". . . 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, December 31, 2008

New Year's Eve

Hopefully, it will be what has become an annual tradition: New Year's Eve at the home of our long-time artist amigo who some years back became a fully initiated houngan. We have come to having a Haitian New Year's Eve. Last year the loa came down too.

Vaquero came back from recording a piece for a program on the great big local NPR/public radio station about Cuban Jazz and the anniversary of the Cuban Revolution. "It's snowing," he said. "I don't think it will accumulate. But it is really cold."

He went off to Da Office. Now I'm hearing on the same radio station that we are to expect temps around 17 degrees and 30 - 40 mph winds by tonight. Woo. I had some outside plans for today, but I think I'll just workout and make a pot of posole. Eeek. I will have to go out, to a degree, to get a bunch of fresh cilantro. But that's only a block. Hope he has no trouble coming home.

However the weather will likely not deter the million + crowd that begins gathering around 5 PM at Times Square for the midnight ball drop. I cannot figure these people out. Particularly since 2000 there are these baricades, within which you are not allowed to bring anything to eat or drink and once you enter, you cannot leave again -- at least I think if you leave you can't re-enter. Whatever. Crowds as herds. I have never had the least interest of participating in this event, even before moving here. People always ask if we do this for New Years. But for years on New Year's, Vaquero's band was playing. If you are a musician New Year's Eve is your biggest working night of the year. The really hot players pile up as many gigs for that night as they can. We've known Puerto Rican players to either fly in for NYC gigs after playing Puerto Rican ones, and the other way around too.

Monday, December 29, 2008

From Revolutionary Road to Enchanted

Puerto Rico Christmas started yesterday (for us), via Teaneck, New Jersey. Leftist Puerto Rican doctors and rumberos, including a doctor who is also a rumbero. As I'm not feeling all that well, I spent much of the time in the room with the middle school girls, who were watching Enchanted (2007) from Disney.

What a strange movie it is, and not necessarily coherent. But what an astute work of Disney marketing it is, going so far even as to exploit Disney's own stranglehold on Princess merchandising, for which there appears to no end of American girls who clamor to purchase -- judging by the bedroom of our hosts' daughter.

The sheer weirdness for me watching Enchanted was enhanced by having listened to the first two disks of Yates's Revolutionary Road while working out, which audio book version was a Christmas gift. I've read the novel, though a millennia ago, or so it feels, when I was an undergrad, thus it couldn't speak to me -- not the east coast suburban milieu or the characters. I just didn't have the geographical, historical or cultural apparatus to understand it at all. I disliked Frank intensely though. I think I still do. What I dislike about him is his sense that he's so interesting, so superior, and he's neither. You figure this out from the moment he 'narrates.' Whether his wife is as banal I don't know or recall -- neither of them were of any interest to me back then. But so far the only vision of April we get is from Frank and from the narrator. She hasn't spoken to us herself so far, and maybe will never speak to us herself throughout. But I won't find out for a couple of weeks' worth of workouts.

Can you get further from Enchanted than Revolutionary Road? As we all know Revolutionary Road is now a highly lauded film. It seems to be part of a middle of the American century revival that includes Mad Men, which seems to me to have been much influenced by movie made from Rona Jaffe's novel, The Best of Everything (1959), and to much lesser degree, the novel and movie The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1956). Maybe the precursor of this revival was Far From Heaven (2002). Its look was clear and strong, colors driven to edge of their saturation, focused upon a suburban stay at home wife and mother, who falls in love with a man of color. She really falls in love with him. She isn't using him as a means to exit an empty marriage. I liked this movie and the characters very much. It felt as though these are people I might know today because we mutually enjoy each each other's company.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Holidays -- Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans

The rain has stopped, though everything is drippy and it promises to resume.

I finished my shopping for today and tomorrow and am feeling rather more energetic.
I'm about to put the first disk on the cd player of that first volume of the Michael Cox Victorian trilogy, The Meaning of Night (I've read the second volume, The Glass of Time. I liked that novel quite a bit, though if I'd already read the first volume there wouldn't have been any suspense, so for once it was better to jump right into the middle, I guess.) and start cooking.
That will cheer me up.

We have a dvd of the 1947 New Orleans, from whence cometh the famous "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?" which breaks your heart worse now than ever. But I think our friends will like watching this, even though, again, it appears to be movie that shows white men responsible for the creation of jazz. We attended an entire presentation about this movie at a seminar conference in New Orleans a couple years back. But we've never seen the movie.

Young Muslims Build a Subculture on an Underground Book

Young, American, Muslim, rebellious against nation and religion, what do you do?

One young American Muslim rebel against both his nation and his religion, Michael Muhammad Knight, wrote a novel, The Taqwacores. The novel contained a cast of characters who lived a punk life in Buffalo, playing in Muslim punk bands.

An underground publication, it circulated that way. One young girl's sister read it to her over hours on the phone. Young Muslims wrote to the author asking when one of the bands would play next. He replied that there were no Muslim punk bands. Now there are.

The Taqwacores, about young punks in Buffalo, is called the Muslim Catcher in the Rye.* You can read the full story here.

* Don't you think it was possible for the writers of this piece to have come up with a more current and appropriate title than this thing by Salinger, written in and about a milieu so long ago and far away as to be quaint?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Dark Kingdom: The Dragon King - Movie For the Longest Nights

Despite the cheesy title that it's been cursed with in English, Dark Kingdom: The Dragon King (2004) is an excellent film for an audience that loved LOTR, the Icelandic production of Beowulf, heros, swords and dragons, as well as a good story and a carefully constructed plot. Written by SF writers, Diane Duane and Peter Morwood, and by Uli Edel.

This is German/Italian/South African (it was filmed entirely in South Africa) television production of the Nibelungen. From the best I could determine the DVD version we get here in the U.S. is missing 50 minutes of the original 3 hours running time. Perhaps that is because it ran on the Sci-Fi Channel, and that's how they do. The absent material is missed. The work is known by at least five different titles including this Dark Kingdom: The Dragon King: Ring of the Nibelungs, Die Nibelungen, Curse of the Ring, and Sword of Xanten, depending where its released, and the channel or network on which it is shown.

The essence of what Tolkien extracted from the Volsunga/Nibelungen sagas shines through all the parts this production's story – particularly the ring, the dragon and the broken sword, and its influence upon the creation of Rohan and the shield maiden, Éowyn. Dark Kingdom's music echos that of the LOTR films.

Other of its motifs are common in Anglo-Saxon - Nordic literature as well. The love potion that makes Erik/Siegfried forget Brunhild and fall in love with Kriemhild, a la Tristran and Isolde, or the tarn helm Erik/Siegfried takes as booty from the dwarf, Alberich, that allows the wearer to assume another's physical identy, a la King Uther, who fathers King Arthur upon Queen Ygraine. Erik/Siegfried fights to win a bride for another, a la Tristram for King Mark. Is there anything more dishonorable, more foul, than to use magic to get another man to fight your battles for you and win the bride that rightfully belongs to him for you? How could any man live with himself who does that, and hear for the rest of his days, "You are not the man I thought you to be. You are not the man I thought I married."

The design of the now long-departed imperial Rome is in the private apartmens of the court, in their clothing and decor in ways that are plausible and harmonious. Historically this is probably as close to what things in these northern kingdoms of forests and mountains may have looked like in their courts, both rough hewn and functional fortresses with this latin luxury of style, clothing, personal possessions and furniture – with the latin style still employed as well in defense and battle technique.

The design of the palace of the Queen of Iceland, Brunhild, makes one glad for contempory heating. It's coldly, pointedly, fatally beautiful like the Queen herself, when betrayed. For she herself is straight as good blade, and honest. The actress (Kristanna Loken) who plays the Queen of Iceland, is marvelously strong and non-femme beautiful.

The Saxons who warred upon Sigfried/Erik's parents are the pagan monster bad guys. The blacksmith, Eyvind (Max von Sydow), rescues child Siegfried, naming him Erik. Eyvind's home on a river of Burgend is a place you'd like to live. Chickens roost fearlessly there. The dragon Fafnia is a true Wrym, given us via CGI. The battle between Fafnia and Erik/Siegfried is tense and bloody. The scenes of Erik/Sigfried bathed in the blood of the dragon are convincingly gross.

This is another in a collection you might be making for the long dark nights and the short days of the Yuletide season.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Christmas Gift!

An old dear activist friend arrived from New Mexico, despite this really bad weather. We've traveled to Cuba with him often. He's still going several times a year and keeps us close with unseen friends until we can travel there again.

He brought me a sack of dried chili pods and a sack of posole!

We had just picked up four pork center loin-rib roasts from Chinatown. Woo. We're gonna have fun now.

Or, as Vaquero put it, "He brought you a passel of love from a whole other part of the country." I thought that was a lovely way of putting it.

Friday, December 19, 2008

First Snow & "It's a Wonderful Life"

The snow the weather critters have been hyper-amped about for a few days, which was supposed to arrive, They cried, soon after midnight, has only now begun. Of course, Vaquero has a rehearsal at 11 AM, so the snow is right on time. It's supposed to become a mix of snow, rain, freezing temps and wind by tonight. Naturally, one is supposed to attend a party. How do you do this and look presentable without a limo? Argh.

There's a killer assessment of the Christmas classic movie, It's a Wonderful Life, starring James Stewart, in today's NY Times Arts section. I've been hearing about this movie all my life it seems, but I've never seen it. After reading the article, I think I can see why. It describes so much about where I came from -- though it was a northern midwest farming community, not a NY manufacturing community -- and why, indeed, from early on, I couldn't wait to escape. However, since this movie is a Christmas classic, does everyone see the movie as the writer does?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

"The Nation's" article on TWTMNO Linked on "Arts & Letters" Daily Blog

I haven't been following the Arts & Letters aggregator much since 9/11, as other blogs appeared, and since most of the stories became about the xtian right and neocon blathering and all the rest. All that reposting of the endless lies the media enabled the regime to keep telling -- couldn't stand it. Another reason the mainstream media has been losing market share -- lies and boredom.

But others have felt otherwise, which is how I learned about this link.

New Orleans: A Sorry Tale of the Public Library System

That is being 'run' by a musician, one Irvin Mayfield, 30 years old, a crony of Mayor Nagin's, and deeply disliked by the New Orleans musicians' community. From their perspective he's a politico, not a musician -- his chops are not up to the general standards of the average NO player. He has used the music community as a political career builder as he is now doing with the city's public library system, with Nagin's approval and assistance.

Now Irvin's widely perceived as building a political career by wreaking further destruction on a library system nearly undone entirely by the levees' failures in 2005, when Katrina devastated the Gulf.

It's happened before in many communities, that the public library becomes a playing field for the town or city's political rivalries and power struggles. But these plays have hardly ever been done so flamboyantly, with so little disguise anywhere else. This is New Orleans.

Full story here.

Needless to say that neither Nagin nor Irvin have an iota of library experience. They are turning the entire decision-making apparatus of New Orleans library system over to others without any library experience or training. This is reflected in their fund-raising and financial planning. Not a word there about personnel who are librarians, who do the work of a library, about the absolute necessity of institutional memory for a system anywhere, but particularly in this city where so much memory is living, and it has been forced out to the four corners of the compass, to never be retrieved again. There is no recognition in their planning of what a library actually does.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Holiday Inn -- Christmas Movie

Holiday Inn (1942), black & white. This is the predecessor to White Christmas, (1954 - color), for which the Christmas song classic "White Christmas" was originally written. It stars the Bingster and Fred Astaire -- Danny Kaye takes Astaire's spot in the White Christmas remake of Holiday Inn.

Holiday Inn is essentially a music & dance revue of American holidays, bracketed by 3 – maybe 4 -- Christmases. The plot, such as it is, is the crooner vs the hoofer -- which one gets the girl(s)? Astaire swipes both girls, but one of them, the second one, comes back to Bing. This is a decidedly odd little movie, particularly since includes three Irving Berlin classics, "White Christmas," "Happy Holidays" and "Easter Parade," recycled from the Astaire / Garland vehicle Easter Parade (1948) – which is sung with all those specific references in the lyrics to Manhattan and Fifth Avenue – in the country. That there are two girls creates more confusion, hopefully of the venerable dramatic slapstick or comedy of manners kind, though neither mode plays that successfully. It's also a Support Our Troops WWII movie, but they keep forgetting that part. You really can't tell there's a war on, with the exception of one terrific solo Astaire tap number.

My personal favorite number is for Valentine's Day. Bing sings to 'Linda' (Marjory Reynolds), a song he wrote about her, he says, though he loses himself in his own voice and performance in the piano and doesn't even look at Linda. Behind his back, instead of having to stare goo-goo at the guy singing while the girl has nothing to do, Linda starts dancing with herself. Then Fred shows up, sweeps her off her feet into a classically Astaire courtship dance of high Romance. This is the second time they dance together, a reversal of the first, during which Fred is deeply inebriated and always threatening to go off his feet. We haven't seen Astaire pretend to drunk dancing before, unless drunk on love. It isn't funny or comfortable – he seems to have no heart in it, it feels cold as it supposedly is outside the Inn, it feels wrong. Reynolds isn't a dancer skilled enough to partner with the brilliant Astaire.

My other favorite revue number is again with Fred and Linda, dressed in 18th century court clothes and wigs, for Washington's birthday. The jealous Bing keeps changing the music from faux minuet style to hot jazz and swing styles whenever Fred is about to close The Kiss.

The problematic revue number is for Lincoln's birthday. "Abraham" provokes discomfort in today's audience. This number early got cut for television broadcast, except on Turner Classics. In this number both the Bingster and Linda put on blackface and the style of a minstrel show, supposedly because Bing doesn't want Linda to be recognized by Fred. They enthusiastically sing of how Lincoln freed "us darkies," while in the kitchen the black Jemima cook and her two black pickaninnies sing along of the good Lincoln who "who freed us darkies."

Then we get to the Hollywood section, in which a movie is made within a movie of this very movie, which is ostensibly a story about a Connecticut farm turned into a nightclub. Comes the second go-round of "White Christmas," which brings the escaped Linda back to the Bingster on the farm for Christmas because she hates the phony Hollywood so much. But all is well, as Astaire ends up with the first girl, 'Lila' (Virginia Dale), whom he already had swiped from Bing to be his dance partner when Bing wanted to quit show business so he could have holidays off. But Lila didn't want to quit performing and farm, so she broke off the engagement and ran off with Fred. Bing found that farming is even harder than performing – so hard he had a nervous breakdown and went to a sanitarium. Since a farmer still has to work on holidays, he decided to turn the farmhouse into a nightclub that is only open on holidays, so he can have the days in-between off. Or something like that.

During the course of the movie several years pass, and it feels that way watching it. This quality of endlessness could make Holiday Inn the perfect movie to have running on Christmas Day, when everyone has eaten too much and there is too much running around by children, teenagers and fussing grandmothers, while you are waiting for that very special phone call or text message from the one you really want to be with, but who is far, far away.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Back in the Deep Freeze

Dayem, it's cold! I knew today would be freezing the moment the invitation to NL's annual Christmas party arrived, because her party is always on the coldest night of December.

There's another party tonight as well. These two parties are on opposite sides of town. The hitch is that I have a marvelously sleeved black satin, silver trimmed thing which I've been looking forward to wearing to such events this year. It will be fine inside, but in-between the parties, well, the shoulders are nearly bare.

I was going to wear high boots and tights with it, but considering the temperature will opt for velvet trousers and ankle boots instead. Strange styles we have these days.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Holiday Plans

Hitting the Metropolitan Museum of Art is one our plans for the two weeks of Christmas and New Years, even though it's about the worst period of the year to go there with tourists and kids home from school and all the rest. But we want to see this show, and these two weeks are the only down time this year, with the book finished, essentially. (We're grappling with the cover and the photos now -- and a slog and a half that is too!)

Beyond Babylon: Art, Trade, and Diplomacy in the Second Millennium B.C.

This feels as though a companion show to the Brooklyn Museum of Art's Scythian Gold exhibition in 2000 (that I visited several times, alone and with others), because the emphasis is on trade and commerce, the routes merchandise traveled, and the alliances among the wealthy and powerful that were both consequence and cause of such prosperous interaction

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The World That Made New Orleans in "The Nation"

Two books are reviewed in this long article on colonial New Orleans: Shannon Lee Dawty's Building the Devil's Empire and The World That Made New Orleans. Most of the article is given over to TWTMNO. This is splendid for a book that was published 12 months ago.

You can read it here.

Louisiana, Alaska and North Dakota Beat Illinois

For successfully indicted and convicted public officials.

North Dakota is more corrupt than Chicago!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Illinois Gub

Evidently he really is a scumbag, and it isn't another Spiegelman Rove playbook to take out a strong Dem official. Though with our own state's governor sting with the 'escorts' it was very much that, even if the facts were true. Spitzer opened the door to let the rovian rethugz who hated Spitzer for going after some very big corporate fatsos and their corruption to get him. Just like this Blagojevich.

The difference is that Blagojevich's take down isn't politically motivated, that Fitzgerald is considered a straight shooter, and that every person I know who lives in Illinois think Blagojevich is a dirty sob scumball and are glad he's been taken out.

How do these really bad apples keep getting elected? In this case it isn't even him paying 'Them" -- but him shaking down Everybody!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Homage to Citizen K

Who posts weekly comix updates.

Here's a different riff:

An interview with "Mutts" cartoonist, Patrick McDonnell, commenting that this week " McDonnell's cartoon critters turn their attention to a future shelter-dog owner: President-elect Barack Obama. Starting with today's "Yesh we can!" strip, "Mutts" spends the next six days whimsically playing with political language in the name of pet rescue."

He seldom comments on politics, but he felt this was "a natural.'

Though, again, I am disturbed and frustrated that people who one expects to be more competent than this don't perform the slightest bit of fact checking before sounding off -- for it McDonnell had done so, if the interviewer had done so, they'd have know that adopting a 'mutt' isn't so straight- forward for the Obamas, as Malia has allergies, and they have to find a hypno-allergenic animal. But no one mentions this, they merely gush. Gushing without facts doesn't do shelter animals any service.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Happy Repeal Day

[ The Democratic Party platform in the 1932 election included an anti-Prohibition plank and Franklin D. Roosevelt ran for the presidency promising repeal, which occurred on December 5, 1933. The popular vote for repeal of prohibition was 74% in favor, 26% opposed. Thus, by a 3-to-1 margin, the American people rejected Prohibition. Only two states opposed repeal.

Crowds raised glasses and sang "Happy Days are Here Again!" and President Roosevelt, referring to what he called "The damnable affliction of Prohibition," sipped a martini at the stroke of midnight, what was widely reported as the first legal cocktail since Prohibition began. ]

More here and here.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


From today's List serving by Vaquero -- I blogged about this same June event here. But this is Vaquero's recollection of that day.

[ i last saw odetta in june, when the african american history magazine american legacy had a party to celebrate their music issue, in which odetta was featured in an article by audrey peterson. the carolina chocolate drops played a fine unamplified mini-set. there was this beautiful, tiny woman in a wheelchair taking it all in, smiling broadly, loving it, radiating joy, thoroughly happy to be alive. constance wound up sitting next to her.

it took me a while to realize it was odetta, much different than the last time i'd seen her, years before, on stage with a guitar in her hands. she was skin and bones, but she was beautifully dressed and had a glass of wine in her hands. unlike her body, her mind was completely alive. odetta and constance chatted and did the terrorist fist-bump. the last thing i heard about odetta, from a mutual friend, was what this story confirms, that she knew she was dying but was trying to hang on long enough to sing at barack obama's inauguration.

there's a video on the american legacy website of her singing "house of the rising sun" in 2005. listen past two minutes till the point where the chords stop. ]

Odetta was still doing concerts in October. She also performed at the same Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival in San Francisco at which Vaquero performed last year.

Below is the link to the NY Times obituary to which Vaquero refers, but first, this from her manager:

[ Eighteen months ago, Odetta and I were invited to the publisher's office of the New York Times to give her oral history obituary. The arrangement with them was that we would not tell anyone about the oral history obituary, that they would be the first to publish her obituary, and that the readers' could then view the oral obit Odetta gave by clicking on the New York Times website. Because I didn't get back from the hospital after Odetta's transition until 10:00 pm tonight and wasn't able to speak to Tim Weiner, the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who interviewed her until 10:45 pm, I don't think it will be making the front page, but has been given royal treatment. May Odetta's luminous spirit and volcanic voice from the heavens live on for the ages. Though I know she will always be with me, I will be missing her. . ]

Odetta, Voice of Civil Rights Movement, Dies at 77
December 3, 2008

We were all hoping so much she'd be able to sing at the Inauguration.Her spirit was so strong.

Here's another excellent obit from the LA Times -- which focuses on her formative years in Los Angeles.

This links to the AL magazine editor's blog, with photo, and other interesting parts from their conversation, like this:

[ "That stuff is already out there," she said somewhat brusquely. She was right, it was. Somewhat mortified, I skipped over about four or five questions to something she did want to talk about. The present. The internet. Youtube. The future. Stuff like that. We wound up having a wonderful time. ]

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A Question -- Does Colonialism Need to Be Learned?

Do groups need to learn the structures and methods of colonialism, genocide and slavery, or are these patterns of community behavior innate in human societies because the species is a hierarchal one, as well as a cooperative one?

Or have these all been learned thousands of years ago by the universal oppression and suppression and co-opting of women's (and children's) autonomy, bodies and non-remunerated labor, and what their labor produces?

Is this even a legitimate question?

I've been thinking about this, provoked by DuBois and Naipaul.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Library of America -- W.E.B. DuBois

Vaquero has found A Mercy an excruciating experience (he has little patience for fiction in general, and this latest of Morrison's literally put his teeth on edge), so we agreed to drop this work as our read-aloud and do W.E.B. DuBois's The Souls of Black Folk instead.

This a work, and an author that we so often have not read but feel as though we have because it is so often referred to, though perhaps not as much now as in the last century? The case is neither of us has read any DuBois, which seems surprising now, particularly since Felipe Smith's brilliant study, American Body Politics, (1998) employs DuBois's work so extensively in its own arguments. In certain ways Smith's work is a further revelation of DuBois's thought.

The Souls of Black Folk, a series of essays, was published in 1903. It's expression is so contemporary in large parts that they sound as if written today. They appear to look ahead to this very moment of the election of Barack Obama. But this modern style is blended with the nineteenth century style of extensive and extended metaphoric expression, which can get a bit wearing, like sermons will do. However, overall, DuBois is such a clean and clear thinker that he reads easily from the tongue to the ears and to the mind. It's difficult to provide higher praise for a writer than that.

We're reading The Souls of Black Folk in the Library of America edition that includes The Suppression of the African Slave-Trade • The Souls of Black Folk • Dusk of Dawn • Essays. Just because we're reading from a volume of this prestigious imprint, this seal that the writer is in the canon of American Literature and Letters, I had this peculiar experience. At one point a question about DuBois's background came up. Vaquero says, "I have no idea." I say, "This is the Library of America -- there will be at least a biographical essay and chronology and bibliography in the back." Vaquero marks our place with the convenient bound-in ribbon and flips to the back, where the answer is swiftly discovered. I felt I'd entered the true world, the world of literature and thought and letters, where I belonged, the world that mattered. A world in which I felt so safely at home. It was a sensation that long ago I inhabited all the time.

Why and how did that change? Computers, and google, etc. have something to do with this, but just what I'm not sure. But there was something, as that ribbon was placed to keep our place, the riffle to the back of the book, to find the answer to a question about the text that was in the book itself, that nudged this feeling into life.