". . . 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, November 26, 2010

Holiday Classic, Plus Road Kill

What Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays look like, as our popular classic imagery has embedded them, at least for some of us, since were born: we learned them from television and movies of the past, Christmas cards, from our model railroad villages under the Tree, the store window scenes, ye olde mail order Christmas catalogs -- remember them? so important to kids who grew up on farms, far from not only any city, but even a largish town, the dream books of wish books! -- the seasonal decorations of our Churches, in the nave, in the Sunday School basements, the ones in our schools, the town public space seasonal decorations -- remember them? know them?

I am currently living in one of those classic Christmas villages under the Christmas tree. It's unexpectedly unsettling -- both pleasant and unpleasant -- to spend one's daily life in classic 18th c, early American surroundings that are not faux cute decoratives and ornamentals, but are authentically this. Yesterday intensified this unsettlement as we had Thanksgiving in Annapolis, and this was our first time there.

The old part of Annapolis is a collection of jewels of Georgian American architecture. It was also a planned settlement -- like England's Bath, to which with pride Annapolis contemporaries likened it. Annapolis also called itself the American Athens. Between about 1720 and the Revolution, it was the most fabulously wealthy of all places in England's North American colonies. It was also the most English, with clubs, jewelry makers, gold and silversmiths, perfumers, dress and suit makers, of the caliber found in London. This accounts for its gradual but perceptible decline after Independence. It was a Tory merchant town, built on the slave trade, mostly. Those merchants either were killed fighting for the English, or immigrated to Canada or England. Also Baltimore became the primary port for Maryland, as well as an industrial center, and a railroad city that connected to the western states.

Annapolis turned into itself, into a perpetual dream of the past. What saved it from disappearing as other thriving towns around it did, was being being Maryland's capital since 1694, when named the capital of the Proprietary Colony of Maryland. It had a good central location, on the Severn River, with the Chesapeake bay at its front door, when in those days waterways were the chief mode of transportation and communications. It wasn't until some decades later that Annapolois snagged the U.S. Naval Academy (1845).

Someone we knew long ago when living in Albuquerque, ended up establishing his base in Annapolis. He learned we are here, and invited us to Annapolis for Thanksgiving. He's very busy producing documentary film and television now, but owns a Georgian house in central Annapolis that he began restoring back at the end of the 1980's with the large fortune he inherited from his family (only child). He has servants, who, I swear could just as well have been serving the Tory family that built his house back in the 1730's.

Before dinner - supper, he took us on an historic tour of Annapolis. Like C'town, Annapolis has all its Christmas lights, decorations and trees up. It was like watching an animated Disney film set in the colonial era. Except this was authentic wood and brick. Before heading back to L's house for the feast, he took us to a 1750 tavern, for celebratory rum punch such as might have been served in Middletown Tavern then. What a contrast between another of our notable Thanksgivings, the one with the familia in Havana.

Dinner had been prepared by his long-time staff (when he's in town -- he has other homes, in Virginia and in LA -- like so many people, even very well off wealthy ones like him, he's suddenly house poor, in the sense that he can no longer afford three establishments and can't get rid of any of them). To begin -- I can't. It's too much. I will say though this is the very best pumpkin pie I have ever ever ever eaten. The whipped cream was the best whipped cream!

In contrast, road kill. By the side of the road I saw a dead deer with about four large, stocky Black Vultures (Coragyps atratus) feasting on it, getting their Thanksgiving on, no doubt! Before going west, we made a jaunt to the marker for the one Chesapeake successful land battle of the War of 1812, which was in Kent county, Caulk's Field, and down to Rock Hall, at the end of the county, on the Bay. Between that little trip and the drive to the bridge I counted 5 dead deer -- were also smaller, generally, non-identifiable out the window kills on the highways, though one was certainly a racoon. About ten days ago I overheard some Fish, Game and Wildlife fellows speaking of how their job had now hit the annual task of clearing dead deer off the roads and highways. "It's mating season. They've got no brains."

Like an idiot, I did not think to take a camera with me. It was overcast, which can provide terrific picture taking light. But like the deer, though addled by history not by the reproductive imperative (been there, done that!), I had no brains.


Foxessa said...

I've already spent a fair amount of time dealing with Annapolis's history -- its Maryland Gazette has been scanned and is on line, which makes for a terrific War of 1812 source -- and will be spending more. Plus will be going back to the city itself, maybe even next week.

It's utterly fascinating, from the perspective of research for all kinds things.

But when it comes to culture as she is today in the City? Whoa. Not anything alive-O and personal to the place, unlike, say, Baltimore. Or New Orleans. Or Havana.

Love, C.

K. said...

You're living in Department 56!

Did the buzzards take you back to New Mexico?

Have you listened much to Alvin "Red" Tyler?

Foxessa said...

It is quite like that, indeed. Though no snow. At least not yet. We had our first freeze last night though.

The Black Vultures took us back to the pre-independence era, actually, right here. New Mexico wasn't even a flicker in England's eye then.

Why do you ask? I haven't personally listened to this musician. N of course is very familiar with his work, as he was such a popular sideman. His end wasn't so great, alas, as has been the case with far too many of our great musical artists.

Love, c.

K. said...

A track ("Peanut Vendor") from his last session was featured on the episode of Breaking Bad that we watched last night. I downloaded the album -- Simply Red. What I've heard, I've liked. Nothing innovative, but accomplished and fun.