". . . 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

Saturday, December 31, 2011

*Haiti: The Aftershocks of History* by Laurent Dubois

It's now officially published. El V finished reading it last week, all the while exclaiming, "National Book Award! Pulitizer!"  Aftershocks has already been reviewed and highly praised in The Washington Post's book pages. It's that kind of book.
The book is reviewed this weekend in the NY Times Book Review by Adam Hochschild, an excellent choice. Full review here.

Hochschild begins by giving a run-down of Haiti's history through the Revolution, then informing the reader who may not know that Lauren's earlier book is the best book out there for learning Haiti's pre and revolutionary history:

[ " For a gripping narrative of that period, there are few better places to turn than “Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution,” by Laurent Dubois, a Duke University scholar of the French Caribbean. Now Dubois has brought Haiti’s story up to the present in an equally well-written new book, “Haiti: The Aftershocks of History,” which is enriched by his careful attention to what Haitian intellectuals have had to say about their country over the last two centuries. " ]

It's also appropriate it's NY Times review appears today - tomorrow, since it is New Year's Eve, and NY's Eve has in the later years been a traditionally Haitian Vodoun New Year's Eve -- and this year, plus New Orleans! The spot has been moved from the usual lower east side loft out to Brooklyn, where, among other things maybe a suckling pig is being roasted, They Say.

Yeah, it's warm enough this year. For better or worse, climate change is here to stay for the foreseeable future.  Another mosquito revived today.  We've been killing one or two all through the fall, even after the occasional freezes of this month.  We open the window at bedtime, which must be how they get in the apartment.

I got the Reading essay finished for Da List.  Now we're just sort of thinking about January and 2012.  We know some things that will happen in 2012, but mostly, not, like everybody else.  What we do know is that we are heartily wishing a better 2012 than 2011 for a whole lot of people, including ourselves -- and ourselves don't have anywhere near as much trouble going on as the others on our list.

Happy New Year to us all.

P.S. Several people have thoughtfully instructed me in the history of the icon I've chosen for the holidays. I knew it already, which, people who know me, if they thought about it for a minute, know. :( 

This is part of why I chose it :) 


Thursday, December 29, 2011

Who Cares What She Does -- Just Make Her Nekkid!

[ “Ker-pow! Women kick back against comic-book sexismUK-made, female-driven anthology Bayou Arcana is causing a stir for more than just its haunting images and storylines.” ]

Bayou Arcana, means New Orleans and Louisiana, one of my homes.  It’s almost impossible to imagine New Orleans without Coco Robicheaux, who died last month, who was the embodiment of Bayeau Arcana if there was a living one.

One of the most interesting things about Bayou Arcana is that the writers are male and the artists are all female. This means that women decide how female characters appear.

This is a group of creative people who are positively pushing back against the long running, ever growing trend  that leaves women out of the various sets of the sf/f, supernatural, horror, movie, comix, print and game worlds.  Here's a pull from the long story about the many different gender bias and sexism in these areas, particularly in comix, in the U.K. Guardian linked to above:

[ " As far as the wider comic book culture is concerned, many female comic book fans have stories of being ignored, harassed, or treated with hostility in comic book stores, and there's certainly persistent gendered bullying online." The planned petition comes in the wake of another earlier this year which expressed reader outrage at the lack of female writers and characters at DC Comics, which owns rights to characters such as Superman and Batman

The proportion of female creators in its comics plunged from 12% to 1% when it relaunched its entire line of superhero titles.

More than 4,500 fans called on DC to "do something about these appalling, offensive numbers or you will only continue to see your sales numbers plummet".
DC insisted it was taking their concerns "very seriously" and pointed to writers such as Nicola Scott, Felicia D Henderson and Gail Simone. It also highlighted female DC characters such as Wonder Woman, Batgirl, Catwoman and Batwoman, who was reinvented as a lesbian.

Comics bloggers such as Vanessa Gabriel say, however, that both DC and Marvel – which together dominate the market – have been slow to do more than pay lip service to female readers. " ]

Another fellow who is doing his bit is here, in this blog post, Fantasy Armor and Lady Bits:

[ " The brilliant tumbler feed Women Fighters in Reasonable Armor has inspired me to add my two cents to the discussion.

Why does my opinion matter? I’m an armorer. I make actual armor that people wear when they hit each other with swords. When making armor I have to strike a balance between comfort, protection, range of motion, and appearance. My experience has made me more than a little opinionated on the subject of fantasy armor.

I intend to set the internet straight. See below for how to do it wrong, how to do it right, and why you might care. " ]

Women alone can't change the way women are expected to appear in these fields, which in turn then, makes it so easy for the men in the field to dismiss them, harrass them and otherwise remove the agency of half the world, giving them only one role and one role -- sex object.   Men must be a part of the push to change, and by golly, some are.

Monday, December 26, 2011

A Solstice Holiday Theme Has Emerged

It is Europe, in the 12th and 13th century. We are now listening to the music of female trouvéres of the thirteenth.

We keep bringing up Alfonso X, also known as Alfonso el Sabio. He's currently my favorite European monarch. One of the things I like about him is that he created a Spanish version of the communes that began in Italian city-states of the era, the mesta, an association of 3,000 large and small sheep holders in northern Spain, notably Castile, for reasons that I don't yet know, the usual imports of wool from England had sharply dropped. Wool rapidly became a primary Spanish export. Sheep raised now on commercial scale, as later would be tobacco and sugar in the New World, the sheep soon destroyed the arable lands of Castile. Additionally the sheepholders were granted so many rights, privileges and tax exemptions, they did a great deal to destroy Spain's economy not much later, not to mention create political conflict. But nevermind.

Alfonso was a great supporter of learning, literature and the arts, and was notable for a reign of both intellectual and religious tolerance, in an era that generally elsewhere was not -- with the exception of Occitan, which not coincidentally was a close neighbor. Thus the female trouvéres ....

What other monarchs would one admire ....

Sort of an odd soundtrack to el V's current reading: he's backtracking through a stack of books on the War of 1812, I've read read and taken notes from for The American Slave Coast.  Right now he's marveling at how differently the Canadian author of the one he's currently reading writes of the War for Independence. He's recovering but he's still not there. I won't let him go out because it's cold, the wind is fierce and cuts like a blade of ice.

However, he is well enough to make dinner tonight -- yay! I am burned out for cooking or even planning dinner; wouldn't bother with it at all, would contentedly graze upon all the leftovers stuffed in the refrigerator. He, however, is never, ever, burned out on foods, eating or dinner.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas! With Sharon Kay Penman, The Tempest and Jelly Roll Morton

Which, I challenge, how can you not be merry, when listening to Jelly Roll Morton and "The Shreveport Stomp."

El V remains a fragile flower but he is no worse than yesterday, and some of the worst symptoms of his bug have ceased and desisted.

We watched part of the Julie Taymore The Tempest, before I gave up, as too tired to watch a screen, and retired to bed with Sharon Kay Penman's first installment of her Plantagenet series, When Christ and His Saints Slept.

At the end of the summer I read Lionheart (2011), the latest in Sharon Kay Penman's series set in the era of Henry the II, Eleanor of Aquitaine, their progenitors and their progency,  It was so interesting I looked up the novels that came before, Devil's Brood (2008), Time and Chance (2002) and now, the first one, When Christ and His Saints Slept (1995). It's odd to read a series backwards, but that's how it works these days, when an author's earlier books take more effort to get hold of than we might like.

Lionheart follows the crowned Richard into the east on Crusade. Almost all the women who are part of the previous novels' action are still alive.  Those who were born during the course of the series are now adults and often monarchs themselves. Devil's Brood brilliantly describes the political and family causes prompting King Henry II's sons and his Queen to rebellion, and his sons to further betray each other.  But, in my opinion, Time and Chance is the best written of the four.  That may be because Time and Chance covers what we already think we know about Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, including the Thomas á Becket affair, so the events and characters are familiar to both author and reader. But Penman's Time and Chance is not the plays, Becket and Lion in Winter, or the subsequent films, the historicity of both which is more than questionable. In the course of researching these books Penman speaks on her website and in interviews how much she learned is wrong about what we think we know about these characters whose names are familiar even these many hundreds of years later. An example of this would be that Richard I was gay. One of the reasons we have so much misinformation is the politics of their own time, and the politics of later reigns. Then, as much as now, interested parties who could write, who were hostile to the Plantagenets, such as the French, used sexual slander and all the rest of the weapons in the political weapons arsenal to descredit their rivals and enemies.

It's difficult at the start, submerging oneself as a reader into When Christ And His Saints Slept, the earliest book in the series. It’s hard to know who is who, or even who is a fictional character. It turns out none of them are fictional, with the significant exception of a character who continues throughout the series, a series which at the time of this novel's writing the author didn't know she was going to write. Another obstacle, which is in no way the author's fault since these are the movers and shakers of the events, so many of them share the same names, whether monarchs, royal bastards, high ecclesiatic officials, and are not always of different generations either. Then, Penman  made compositional glitch by writing a prologue set some decades before the novel proper opens, then opening the first chapter in yet another decade with yet other people we not only don’t know, but whose relationships to those in the prologue we don’t know either. These are the families and vassals who make the twenty years long civil war, the bloody conflict between Henry I's nephew, Stephen, and the King's legitimate daughter, Maud, the former Empress of the Holy Roman Empire and now Countess of Anjou.

However, that we don't know much about these people, the times, or this 12th century English civil war, will be remedied by the time this novel is finished. Additionally it brilliantly sets up what will happen throughout the following volumes, though half of those volumes weren’t planned to be written when this one was (at least one more in the series is in the process of being written). Once we've dug our way through this prologue and the next 40 pages or so, the reader is stabilized as to who the people are and where in geography and when in time they are. Unlike the unfortunates in the early pages who chose a berth on the White Ship, we're sailing on smooth waters, treated to Christmas Courts, freezing rain, icy snow, fireplaces and wine, perfect Winter Solstice reading, as are the subsequent volumes.

It's a superb story, filled with colorful, fascinating personalities who scheme against each other, love each other, hate each other, sometimes simultaneously. Henry II is born within the first pages of the novel. The war that is his parents' marriage, his divided loyalty and love, twists this future king's character, the damage of which will roll down the decades. We witness Eleanor and Henry's meeting: like Johnny Cash and June Carter, they "fell into a burning ring of fire."  There are the splendid early days of Henry II's early friendship with Becket.  Yes, no matter how long ago certain things, like falling in love or in friendship, and the bitter pain of betrayal by lover or friend, are the same then as they are now.

Penman's research is responsible and thorough. She's got the tenacity to keep working on her narrative until these long ago, now obscure historical events and people are comprehensible to us in the 21st century. Penman is particularly good at portraying the strength and agency of all her female characters, of whatever station and condition, without making them behave or think like late 20th century, 21st century American women. All of them are individuals, however, distinguished from each other, whether sharing high rank or low. Starting with When Christ and Etc. each volume in this series presents the waste of women's political talents denied to their gender. It becomes a theme winding its way through all the series.

In When Christ Etc. this theme is deep and broad: Henry I granted the throne of England to his daughter, Maud, formerly the Empress of the Holy Roman Empire. Henry I’s nephew, Stephen, steals the crown on the pretext that bloodshed would be inevitable if Maud's crowned. Stephen invokes the period’s unquestioned belief in women’s incapacity to rule in their own right, which is founded upon both religion and, "No man will follow a woman to war." But Stephen lacks the hardness of character necessary for a monarch to hold power year after year. Maud has a tribe of loyal, illegitimate brothers, for Henry I was profligate with his affections, siring many bastards, whom he married into wealthy, powerful families, tying these powerful vassals all the more tightly to his line. Thus it is is Stephen who made bloody civil war inevitable because he siezed Maud's legitimately granted crown..

The irony contained in this theme is further deepened. Stephen, unable to quench the fires of rebellion in favor of Maud, resorts to his own wife to do it for him. He sends sweet, docile, loving Queen Matilda into the field to lead her own family and vassals, who seize the port of Dover for Stephen. Successful in no small part because of the devotion all ranks of Matilda's men give her, the Queen continues to other political successes.

As for the series as a whole, a reader who is interested in literary and cultural medieval history of Europe can’t help recalling that Chrétien de Troyes was from France’s north, and he served at the court of Eleanor’s daughter in Aquitaine.  The tales of those extraordinary Plantegenets, Anjous and Aquitaines of the 12th century provided him no little inspiration, we must think, just as his Romances provided some inspiration when coupled with the real life events of these people, for Penman.  And in the period when darkness falls so early, can there be better entertainment than a series of Romances, then or now?

Now el V is back in bed with my old Riverside Shakespeare looking at The Tempest. "Strange play," he remarks.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Da List Brings ... Sir Gawain And The Green Knight

Our burnt-down-to-the-ashes, invald El V, breaks down Sir Gawain and the Green Knight for us:

[ " Our official Xmas reading -- utterly seasonal, as it takes place the week between Xmas and the New Year in two consecutive years -- is Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, one of my favorite poems in the English language. But then, it would be, because I love to alliterate, and this might the best alliterative poem we have, with its marvelous scheme of head-rhyme (alliteration) that gives way to a tail-rhyming quatrain at the end of each stanza. Bubbling with the energy of the mystery plays, bristling between ancient customs and Xtianity, it's a poem to be read out loud -- something best done in 14th-century English, whether one understands every word or not. Despite the transformation of the language since then, it's more comprehensible heard aloud than read off the page. There is no better phrase in English to recount the action of falling snow than "the snawe snitered ful snart." One holiday weekend back in the early 80s, I think it was, I read the entire thing live in middle English, as best I could pronounce it, at the Ear Inn -- it took about two and a half hours, as I recall -- while composer Warren Burt played burbling little space-age synthesizer sounds through polyplanar styrofoam speakers.

The poem begins with a memory of the siege of Troy that takes the listener forward in time to the figure of King Arthur. Here's the opening in middle English (with the "thorn" and "yogh" characters modernized), followed by one of many possible modern versions that strives mightily to maintain the rhyme schemes, and which I pinched from this websiteAnd then there's the marvelous rhyme of "wonder / blunder."

Sithen the sege and the assaut was sesed at Troye,
The borgh brittened and brent to brondes and askes,
The tulk that the trammes of tresoun ther wroght
Was tried for his tricherie, the trewest on erthe.
Hit was Ennias the athel and his highe kynde,
That sithen depreced provinces, and patrounes bicome
Welneghe of all the wele in the west iles.
Fro riche Romulus to Rome ricchis hym swythe,
With gret bobbaunce that burghe he biges upon fyrst
And nevenes hit his aune nome, as hit now hat;
Ticius to Tuskan and teldes bigynnes,
Langaberde in Lumbardie lyftes up homes,
And fer over the French flod, Felix Brutus
On mony bonkkes ful brode Bretayn he settes

Wyth wynne,

Where werre and wrake and wonder
Bi sythes has wont therinne,
And oft bothe blysse and blunder
Full skete has skyfted synne. . . .

Translation by Marie Boroff:

Since the siege and the assault was ceased at Troy,
The walls breached and burnt down to brands and ashes,
The knight that had knotted the nets of deceit
Was impeached for his perfidy, proven most true,
It was high-born Aeneas and his haughty race
That since prevailed over the provinces, and proudly reigned
Over well-nigh all the wealth of the West Isles.
Great Romulus to Rome repairs in haste;
With boast and with bravery builds he that city
And names it with his own name, that it now bears.
Ticius to Tuscany, and towers raises,
Langobard in Lombardy lays out homes,
And far over the French Sea, Felix Brutus
On many broad hills and high Britain he sets,
Most fair.

Where war and wrack and wonder
By shifts have sojourned there,
And bliss by turns with blunder
In that land's lot had share . . .

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Happy First Day of Winter

It's the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year.  Here we are, in the north of the mid-Atlantic, and it's 60 feakin' degrees.  On the first day of winter.  What is wrong with this?  Mi hermana in Colorado, on the other hand, has already shoveled over 30 inches of snow this seasons and is not happy about it.

Still, it's spooky out there, this first day of winter, dark and overcast, and 60 degrees.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Terry Gilliam Christmas Card From 1968

I adore this!

Probably all the more since I haven't been able to get my own cards out yet this year.

Dang three syllabi by Friday afrernoon, plus that grant Monday.

We're tired. It's been one hell of a year. People we adore want us to come up to their place on Christmas Eve. It would be so much fun, and there's nobody else I'd like to be with better. We'll do better staying home together, eating my kickass moussaka, watching Julie Taymor's The Tempest and reading Sir Gawain aloud to each other.


Monday, December 19, 2011

Who Shops More Efficiently Than Me?

I did the shopping for three celebratory meals entirely between 11 AM and 3 PM -- with a cold too!

I still have all the vegetables and some herbs and spices to get.  I am not making turkey gravy for I've not got the time.  I can tranport the cooked turkey with no trouble, i.e. el V carries it in its roaster, but not gravy.  So I have turkey gravy on order from Gourmet Garage, which I can get when I pick up the last things.

Oddly there's not a bag of Yukon Gold potatoes to be found anywhere.  You can buy Yukon Golds in emporiums like Gourmet Garage, but by the lb., not in a bag.

Well, I am waiting for the wine to be delivered too, since I couldn't bring it all home myself.  But it's been chosen and paid for, and will arrive tomorrow.

This is excellent because I can tell I will feel worse tomorrow.  Fortunately the weather was good today!

Ooooo, this Christmas Eve moussaka is going to be good.  All those Greek ingredients from the feta to the side olives -- are far less expensive than they were not long ago.  Is this because of their national economic catastrophe?

But before I wear out my arm patting myself on the back -- I haven't done gifts or Christmas cards yet.  But no more today, as I feel quite ill and my back is screaming from all this carrying.  Nevertheless I feel emotionally happy because now I can feel personally Christmassy -- we r doin' it rite & in time.  :)  Tomorrow I'll do cards. Then I'll really feel Christmassy.  The main thing is to not wear out the holiday spirit before the holidays are here.  Las Vidas Perfectas really helped with that this year, taking up all the oxygen until today.  Yesterday was recuping from that, especially for el V -- got an extension for submitting a very important document until 11:59 tonight, so that's what he's working on all day!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The. End. *Las Vidas Perfectas*

It's been months of ever increasing domination of our lives.  Imagine for the director, his team, his family -- it's been at least a year.

The performances and the entire production were very successful, by all accounts, from all and sundry who would know.

We didn't get to bed until after 3 AM since there was the cast party after the show's prolonged post performance schmoozing with various and sundry.

And now Christmas is nearly here and I've not a lick of preparation for that production, not even my cards yet.  This is what happens in a household that is involved with a performance of this kind. Additional problems for getting Christmas going is the first freeze of the year happened last night.  It is dayemed cold out there -- and not so warm in here, for that matter.

However, I am thinking of food, following scent trails conjured up by seasonal memory-yearning of the moment:  Definitely lamb something for Christmas Eve dinner, maybe a moussaka? Turkey on Christmas Day.  On hand is lamb, though freshly ground, it's been in the freezer for a week already -- my only prep for Christmas so far was purchasing lamb.  On hand also are a bottle of Veuve Clicquot, a bottle of Marques de Murrieta Rioja and a bottle of Lagar de Cervera --  gifts, which have been waiting for their moment, which hasn't been for months since el V was in 'training' for the production, and I also in support.  Of course pesole for New Year's because what else? besides the traditional Haitian foods for our annual Haitian New Year's Eve get-together.

Friday, December 16, 2011

*A Discovery of Witches* by Deborah Harkness

Harkness, Deborah. (2011) A Discovery of Witches. Vol. 1, All Souls Trilogy. Penguin, USA, NY.

Trade publication December 27th. The All Souls Trilogy's second volume, Shadow of Night, comes out this summer of 2012. A Discovery has been optioned by Warner Bros. for a film treatment.

A free copy of the trade of A Discovery of Witches will be mailed to the commentator on this entry, whose name I’ll pull out of a covered jar at the end of this month. I’ll announce the winner and provide instructions as to how to give me your contact information for the Penguin publicity department.
There are no spoilers in the following thoughts about A Discovery of Witches, or at least no more than what a reader finds in cover and jacket copy.


A Discovery of Witches is an engrossing science fiction & fantasy novel, as opposed to an engrossing science fiction or fantasy novel, because it is both science fiction and fantasy. Its only contemporary rival for excellence in this small science fiction and fantasy crossbreed is this year's World Fantasy Award winner, Who Fears Death (2010, DAW) by Nnedi Okorafor.

Within A Discovery's pages the reader will engage with the history of science, philosophical and alchemical treatises, Darwin and DNA, political and material history, medieval Romances and their nexis with fantastic literature, and the great Elizabethan playwrights. The author’s day job is as professor of history at the University of Southern California. Her scholarly work includes The Jewel House: Elizabethan London and the Scientific Revolution (2007, Yale University Press), which was the winner of the Pfizer Prize for Best Book in the History of Science from 2005-2007, presented by the History of Science Society. The reader doesn’t have to know this about the author, however, for A Discovery to emit all the allure of old jewels and the enticement of bright chemicals combined with precious metals.

Diana Bishop is our protagonist.  Nevertheless, Diana’s specialness cannot help but bring to the mind of a close reader thoughts of Stephanie Meyer's Twilight.

Sarah Seltzer at Alternet recently tried to get at aspects of Twilight that some adult readers find troubling:

"Violent Vampire Sex, Demon-Babies and Overwhelming Female Desire. Twilight is saturated with sexist tropes--to the point of being disturbing. But that disturbing element is compelling, too . . . . "
. . . . But as for the substance of her wants, therein lies the perversely haunting twist. I’d argue that Bella's desires are direct responses to the patriarchy we actually live in. In fact, Meyer has created for her heroine an inverted version of our unjust society. In this invented, inverted world, Bella is allowed to want sex, and vocalize it, and initiate it, while her partner is the gatekeeper who makes sure she is safe and married before she gets “hurt.” In her world, the men around her urge her to abort her fetus for her own safety, but she gets to “choose” to deliver it even though it kills her. In her world, her boyfriend can urge her to attend college and better herself while she can push for an early marriage--and be right! In her world, she can reject her body and trade it in for a new one that is agile, strong, lithe. Her choices are consistently to fall into the arms of the patriarchy and trust that it will catch her, and her faith is validated: she gets a perfect husband, angelic child, new body.
What if we could do this, the fantasy suggests? What if we could just will ourselves to accept the prescribed roles society gives us (damsel in distress, object of protection, vessel for childbearing) and make it okay through the power of our wills? And what if the men in our society were horrified by their power: physical, social, sexual, and curbed it themselves and we didn't constantly have to be on our guard?

Some critics dismissed A Discovery of Witches when the ARCs and other promotion for the novel appeared, as more of the Bella-like, generic paranormal / urban fantasy / romance tropes: the special cipher a la Bella, helpless as can be but firming her feisty chin as her gorgeous vampire boyfriend indulges and protects her. Most of all the romantic male primary loves Bella because he can't help himself -- the smell of her special blood is just so enticing! His love object lacks any other qualities that tend to attract love, such as character and personality, curiosity, intelligence, education, knowledge of the world, interests or achievements, even a sense of humor. Bella is special because other exceptional figures such as vampires and werewolves love her, and they love her because of how she smells. A Discovery’s romantic male lead is Matthew, a 1500 year old vampire of vast wealth, intellectual brilliance and military prowess. He adores how she smells, he protects her. All his family loves Diana too. Not the least of his attractions, Matthew owns his own jet and helicopters -- yes helicopters, plural. So, in the initial pages Ms. Harkness seems to have broken out the parts of the Twilightiad that are compelling wish fulfillment for the female adolescent reader. Diana’s a witch who is special even among other witches, though in childhood, Diana chose to secede from her witch heritage, refusing even the minimum training in spells that all witches, however powerful or weak, are obligated to receive.

However, A Discovery of Witches isn’t what that description leads one to expect. Diana narrates in first person, providing only as much information about herself as we need, when we need it. Mostly she’s asking herself questions of history, of science, of families – all things outside herself, things that are bigger than she is, even though the author does make sure we know those around Diana regard her as special. Still, Diana’s specialness doesn't overwhelm the narration since the author's good judgment breaks up Diana’s voice with third person point of view of various other protagonists. There's sly humor -- every time Matthew picks up Diana, or thinks about how she smells, I swear Harkness is winking at Bella and Edward and at us too. Whereas Bella wants to never grow up, Diana is living an adult's life, though so far she's been denying herself much of what she's earned by her own efforts. Diana's family and Matthew's family bond through their mutual love of the two lovers. Merging families between creatures who are unlike and traditionally at odds is purposeful in terms the Great Mysteries we're delving into. Diana's specialness is because she's a hardworking, disciplined scholar who delights in things scientific and historic, things beautiful, who is loyal, courageous, possesses integrity and her own sense of honor. That her smell happens to so appeal to Matthew is langniappe -- he smells just as good to her. If you wish to get subtextual, you can say the way they smell to each other signifies that together they possesses the qualities they need for the great quest of the trilogy. They are equally matched lovers, who don't waste their precious energies engaging in the contrivances of – “I hate you but I love you, O what will I /we do, separations and mis-communications.” That Diana and Matthew are matched agencies who are true lovers is essential to the plot of this novel, and will play an even greater role as the trilogy progresses. They are the Lovers of the Tarot and alchemy, whose conjucio could have a conceptio that might redeem the world. A Disovery of Witches is, among other things, a quest to discover the beginnings of all things in order to continue all things. One of the essential questions is, “Is immortality the same as never dying?” There are many ghosts in A Discovery, most of them Diana’s relatives. They speak to her, and she to them. Are they persons then?

The four sentient species of A Discovery are called "creatures." The creatures are divided among vampires, witches, daemons and humans. There is council called the Congregation that governs their dealings with each other, with places for three members each representing vampires, witches and daemons. As there are no human representatives seated with the Congregation there are no humans in A Discovery of Witches (at least in this first volume of the trilogy, other than spear carriers who, generally, are besottted with the individuals of the other creatures who are our protagonists and antagonists. This is the hierarchy of A Discovery's world, a hierarchy like that of the world view that preceeded and remained in most places contemporaneous with alchemy's groping toward the scientific method: God, angels, humans, animals. Or in terms of worldly power, the Pope and his Church, King and his warrior nobles, the merchants, finally serfs and peasants. In A Discovery, vampires are the aristocratic military rank of the creatures, witches the material intelligence, daemons the creative intelligence, and humans are the serfs. Humans are relegated to useful servants – or food -- though the other three creature species conceal themselves from humans since humans have long outbred the other three divisions of creatures.

Exceptionalism is the potent point of much science fiction and fantasy. Whether YA or adult, the protagonist is part of that imaginary world's 1%, or if not starting there, will end up in that bracket. Thus, if the science fiction field really is an American conceptio, i.e. U.S. invention, as is often claimed, this exceptionalism reflects our ingrained national self-regard. This can be troublesome when looked at closely. What else that can be disturbing within the context of novels like A Discovery, is that the exceptional achievements in history, the arts and sciences, all, or most, are the production of these supernatural creatures. Within A Discovery humans have nothing to do with even the ending WWII. Entertainments like A Discovery of Witches, or Seth Grahame-Smith's Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, in which significant events of good or evil of our own recorded history are attributed to supernatual agency seem increasingly a given. Humans are not responsible for what, in fact, we know we are responsible, whether the plays of Shakespeare or slavery.

Food for thought indeed, and A Discovery of Witches provides us a banquet of ideas to consider. For instance, there are the questions of time. What is the past? Where is it? Perhaps fairyland is the past, a dimension that we can enter, if we know the right things? Diana – and we -- have a guide into these unknown historic eras, Matthew, who assures Diana, that in the past she will yearn with a passion she cannot now in our present time even imagine -- hot water. This has me impatient for the next volume, Shadow of Night, to see where these questions lead Harkness and her characters.

Theory: Status, Jargon and Conflict

Jazz musicians know an enormous amount of theory. Music is the oldest theoretic discipline. And in the 19th century the European music theoreticians drove European musical practice off the cliff, as much as did the two world wars of the 20th century. European 'art' music has yet to recover from that splatter under the cliff. Theory isn't only in French, you know.

Nicked from a happy argument between a supreme theoretical anthropologist (who also does great work in the field), and a composer - musician - performer - musicologist.

May I add that the anthropologist was vastly outnumbered by the numbers of musicians in the space, though she was not out-gunned!  JS can more than hold her own, thank you.

She's our number one advisor, teacher, mentor in all things theoretical in academia. You can see where there is a conflict though. She doesn't believe there is such a thing as music theory -- fightin' words among musicians! -- which el V is actually teaching a course in this coming semester. She really wasn't aware that the arts have disciplined theoretical structures.  A terrific illustration of what the strict academic divisions we've made between technology, science, art and the humanties has lost/cost us as curious, rational and creative creatures.

This is the joy, the delight, the pure value of academia at its best -- this exercise of the mind that can take you somewhere you haven't been before.  It's the value of intellectual, analytical give and of take.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Dress Rehearsal for Las Vidas Perfectas

The first four words that came into this audience member's mind last night at the not un-glitch free dress rehearsal for Alex Waterman's production of the opera, Las Vidas Perfectas, were, in this order: elegant, beautiful, lush, exciting. This production is exciting in the way that opera can be exciting, though it does not include elephants.

It's a complex piece, this Robert Ashley opera, Perfect Lives, composed back in the 1970's, one of the outstanding examples of what was then called New Music. An enormous amount of hard work, intellectual, creative, and woodshedding, has gone into this production, and it shows by not showing any of the seams or the effort.

We are provided layers upon layers of sound, none of them the same, none of them fighting each other, but all of them individual, retaining their own integrity, not dissolving into a sonic mud.  Elio Villafranca's brilliant piano music is between Peter Gordon's gorgeous, deep tracks, and the vocal music produced by el V -- 90 minutes of him chanting, singing, talking, emoting Ashley's text, his own body providing kinetic visul accompaniment, that is kept within strict geometric bounds. Another current of music that winds through the other layers is provided by the vocals of el coro, Elisa Santiago and Abraham Gomez-Delgado. One way to describe what Ned does is a vocal equivalent of the dressage exercise of volte – changing the horse’s (Ashley’s words) lead and gait on a dime via hand and heel aids, as the animal’s direction catapaults left, now above, now below, around, between and around the other musical layers. Another way to describe it is as vocal slalom skiing, an alpine discipline, involving skiing between poles (gates) spaced close together. This is complex geometric grid -- one that is a part of composer Ashley's original template of composition.  Elio's music also exists in a space that is next to El V's music, as well as between El V's and Peter's.  This is a complex geometric grid -- one that is a part of composer Ashley's original template of composition.

Sarah Crown, the set designer, whose own art expresses a passionate engagement with geometry, created the visual interpretation of this work. There are many geometries in this opera, which is first symbolized by a vibrant colored neon rune of intersecting angles and lines that hangs above stage right. The vari-colored backdrop design is a fabric patchwork of geometries. Center stage is the curves of Elio's grand piano. The bed and decor of stage left are combination of angles and curves. The colors and geometries are echoed in the costumes of the two singers of el coro, one male, one female. Occasionally supertitles in English are projected upon the rectangular blank spaces of the stage risers and platforms, and upon the curved surfaces of the piano's case and sound board. The convexity of these shapes distorts the words into softer curves themselves. The stage design illustrates the geometries of the composition, harmonizing with the build-up of the musical layers, providing sensual pleasure for the eye, and interest to the mind. It is sharp, clear, plain, while vibrantly colorful.

The space of the Irongate Theater is one of those fine stone churches from 19th century Brooklyn, deconsecrated.  The acoustics are splendid, the seating comfortable.  A lot of friends turned out to provide an audience of other peformers of the piece (Ashley's work in general and Perfect Lives in particular is currently being re-staged and performed), musicians, music writers, music lovers, fashion designers, photographers and other artists and critical writers. Their feedback before tonight's opening is valuable and appreciated.

Whew -- the first three performances are really upon us now, after four months of work.  There are more in the future, and not so far away.  This is after all, too, only the first three episodes of the seven episodes that make up the whole of Perfect Lives - Las Vidas Perfectas.

Monday, December 12, 2011


I started the day with this, as a friend had sent it to me.

You want to see powerful? The artist lives in France, but this is made at home in Kinshasa.

le Barone Gedi, in the streets. 

"It is from this Bantu Center We Find Our Breath."

Friday, December 9, 2011

Wiki Afraid of the Truth in Bertolucci's *1900* ?

Bertolucci's epic 1976 film (the title in Italian is Novecento, which would translate into English as Twentieth Century -- very different from the title the U.S. market gave it, 1900) follows the conflict of the great Italian landowners and the agriculture workers from the turn of the 20th century to WWII, and the years immediately following. It does so through the relationship between the son of a landowner and the bastard grandson of an agriculture labor clan, the two born on the same day in 1900.

All through the wiki description of this film, 'socialist' and 'socialism' are substituted for communist, communism. * This significantly distorts the history that the writer and director so carefully work to depict in this vast film. In the workers' community center, their homes, their schools, are frescos of the hammer and sickle, portraits of Marx, Lenin and Stalin. In Italy communism was, and still is, an active political and economic alternative. You can see why this is so, in a country where the other choices are to be oppressed by the Church, the Mafia or Fascism - Corporate interests. This is particularly true for the agricultural worker, during these decades from the turn of the 20th century through the Depression, when agricultural populism was powerfully struggling everywhere, including right here in the U.S., leading to riots, assassinations, murders and thuggery of every kind, sponsored by the Bosses and their minions, whether hired or elected.

The irony here though, is that Marx, Lenin and Stalin were not in sympathy with the agricultural worker. It was urban industrial labor that they were concerned with, and from whom the great communist movements were expected to birth their success. Yet, in history, the longest successful Communist revolution came from the nation which was the least industrialized: China, and later, Cuba. Stalin in particular declared war on the land worker -- from which came the constant hunger of so many in the Soviet countries.

So why is Wiki insisting this is socialism and not communism in this great Bertolucci film? Is it really fear, that we can't even name communism in a great film to which communism is central to the conflict, because the 'good' protagonists are so clearly communists and the bad ones are so clearly the great capitalists?

* This is striking, since the history of the medieval economic mutual assistance and governing bodies, known as communes, began in the city-states of Italy and very quickly, if not simultaneously, moved into France.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Atlantic Monthly's Civil War

I have just now returned from a expedition in the rain with the Special Commemorative Civil War Issue of The Atlantic Monthly. They'd just been racked at the local corner newstand store, and were at the very top. I had to ask one of the proprietors to get a copy down for me. When they realized what this is, they re-racked them at eye height. First generation immigrants from Uttar Predesh, asked me about "What is this Civil War?" They are all too familiar with civil wars, of course. But they don't know this one. A fairly long history lesson ensued, since at this hour the store was still empty, as the Lotto buying customers were still some minutes from getting off work and stopping by hoping for a little luck.

This is the first magazine I've bought in years.  It's not only, or solely because because our President has an article in this Civil War Commemorative Issue, though I'm very curious to see what he has written about the ACW.  He may be the first U.S. President to write of this event in -- how long? -- certainly as a sitting POTUS. But there's also a story by Louisia May Alcott included, set in one of the D.C. military hospitals. The offerings out the magazine's archives are priceless.

I've spent a fair amount of time in the Harper's Weekly archives, which during these years published the same bold face names as we see taken out of the Atlantic's archives, but I've not dug much into the Atlantic's.
I'll be sharing this issue with several people. I hope they all return it, so it can be borrowed again.

*Remembering Coco Robicheaux* -- Mark Folse in The Gambit

"Mark Folse talks to friends of the late Frenchmen Street bluesman and artist ...."

When news of the death of local blues and spiritual icon Coco Robicheaux went viral on the Internet Nov. 25, some said his last words were, "I'm home." Bartender Sara Shaw at the Apple Barrel bar on Frenchmen Street, who attended to him in his last moments, as well as the patrons seated next to him when he collapsed, remember them as "The next round is on me."

Full story in the Gambit here.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Tomorrow, Coco Robicheaux, 2 Memorial Parades

In the Times-Pic:

[ " At least three events in the coming days will memorialize Curtis Arceneaux, aka Coco Robicheaux, the popular local hoodoo blues guitarist, singer and vocalist. Robicheaux died of a suspected heart attack after collapsing at the Apple Barrel Bar on Nov. 25. He was 64.

Relatives and friends of the family are invited to attend the memorial service at DW Rhodes Chapel, 3933 Washington on Saturday, December 3 at 3:30 pm. Visitation will begin at 3:00 pm. Interment is private.

Also on Dec. 3, friends have organized another event at Marie’s Bar (2843 Burgundy), starting at 5 p.m. A second-line will depart from Marie’s, bound for the Apple Barrel on Frenchmen Street, one of Robicheaux’s favorite haunts.

His family and musicians with whom he played have orchestrated a more involved event nine days later, on Dec. 12. A procession starts on Frenchmen Street at 3:30 p.m. and ends at the House of Blues, 225 Decatur St. Starting at 6 p.m., a host of musicians will perform at the HOB in honor of Robicheaux. " ]

We're playing Spiritlands tonight, up here in the cold crisp Saturday night pasta ritual, giving up the traditional Saturday night Phil Schaap's Traditions in Swing, for Coco instead.

So many people are so upset.  It took a while for it to become real, irrevocable, that Coco was really gone.

El V's interview with Coco for Bomb Magazine here.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Lighting the National Christmas Tree!

Again, this being their beat, the WaPo does a good job with this annual holiday tradition with video and photos, so that we who love Christmas Trees and live elsewhere get to feel a little part of it.

My dear Austin amiga, L, gifted me with a Jackie Lawson digital Advent Calendar again this year.  Last year the calendar was 24 days of filling in the details of a small town that looked remarkably like C'town in MD, where we were living.  This year it's London.  I thought yesterday that London wasn't as satisfactory as last year's, but as of this morning, decorating the Christmas Tree, I think it's just as wonderful as last year's.  It's urban, yes, but with the small town neighborhood in the forefront that so much of NYC used to be like, and still is, in pockets, if you are part of that small town -- I can even find it here in SoHo, surely the most overbuilt, overhyped, overtouristed, overtacky, rat haven in the country.

I spent a full hour playing with the Advent calendar's tree and the decorations, getting it just as I like it.  I hadn't even made my tea yet.  I can get lost in these things forever, exactly like as a child, I got lost for hours with my color pencils, crayons and paints, making dream Christmas scenes from after Thanksgiving until the night before Christmas Eve Day.  It went along with decorating the Christmas tree.

Once I was old enough I hogged the whole process.  Dad could put the up in the stand and put on the lights –- this was always fraught because somehow every year, between tree lights that worked when we took the tree down, a certain number of the lights didn’t work when the next year's tree went up. But once those teensie irrelvancies were resolved, man, I took over. By the later years Mom even conceded to me the tinsel – that old fashioned aluminum stuff you put on last of everything else, that hung like Spanish moss does on live oaks down south, then in later years that much less satisfactory celophane static electricity stuff.  The tinsel had always been her part because the rest of us didn’t have the sense to properly distribute. But when I got old enough, I did too, and better than she did, at least I thought so.  I spent hours putting the tinsel on, one strand at a time. I continued to re-arrange the ornaments and tinsel until we took the tree down. The very concept of a tree in the house stunned me delirious with joy.  We were people of the treeless prairies after all.

Now the national Christmas tree.  The faces of the children in the photos are filled with Oh! and Ah!, just as they should be.  The president's face is for once happy and content, as he performs with his family this annual national tradition of lighting the tree and as a spectator enjoys the accompanying entertainments.  When the First Family together lights up the tree, his mother-in-law is part of that, as she's part of the family, and is part of the raising of the Obama daughters.  Then, there is the part played by the First Lady.  I keep repeating this, but I believe it more every time -- whatever criticisms I have of the president, and they are many and they are serious -- the one thing he's done perfectly is his marriage partner.  She is wonderful in every way.

Here's the WaPo site for the National Christmas Tree Lighting photos and video.

Oooooo, and here the WaPo has a photo series of the evolution of the National Christmas Tree, since Calvin Coolidge! lighted the first one in 1923.  Calvin started this tradition?  Dour CC?  Who would have thought?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

It Beginning to Look Like Christmas

The first week of December has long been my favorite week of the holidays. Thanksgiving hurly burly has come and gone – isn’t it grand how the one holiday that really was about friends and family is now about gigonomous BUYING? Is capitalism great or what? Why I like this week is because routines are back and observed, while real people as opposed to retail oppressors, are leisurely, here and there, putting out lights and other Christmas decorations, and they are sparkling and bright, not yet tired. I love the light at this time of year. And now with the re-instatement of normal temperatures, the light and the feel of the air have matched up again. Next week is traditionally the favorite one for both private and corporate and charity Christmas parties, so this weekend kicks into high gear the hurly burly of Christmas and New Year's. Thus, we'll be in uncommon, non-routine mode for the next few weeks -- particularly as el V's so taken up with rehearsals and the premiere of the first three sections of LasVidas Perfectas on the 15th, 16th and 17th.

Since the Obama family moved into the White House I've been uncharacteristically, and for the first time, fascinated with how things are done there. I love how the First Lady and her staff do Christmas, and in particular how they decorate the White House. The WaPo always covers in detail the unveiling of the Christmas White House, so today all of us get to see it. The star of the Holiday White House this year is Bo, which surely is something kids all over the country can appreciate. The WaPo coverage, "Bo is Christmas star in White House decor," is here.

There is a slide show of photographs, and a video also -- though just now it doesn't seem to be working so well.

Merry Christmas! Woof Woof Woof!