer at it -- yet -- holy cow -- we dare to remain and persist.

Like I say -- privileged, that is us.

And very lucky too. Because the cost of the pandemic is starting to arrive, and I don't mean only with inflation and the higher prices for just about everything across the board, and shortages of things, due to supply line/labor shortages.

The greatest cost is the people we have lost due to them not getting the medical attention they needed soon enough.  A friend died today, of cancer, for that very reason.  He would be alive, if not for the utterly impossible wreckage made of dealing with covid from the frackin' gitgo. We know who is to blame.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Red Letter, Er, Red Number Days, They Are Here

      . . . . Am looking at my wall calendar, above the computer desk. 

O my, there are red reminder circles around quite a few dates!  Which hasn't been the case in nearly 16 months, generally speaking.  Additionally, there are the arrows running across a week of dates indicating when el V leaves for Miami, and when he returns. Holy Cow! He has a research residency at the Ayallah Archive at the Florida International University.  This will include giving a webinar while in residence at the Diaz Ayala Center of Florida International University's Cuban Research Institute on Thursday, July 1, at 2 pm Eastern: "Teaching the Cuban Discography: The Archive as Clave." As the title suggests, he's preparing a course in the Cuban discography.


. . . . The long persistent 'heat dome' disintegrated a couple of days ago.  My toes are confused. After such a nice time of sandal freedom, they are back in sox and boots, with long sleeves and / or light sweater outside. Which means that the coming week looks like 'normal' lovely June weather of earlier years.

Nevertheless, it's difficult to rejoyce too much. The They Sayers are saying covid's here for good. Why yes, just forget about that herd immunity fantasy.  Ain't happening, ain't gonna happen, folks. Why yes, this is no kind of surprise.

Due to Delta spread it does seem the UK isn't going to completely open this week, which is good.  But we're wide open here, so we know what to look forward to.

While the new surges in Southeast Asia are of course hitting hard the factory workers who make everything we USians use.  Again, not a surprise, is this? Along with this is the ever-increasing housing crisis in this nation.  Much of this is caused by capitalism, all right. The wide-spread, grinding, relentless poverty -- just starting with utterly unaffordable housing -- in the USA is a deliberate policy choice:

And yet so many obscenely wealthy wonder why so many of us believe they are the greatest danger to family, community, society and security ever created.


. . . .  WATCHING:  Lupin, Part 2, went up on Netflix this weekend. 

My goodness the writers, camera people and editors do tension in this show. It's breathtaking how many narrow escapes upon narrow escapes they can pile up in a single sequence of a single episode.  I've never seen anything quite like this. And while doing so they manage to create visual jokes that add commentary.

For a single sample, in one scene Our Protagonist, Assane Lupin, captured and handcuffed in a police vehicle, stops a station to refuel, naturally requests to use the bathroom -- and of course, hands cuffed behind him, requires assistance from the guardian cop. All through this sequence are people holding hoses and engaged in other activity, that with a restroom in the picture, provides comic, um, er, well ya, relief!  Only the French could have done this so elegantly, subtly, refusing to draw any attention to itself, lacking broad vulgarity (which broad vulgarity, of course the French do as much as every other culture on the planet), while containing wit.

Ya, this show is special in every way, because it is so French, making no gestures toward that blandness of deliberately trying for an international audience. Lupin was conceived from the gitgo for a French audience, not a global one.  The producers are fairly convinced that this is why the show became an unexpected  international blockbuster -- it is relaxed within its French context, from source material to culture to cast, to locations.


. . . . READING: The Horde: How the Mongols Changed The World (2021) by Marie Favereau. 

Definitely in the top 5 of the books read this year.  I don't like it that I've only a few more pages left to read in this book. It was so pleasant to sink into Eurasia in the era given to us by Chinggis Khan, until the Bubonic Plague and other factors diminished the bloodlines of the Hordes, and the rise of the Ottomans.  Believe it: if you think you know about the Mongols and what they did, you very likely do not, as one learns by reading this book. A solitary sample: how many of us have even considered how much the Hansa trading consortium depended on, and was integrated into the Hordes' commercial system?

Having concluded Justinian's Flea as our bedtime together Read-Aloud, we have embarked on a very old book, recommended by the author of same, but published way back in 1971, Peter Brown's The World of Late Antiquity: AD 150-75. Thus in many ways, presenting a perspective that contemporary scholarship no longer supports. It's a slim book, during which one does frequently observe, "My! how late antiquity has changed in the 21st century!"

We will follow this as our Read-Aloud with The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages 400-1000 (The Penguin History of Europe - 2009), by Chris Wickham.  All our faves included -- Goths! Vandals! Mameluks! Mongols! Ottomans!  And most of all, Charlemagne!

I remain puzzled though: why does the Eastern Empire interest me so much less than either the old or new Western Empire, or the Mongols or the Turks?


* I do not need to be informed that French expression can and does resort to that kind of humor as much as does every other culture in the world. Ha!

Monday, June 7, 2021

Watcha Lookin' At?

     . . . . The other night I was still sleepless* at 3:30 AM.  So -- Highlander (1986).

Set in the then contemporary NYC of the mid-1980's, and very early 15th century Scotland.

* Could the sleeplessness be caused by seemingly SUDDEN shock of actually doing things Outside in all sorts of venues, and SEEING people, socially and professionally, Face to Actual Face in the Real World?  It did seem as though we were continuing with pandemic life of quiet, solitude and distance and then it was like Wait! Bang!  We're back!  Sort of back anyway. We continue masking indoors and in crowded situations.  But with the warm > hot > HOT weather and out-of-town visitors and well, just wooooeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! We've been vaccinated for nearly two months and so have just about everyone else we know, well, it's like we finally recognized what FULLY VACCINATED means, and have believed in it. And we are BUSY.

Too, I have dear friends who are gravely ill. 

And one of my email accounts got hacked (fixed in about 3 hours thanks to el V -- what do people without an el V do when these things happen? -- among other matters that might be keeping me awake.

There is good news too. Evidently the distilled white vinegar was more than effective in ridding my computer desk of an attempted invasion by very teeny tiny brown ants.

Cuba's own vaccine is now approved.  They expect to have all of Havana fully vaccinated by the end of August.  Probably sooner in the country and the less densely populated areas!  Plus both universities that wanted Postmambo to do projects in Havana in 01/2021, have confirmed to do them in 01/2022.


I saw this movie once before, long ago, maybe at a revival house, when we still had the vestiges of such things? This is quite an historical era artifact, as it encapsulates pop culture aspects of the mid-late 1980's, early 1990's. This is particularly clear with the choice made as to where and when the film opens, at  one of those fake, costume wrestling nights at Madison Square Garden. The days of Jesse Ventura "the Body" -- who went on in the '90's to get himself elected governor of Minnesota (which seems to have taught the voters nothing).

That this film experience is going to be more than a bit bonkers is indicated by the music choices alone: “New York, New York” lyrics sung by Frank Sinatra, as part of the soundtrack, is a Highlander running joke. 1985-6 isn't that long since the 1977 Blackout and NYC’s 1975 bankruptcy crisis, so the City’s still damned raw. We’re in Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976), not Scorsese’s New York, New York (1977). The mise en scéne is full out punk era, with the Big Bad Kurgen antagonist channeling the theatrics of Johnny Rotten, Sid Vicious and Iggy Pop, plus the tagged background in so many of the scenes.

But for sheer delirium, we’ve got as primary sound track continuity, World Wide Wrestling’s fave, Queen, and its fusion of Freddie Mercury’s glam rock, heavy metal and loads of other sorts of rock and other musical forms too.

What this mid-1980’s New York City soundtrack pointedly does not have, is Black and Brown. There is no Salsa, no Boogaloo, no Black music, not even HipHop, about to birth a subgenre of its own, Gangsta Rap, despite 1986 being the peak year of HipHop's pop culture golden age. Despite the omnipresent tagged scenery, despite the brief appearance of a single Black immortal, whom the Kurgan takes out, naturally, Highlander’s New York City is as White as you can get.

In the movie's favor, the landscapes and crowds of the16th century scenes in Scotland were filmed live action, not cgi pretense thrown up against a blank mud blue screen.  So those scenes have that reality intense quotient now too that we miss so much in what action superhero franchise flix have devolved into.

However, none of this conceals the fact, no matter how often the first installment has been edited, this movie is deliriously bonkers. It’s astonishing actually, how this movie make no sense whatsoever, which is probably part of its appeal, particularly at age 15, when nothing makes sense anyway. Movies like this weren’t as common in 1986. By now though, mixed tone and genre are the norm . Russell Mulcahy, Highlander’s director, came out of music videos. MTV Channel had hit in 1981 (“video killed the radio star’), so again, if one was 15, there was a sensibility here that would likely be working for ya, or at least forming an imprint of expectation.

Which is the only reason that can explain why something this badly done was able to become a franchise, throwing off one after another even worse movie in this "There Can Be Only One universe."

What a thrilling experience this movie must have been for a kid in those days (those who saw it  – box office didn’t make back investment), anywhere in the range of 11 - 20 range maybe? What could compete with that opening sequence that concludes with the most prolonged, explosive, largest ejaculation ever experienced in the history of the planet -- no wonder it is called "the Quickening." 


Way back, sometime after 2003 but before 2010, I watched via dvd some of the 6 seasons of the Highlander tv series (1992-98) spun off from the movie. Which naturally did not carry the same electric excitement and interest of the movie. But there was a lot more emphasis on romance in the series, which tv audiences loved. In the UK this was kids’ stuff, but in the US the audience was adults.

Influenced by: MTV (1981) – Music videos, murky lighting, fast cuts w/o continuity worries (see also, alas HBO GOT); 

every melodrama, every movie ever made with the girl screaming while men duke it out, plus, you know, King Kong -- the girl in the pitcha is there to scream; the self-conscious snark of The Terminator (1984), tying up the screamer to the logo sign of Silvercup Studios, home to NYC's largest film and tv production studio, etc.

Influences on: Outlander (1991); Buffy – the Chosen One, and via the Highlander tv series – multiple potential immortals.


Monday, May 24, 2021

The Merry Month of Vaporous May

      . . . .  Much cooler today – 60’s, not the high 80’s of the last week.  This is the longest stretch without rain since the drought of 2012.  I hope the rain indicated for the weekend materializes. 



The messages, social and professional, arriving in from people coming to NYC for various reasons, starting last week, who want to get together, increase every day. Right on annual schedule too, people are already arriving here from other states and countries for Gay Pride.

Well, They Declared the City completely open as of last week.  So I guess we're open, all right.  Everyone sounds so excited, while my own feelings are ... well, things don't seem to have changed for me very much.  Except the noise and horror of the restaurants get worse and worse.  Thursday the entire community, even other restaurants who get frequently cited for over-crowding and noise, had to call the police several times, because Laduree was so insanely beyond the pale. 

Then a second building on Bleecker Street, meaning also a whole lot of homes, within three weeks, went out, due to fire.  The fire department just couldn't get to the fire in time to save anything -- because of the goddamned realestaterestaurant covid sheds blocking all the streets and sidewalks.  I said this was inevitable, but was not allowed to vocalize this or write it by those I attempted to address who are responsible for this insanity in first place, which They insist is permanent and the best thing that every happened to NYC.

Politicians here locally racing to promise full, in person, public school education this fall. But to even minimally adhere to health issues, starting with distance, we need far more classrooms, thus more teachers and more buildings.  The kids may or may not be required to be vaccinated in the age groups for which vaccine is available, but teachers and staff are not -- across the board, from all the mayoral hopeful candidates. Sure, yes! they all say!  We will hire teachers to take the place of those who for health reasons do not wish to return in the fall. 

It's like these jerkwaddie politicians, despite all them boasting their own parenthood, have no idea how miserably teachers are treated and have been for decades.  Even before the pandemic teachers were quitting.  Enrollment in education depts. are way down.  Why go into so much debt to get  job that pays shyte, in which one is personally and as a member of a group treated like shyte, having to balance all the cray cray of conflicting local political, religious and cultural bs -- none of which have anything to do with educating anyone in anything. Additionally, ALL these jerkwaddie politicians, beginning with the current mayor, blithely opine how among other work this fall, teachers must be prepared to play counselor to All the Kids' traumas from the pandemic, integrate them back into socialization in groups, proper behavior and on and on.  Not a mention of course that the teachers themselves may very well have plenty of trauma from the pandemic, not to mention already being burned out working out how to handle the myriad of troubles and problems they've had to deal with in the virtual realm of education and dealing with the children.

It's as though these jerkwaddies think teachers, like nurses, are a magical, ever naturally renewing resources, that they can just say, "More," and immediately materializing are all the needed teaches, with all the skills, socialization, expertise, experience and love that are to keep our kids healthy, safe from crazies with guns, and fulfill every specific need of every specific student, of the, how many students they are to deal with every day. But we crow about all the money we're pouring into the restaurant businesses and bringing back tourism. Nothing for people who LIVE here and contribute instead of mere exploiting and extracting. 



The two books that have enthralled me these last weeks are Will Rosen's Justinian's Flea: The First Great Plague and the End of the Roman Empire (2007), and A.N. Wilson's Charles Darwin: Victorian Mythmaker (2017).  

Justinian Flea's a re-read, this time aloud, with el V, at bedtime. He'd not read it before and is fascinated by the content, which ranges from how the architects created the Hagia Sophia, to in graphic, grisly, scientific detail the operation of the flee that propagates the Yersinia pestis, the bacterium responsible for Bubonic Plague.

Charles Darwin is an examination of the naturalist's construction of his genius and his theories, and all the many others in the field who contributed, all with in the deep and broad context that is the Victorian eras in which they all operated.  This one received outraged and scathing reviews from many, all insisting everything Wilson wrote is wrong.  However, as I'm now nearly finished with Charles Darwin, and I too know a very great deal in depth and breadth of the Victorian eras, politically, culturally and intellectually, with a lot of knowledge of the figures involved, which I've been acquiring since about age 16. These critics often seem to have read something else, or out of the context within which Wilson is writing -- and Darwin himself is writing.  But not always. There are contradictions that Wilson makes often to his own arguments. He writes very well, so there is this additional pleasure, as well as knowing a great deal, of arguing with the author, so this has been a joy to read.



I've watched a lot of Acorn TV this month.  Three non-Acorn screen works have made a particular mark on my hour after dinner watching.

First is Mare of Easttown, featuring Kate Winslet as the centered character of Mare.  As this contained mini series hasn't yet concluded, that's all I'll say for now, other than I am liking it enormously.  I'll explain why, once it finishes -- if the finale lives up to the previous episodes, that is. 

The second Big Watch is the 4th, the latest season of the Neapolitan series, Gomorrah. It's a long one, in a way that usually UK and US series no longer are. Have only reached the 5th episode. Like Mare of Easttown, Gomorrah, which began on Netflix, is on HBO.

The third worthy watch is via Netflix, Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold (2017) Joan Didion’s life and times.  It is a fascinating watch on a variety of levels, not only because it centers, w/o ever vaunting/saying it, one of the few public intellectuals and commentators of the last 1/2 of the 20th century's USA, who is a woman -- and didn't come out of academia. The establishment of the non-academia affiliated New York Review of Books, did so much for her profile. It was a different time for writer-thinker-journalists, with so many outlets, including Look Magazine, for exhibiting their ideas.  None of that exists now. 

Didion's  trajectory and perspective on so much is not part of Gloria Steinem's, or the clown, Germaine Greer's.  IOW, like Susan Sontag, Didion didn't begin with, or arrive at her ground-breaking career, via the propellant of self-identifying as a member of any overtly political feminist group or organization, or even academia. Which is fascinating in its own right, because like many other ground-breaking, high achieving women before 'Feminism', in other ages, Didion was stalwartly supported and encouraged by a parent, in Didion's case, her mother.

It certainly helped, that like Steinem, cameras loved both Didion and Sontag.



It's been busy, and very productive here all month, yet I persist feeling unanchored, free-floating.  I keep wondering who am I? who are we? as a city, as a nation, as human beings? Will my very ill friend survive, or will there be yet another loss long betimes?   My sense is that we are all falling further and further and further behind reality.