". . . 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

Thursday, May 30, 2013

We Have Walked ALL the Historical U.S. Southern Atlantic Coastal Slave Trade Routes!

Concluding with the vital Cuba and Spain connections.  We did it.  We really did it. I'm dizzy.  Can't wait to have some peace and transcribe all my notes.  Good thing I did take so many because we're getting confused as to what and when.

By last night in the early summer heat and humidity of east Florida -- in which the Spanish governor abolished slavery in the early - mid 1700's as an act of gratitude to the run-away slaves from Carolina who helped him beat off the Brits, a huge reason both colonial and early Republic US were fixated on getting the Floridas for themselves -- I crashed so hard.  I could hardly take a photo in the castillo or write notes, and there was so much wonderful information that was new to us.  This is Florida and it is still Spanish .... the descriptive texts were bi-lingual*, at least half of the visitors are Spanish speakers ... and the history is told from the Spanish and Cuban perspective, even Oglethorpe's Siege -- which is told very differently in Georgia and South Carolina.  Right down as to why the Siege was lifted after 28 days and nights of shelling, and why Oglethorpe left behind his artillery when he withdrew.  Never mentioned in the South Carolina and Georgia description of what happened at the Siege (during the Brit-Spanish war over here called the War of Jenkins' Ear) that, um, a relief convoy from Havana of Spanish warships with reinforcement soldiers and supplies showed up.  O no -- the Brit Commodore and the colonial land forces withdrew because of the oncoming hurricane season!  Nary a word about the Cuban convoy of Spanish warships ....

Gads, it's awful that every tourist destination only has really horrible music, and no live music scene at all.  (Well, that doesn't mean places like NYC or London.)  What a gorgeous Old Town is St. Augustine, and filled with the most ugly tourist everything. But then, it was like that around the Taj Mahal too, as soon as it was built. And thus it has ever been, even in the ancient world.

In the meantime wonderful news of a whole series of Las Vidas Perfectas dates for 2014 which I can't talk about yet came in, as well as a date for Ned this fall in -- Cardiff! And another in -- Kalamazoo, MI.

I fly home this afternoon, after touring North America's oldest house.  So much writing to do.


* This is the only national / Park Service / State Department / World Heritage site of the many we visited that included any language than English.  This is different in NYC, where we generally have a half dozen languages, and at least English and Spanish.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Charleston vs. South Carolina; Then There's Savannah

What I like about Charleston: Fresh Berry Salad.

What I like about South Carolina: Francis Marion. And the Sea Islands and Gullah and the ports -- the birds!  All those rice plantations went down when slavery was abolished, and those thousands and thousands of acres of swamp re-configured by slave hand labor -- with -- hoes -- for rice growing, are now mostly wildlife habitats. (Heart break -- not because of the birds but the cruelty, the suffering, the grief, the hell of generation after generation -- and then they were denied, thanks to Booth, their little bit of the world they'd made by their hands.)

Savannah -- the most beautiful public urban space in the U.S. It has not one, not two, but three Historic Districts, each beautiful in its own way. One of the historic classic squares is a square of robins. I've never seen so many robins in one place at once, ever. Savannah has not one, not two, but three Historic Districts, each beautiful in its own way. (It never occurred to me ever that I'd spend a day and night in Savannah.) In contrast with Charleston, how does Savannah, founded by people with actively practiced religious principles become so easy-going? Well, the ‘people’ did force Oglethorpe to give up the No Slavery and No Rum pretty quick (though Oglethorpe wasn’t that draconian – beer and wine, fine, but rum, he thought was bad for the health of a community). But John Wesley and churches churches are all over this town, yet you can take go-cups out of the bar - restaurant and wander anywhere in Savannah. It's a town that welcomes parties, and has the wildest St. Patrick's Day party in the country, They Say! In Charleston one feels that drinking at all is not quite the thing, though you are, of course, encouraged to do so.  Until 9 PM when it rolls up the sidewalks .... (surely there are many places in Charleston to eat and drink until the wee hours, but we didn't see them, and they don't advertise to tourists -- yet surely the military knows where they are).

What It Is About Charleston

The city was a police state, therefore a punitive state as well, because repression and oppression go in company with punishment.  The first thing I saw in Charleston, as we bee-lined to the oldest existing structure, the Powder Magazine from 1713, was a pillory ....

On top of this police state with the nightly curfew that had even white Charleston locking down its mansions and well-to-homes behind their high walls by 8 PM every night (to keep their negroes in and potential negro rebels out -- in the 1700's alone there were over 250 slave rebellions -- that we know of ....), is the sheer churchy-ness of the city.  A churchy-ness that's protestant -- presbyterian -- consequently, the accompanying hypocrisy.

Not an attractive place, this one that traded in slaves in the millions of dollars every year, thus the many, many mansions.

Whereas the Lowcountry of Georgetown, Beauford and the Sea Islands, with its enormous Gullah cultural influence, and the understanding of both black and white that "we are all related, honey," -- very different, from its capital, into which poured all those riches, thereby one huge district after another of even more enormous mansion piles.  This -- even though earthquakes, fires and hurricanes at many times destroyed large portions of the city.

Monday, May 27, 2013

I Did See Fort Sumter, Fort Moultrie and Much Else This Day of Memory

It being Memorial Day, with the numberless U.S. flags all around us here in militarylandia at half mast and the humans heading to the many beaches all around us here, enjoying their water craft all around us here, reunionizing and touristing too, black soldiers were much in the forefront of my mind this long weekend.

There are many black soldiers all around us here, doing everything everybody else was doing doing, like all the other military personnel all around us here, and like everybody else these soldiers were in civies this weekend, because they had leave of one kind or another.  That they are in the military though, shows through -- young, fit, upright, meeting and greeting each other in the streets, whether in groups (all of those groups were mixed) or with their families (a lot of these families are mixed race) or solitary.  But whenever any military fellow (and I did not see a single obviously military woman this whole time) met up with another fellow military, they seemed to know each other, pummeled and high fived and otherwise indicated solidarity and confrere status.

So military.  Members of the military are trained to use all kinds of weapons from those they fly in the air to those they carry at their sides or on their shoulders or over their backs.  They weren't wearing any today as far as could be told -- as their clothing was generally light it would have been hard to conceal concealed carry.  There certainly was no open carry anywhere around us ....

I could not help think about the days of the Civil War, with the CSA getting whupped, running out of weapons and ammo and manpower both.  Once again it was brought up in the CSA house and senate: What about we draft Our Negroes and give them guns and have them kill Yankees?  That got shot down by the same power elite that moved and shook the slave holding south into seceding and fighting a war on their behalf.  You CANNOT arm a nigrah.  You CANNOT. Shades of San Domingue and Nat Turner, YOU CANNOT.

So, there was a terrific irony there are African American men now, roaming freely the city of Charleston, in the very beating heart of the slave holding aristocratic CSA, all highly qualified in handling all kinds of deadly weapons, and today, they were being honored.  In Charleston.

It was a long, long, long time coming.

This all came to mind along with that episode from the soap opera series, Army Wives, set on an imaginary army base outside Charleston (there is no army base here, but a naval one, and that's located on a former air force base; location shots are on the naval base, formerly an air force base which quite tickles me as to the rivalry of the military service branches ....).  It is a time travel episode, which examines what our protagonists would be like on the same base during WWII instead of now.  Class and sexual conflicts are the same. The present-day general and his wife, generationally army are at the top of the heap in WWII too. The poor white trash couple are finding the army life to be a good career move into upward mobility and opportunity for their kids just as they do in the present. The couple who has trouble with gender roles -- still in that condition but in a very different way as the Colonel has been badly wounded and is no longer in the military but runs a bar-restaurant, and his wife is deeply dissatisfied -- in present day she's a physician and her husband hated her practicing.  She was to stay home and take care of him and domestic things.  Then there is the black couple.  In present day Joan is a commanding officer of a combat platoon.  Her husband is a psychologist who is also the house husband and does much of the care of their child.  But back in WWII he was a draftee and Joan?  She was a cleaner in Frank's restaurant-bar.  He gets jumped by a bunch of racist yahoos who don't think he should be in Frank's restaurant.  All our regular characters gather around to beat the yahoos off.  Because this is a soap opera and all must feel good by the end. But still.  This was a fascinating episode that tried very hard to show how much the army's changed since WWII.

But now it's facing a hurdle even higher than that of racism: the millennia ingrained  conviction that the right of military man is to rape women.  Even women who are their sisters in combat.  It breaks the heart.

One victim of long-time, repeated assault by her commanding officer testified in tears a couple of weeks ago that she now believes the only reason the military began accepting women as regular soldiers is to be 'comfort women,' as the Japanese did to the Korean women in WWII.  When our military got stationed in locations where women were off-limits due to the culture, and even prostitution, unlike Vietnam, is nearly impossible among the locals, women were allowed in.  And that's their real function -- to be sexual outlets for Our Boys Who Are Entitled to Sexual Satisfaction Whenever With Whoever.  Her heart was broken, and so much else.

So steps ahead -- black men who know weapons can roam at will in Charleston.  Women, well, maybe not so much.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

I Am Going to See Fort Sumter. I am, I AM!

I AM going to see Fort Sumter or else I shall hold my breath until I turn blue and fall over and then you'll be sorry, el Vaquero, you just see if you ain't!   No, No, NO, Fort Moultrie is NOT just as good.



Out of the Sea Islands now, which we loved. We felt at right at home, and made welcome. This is the region which has always been and still is predominately black in population.  And why yes, they know exactly why they are there.

Charleston is a different kind of place.  The historic district got renamed the French Quarter when they went for the history draw for tourist trade back in the 1970's.  Named by people who may know their own city's history very well, but don't know New Orleans history at all*.  It doesn't look in the least like NO's French Quarter because -- it's Georgian and Federal, and you won't ever have seen a sample of either form of architectural design in NO's French Quarter -- or anywhere else in NO either.

You will never see a structure like the Old Exchange /Customs House (1767) in New Orleans. Look at the facade and the pure Georgian pediment above the windows and doors, including cornice moulding and reference to columns.

What it does have in common with New Orleans and the French Quarter / historic district is that the courtyards, patios and gardens are hidden behind walls, and the gates and other ironwork are reminiscent of New Orleans's.  The vegetation is equally lush, but it's not the same vegetation.  Nor will you ever see palm trees in New Orleans other than those artificially transplanted there, and which need replacing all the time, as around the Harrah's casino.  Palm trees are here in Charleston though, all over the place.

I did learn though why it was decided by the Charleston's city council to name the historic district the French Quarter: it was because of the large number of French Huguenot immigrants at the end of the 17th and early 18th centuries (which is how el V's ancestors happened to move from France to the Americas back then, fleeing  Her Very Roman Catholic Highness, Marie d'Medici, and the purges she made of the protestants generally, and the Huguenots in particular.  They went three places in large numbers in the Americas: New York (New Rochelle is their town); Virginia (which is where el V's ancestors landed; and Charleston, which was staunchly protestant and anti-Catholic.

So Charleston doesn't remind me of New Orleans at all, lacking entirely that Mediterranean Catholic flavor.  It does remind me though of the English colonies such as Bermuda and  Barbados.  There were a large number of Barbadians who settled here, with their slaves, and in more than one wave, with the first one coming in very early.

Anyway, we did a lot today. We did good.  Tonight el V's off to a Spoleto concert, of a friend's group.  I shall stay in and download photos from my camera. In the meantime el V's napping.

* The young docents in the museums and the tour guides and the tourist literature are constantly prompting you to agree that Charleston reminds you so much of New Orleans's French Quarter ... but they haven't a clue that what is called the French Quarter isn't French in style at all, because it was built by the Spanish.  It was a shock to them to hear this, which one of them did, about the fifth time he burbled about how much this looks like New Orleans.  I flatly contradicted him.  On this trip neither of us have opened our mouths once other than to ask relevant but entirely non-controversial questions.  But this ... THIS! was too much!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Departing the Liminal

This last week it was the Mother of Slavery.

The last two days were transitional, the change of state:

From the world of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, who had moral qualms about slavery (TJ found that living from selling slaves and slave labor trumped morality every time, while Washington, at least, freed his slaves in his will) to the world of no moral qualms at all in South Carolina -- no siree bhob! slavery is a positive GOOD FOR THE SLAVES!;

Change of water into land, land into water;

The Norfolk-Portsmouth-New Port News-Hampton Roads region -- from which tens of thousands of people of color changed their state of mere enslavement for life to that of the dark regions of early death's no return further south and west. This, along with Richmond and Charleston and other Atlantic ports, mirror on this side of the Atlantic the slave entrepots and out ports on the African Atlantic coast;

North Carolina's Albemarle County -- which was thefted from Virginia and given to Carolina, mostly in order that Carolina in that day might have one county that had white population;

The Great Dismal Swamp, location of so much of Virginia's William Byrd's -- he of Westover -- dreams and fantasies;

And Albemarle Sound.

Down to the vital port of the CSA, Wilmington, North Carolina.

Today we enter the Heart of Darkness.  We go to Beaufort, South Carolina.  Old John C. will be spinning in his crypt, perhaps.

Geography is the second pillar of history (the first, of course, chronology).  There is the reason the Father of History, Herodotus, traveled the lands and the peoples who lived in them. The historian must know the typography, the distance, the climate and what exists therein.  How vast, how very vast, the Chesapeake regions, how varied.  We have traveled the entire length, from Maryland down to Albemarle now.

We had lunch-breakfast yesterday in a nice little place in Windsor.

It's hot.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

When You Are An Historian

You are never bored.

Where ever you are revelations will appear.

By golly in Norfolk, Hampton Roads, Portsmouth, New Port News.

Even when you are staying in a hotel in the center of the re-development zone that hopes to become the regional NYC Broadway.

Considering how successfully the state of VA has been since the Constitution at getting federal support for its grand plans, from the Navy, the Army, the Marines, and everything in-between, including the presidency, this may succeed.  The beer and and food are -- well, maybe not world class (though a lot of the beers are, and in a few places they manage to stay local as opposed to the overwhelming number of franchises), damned good -- when local and not chains.

The light though -- oh it's too bad that the construction of everything is so frackin' ugly.  What a place this small intimate region must have been before the concrete and the immense cranes. But -- it's still a port, both military navy and mercantile, which it always has been.

Think of how many slaves were shipped out of here from the Old South down to the New South, tens of thousands every decade for decades.

At the start of the day we managed Yorktown. I knew so much about the siege and the surrender, thanks to my time at the Fraunces Tavern Museum, where I  began in many ways to actually learn my nation's history.  We both got good and sunburned, but there too were revelations. (It was also funny how all these middle-aged and elderly men were shocked at how much I knew -- girls aren't supposed to, but they knew nothing -- including they didn't know that water over there? That wasn't the Atlantic Ocean, but the York River.)

But seeing it all -- it wasn't at all as I'd imagined Yorktown to be -- which was a lot more interesting as a town -- a Port -- than I quite realized.  Additionally, this is George Washington Land, not T. Jefferson's fiefdom (he who ran away from the Brits so fast -- all the way to PARIS! -- and never saw a battle in his life, much less participated in one).

 And o my ghoddessa, I have a much more instinctive sense now of the immensity of the Chesapeake System -- that we're destroying this is a criminal act and a sin.  Goddessas, I love this environment -- paradise it was.

Except like a satellite screwed GPS, my brain processing is getting my wars and my battlefields and eras all mixed up: French and Indian War, Bacon's Rebellion, Nat Turner, the War of 1812, the War for Independence.  One of the best things though, is that the siege of Yorktown is a battlefield I can understand and see.  Got some great photos.

Also: Historic Yorktown is a beach resort.  Who knew?  Shoe crab soup for lunch, with a view of college kids almost naked all over the place.  :)

Virginia still smells great.  The food just gets better and better.

Tomorrow, North Carolina.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Virginia Smells Good

Virginia's air is perfumed.

Often overcast, humid and since Sunday afternoon, warm, often raining, the air is oxygen rich.

Since C'town, we've visited significant sites on the Historic Bancroft Slave Breeding and Trading Industry Tour in Alexandria, Richmond, on the James River plantations and Monticello. Bancroft's Slave Breeding and the Slave Trade in the Old South  (1931), the classic work of stats breaking out year-by-year, decade-by-decade, state-by-state, the natural increase and the de-population of the upper south and the un-natural increase of African Americans then in the lower and western south, has been serving as guidebook.  It still works ....

Today is our last in Virginia. We spent the night in a non-chain lovely old place called the English Inn in Charlottesville.  We had a ridiculous dinner with our historian friend who lives here.  Due the controversy around his Master of the Mountain, he was surprised to learn it's in the Monticello gift shop bookstore after all.  We are being taken on a tour of UVA in a short time.  Then we will hit the road, going along the James river to the founding site of Jamestown (where there isn't anything really, just the sight, then  Williamsburg -  William and Mary.

As another friend says, who builds the amplifiers for telescopes such as the Very Large Array, who grew up here too, "If it wasn't for the knucklehead, this would be paradise on earth."

O, and yes.  The cicadas are out at Monticello.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Headin' South

Chestertown! Friends!

The Flag Of Hampton Roads

Charlottesville - Monticello + Friends!

Historic Richmond - Tredegar Iron Works

William and Mary + Friends! + Williamsburg

Historic Charleston - Beaufort

Sea Islands

Historic Savannah

The castillo de san marcos, in the old town of St. Augustine, the oldest continuous settlement in the United States, founded by the Spanish, desired by the French and the English, but no one wanted the Spanish Floridas as much as Andrew Jackson and President Madison.  Jackson got it. It then became a bustling slave market port for product coming down from the Upper South, coffle-walked to the Black Belt, and even to Natchez, the second largest slave market after New Orleans

This is a story of farming in Vermont with Fjord horses as your field power.

The farmer featured is a former Benedictine monk and artist. He, his partner and their daughter are described as:

... part of the 60-member Cobb Hill co-housing community incorporated in 1998. It was the brainchild of Donella Meadows, the late environmental scientist and an author of “The Limits to Growth,” an influential 1972 book that used computer modeling to predict the future of the earth if the population continued to expand and consume limited resources.
It's a lot easier to farm this way when you don't need to depend solely on horse power, and it is your choice, not imposed because there is no other way. You can't farm this way on an agri-biz cash crop size operation, which is either good or bad, depending on your outlook on these matters.  But from my own hands-on farming background and the study of what happens to the land and all region where cash mono-cropping is the economic system, this kind of smaller, mixed use, mixed power kind of agriculture is better. It's sustainable, which cash mono-cropping is not.

It's sustainable because it doesn't destroy the regional environment which cotton and the steamboats did. Cotton demanded deforestation, and fueling the steamboats demanded the same. This deforestation, which sent mountains of silt into the Mississippi River is why the great flood for which the Mississippi is notable begin in the 1800's. This kind of flooding coincides with the Mississippi Valley's transformation into the Cotton Kingdom by deforesting the entire length of the MIssissippi and its vast tributary systems.

As Stephen Leslie put it:
"I wanted to be an organic farmer because I had this sense, even back in the early ’90s, that our society was hurtling toward a cliff in terms of the unsustainability of systems we’ve put in place,” Mr. Leslie said. “I wasn’t really an activist, but I’m an artist. I like to do things. There’s not that big a disjuncture between wanting to paint a canvas and wanting to work a piece of land."

We will be having dinner tomorrow night with a passel of people in Kent County, Maryland, who are also doing their own versions of what Leslie's cooperative is doing in Vermont.  They are all artists too.

The link is to the single 'page' version; it includes an informative slide show of the horses, the land, the place.  As Leslie is the first to say, this way of life isn't for everyone.  That isn't confined only to people who don't like, fear or can't handle horses either.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

After the Quake: Music, Politics, and Spirituality in Haiti

The final program in el V's HipDeep series that investigates the historical, political, cultural and spiritual elements in Angola - old Kongo, and the diaspora into the New World has been created.

This program focues on San Domingue in the past, and Haiti, as it was called, after the slave revolution.  Though program is centered after the terrible earthquake, it is not about the quake or rebuilding, particularly.  It's a wild, high velocity, high energy, fast moving show dealing with vodou and the music and culture, and how these both bleed into the political situation and are repressed by it. Among other things you will learn what a real zombie is, what it signifies. You can hear it here.

For this exclusive Afropop Worldwide Hip Deep report, producer Ned Sublette travels to Port-au-Prince, where he checks in with bandleader Richard Morse of RAM, and with Lolo and Manzé Beaubrun of Boukman Eksperyans, both of whom produced hotly controversial carnival songs this year. In a country where the president, Michel Martelly, was formerly the Tags – 1 dance-music singer, the complexities of politics are felt in music. We'll look at how vodou and carnival interact to provide a vocabulary for political expression in the tense post-quake atmosphere. We’ll meet 95-year-old Emerante de Pradines Morse, who was the first singer to perform the songs of vodou as entertainment in Port-au-Prince; we’ll hear from historian Laurent Dubois, author of Haiti: The Aftershocks of History; and we’ll go crowd-surfing in the crush of carnival at Jakmel, the southern Haitian port city that was once a colonial cousin to New Orleans. Produced with support from a Knight Luce Fellowship for Reporting on Global Religion, a program of the University of Southern California's Knight Chair in Media and Religion.
This is long series in every way: long dreamed of;  long envisioned, long struggled to make possible; long in creation.  And here it is, fulled realized, created, and concluded!

Congratulations Mr. Sublette!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Time Travel From Rob Roy / Outlander, All Souls Trilogy to The River of No Return

As I think of recent popular time travel novels, first came Outlander (1992) by Diana Gabaldon. It was a romance novel, published as a romance novel, for romance readers, which drew in readers by the tens of thousands, across all genre boundaries: fantasy, hiistorical, novel, romance, adventure.  It spawned a very successful series.  I loved Outlander, but the following novels lacked the excitement of fresh exploration, instead were forumulaic, so I didn't bother with them. However,  I found that same excitement in the movie Rob Roy (1995), even though it was based on the novel by Sir Walter Scott (1817). Rob Roy had the parts I enjoyed particularly, and left out the parts that I skimmed in Outlander, i.e. 'the present' and the protagonist needing to learn her new world -- and the lovers were already married, they didn't need to court -- while very sexy and romantic. Plus a terrific music score. (I still like writing to the cd.)  At the end of last year it was announced that a television miniseries was in the works.

The Time Traveler's Wife (2003) by Audrey Niffenegger was both a literary and popular success (though the film (2009) didn't seem to carry the same impact at the box office as the novel did for readers).  Evidently the literary qualities that worked so beautifully on the page didn't translate to the screen. I enjoyed reading The Time Traveler's Wife very much -- but movie's scenes between the love interest when he was older and the wife was still a kid felt just a little weird, shall we say?

Then, along came Deborah Harkness in 2011 with Discovery of Witches, the first novel in the projected All Souls Trilogy ( followed by Shadow of Night in 2012 -- the trade which is out now, ahead of the third installment).  I fell into a passionate relationship with both these books in a way I seldom am able to to do with a novel these days.  I am so curious to see how Harkness, an historian no less, who specializes in the Elizabethan era to which we jump back in time, concludes what she's begun so colorfully.  I want to know the answers to the questions of biology, physics and life that are posed in these novels as much as the protagonists do.   There is a movie in the works for Discovery of Witches; Harkness announced in February a screenplay was finished.

And now there's a new time travel novel, The River of No Return (2013) by Bee Ridgway.  I've only gotten started with this one, but am liking it very much.  When I'm further along reading it may become more clear to me why I'm thinking it owes something to Harkness, besides Ridgway being, like Harkness, an academic at at prestigious institution.

In the meantime we have time travel on television.  Continuum, a Canadian production, is filled with the joys of the tech we are currently working on, as perfected in 2077, and dragged back into 2012.  My biggest criticism of the first season, which is the only one I've seen, was the mandatory shoot-em-up-beat-on-each-other scenes that run for a good five minutes or more -- at least so it seems -- in every episode.  I haven't figured out the politics of it yet either.  But it is kind of endearing to have the era of 2012, filled with toxic air, bank failures, corporate criminality too big to fail, etc., looking like a paradise to a 2077 time jumper.

Fox is putting up another time jump series this fall, Sleepy Hollow, which seems to have thrown together American history, past and present, into the same kind of non-historical, faux mystical chumble as a Dan Brown novel. Or, as Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter.  In any case it's Ichabod Crane as you've never seen him or imagined him before -- sexy, handsome, brave, effective, fighting in the American Revolution! And then zapped to the present to join fighting crime.

This probably isn't a trend, is it?  Or anything new, either.  It's all still about immortality one way or another -- i.e. vampires, whether they have two legs or are corporations.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Dracula + Crossbones, Coming on NBC

Dracula is billed as coming from the producers of Downton Abbey and the star of The Tudors.

Trailer for Dracula, starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers here.

What looks interesting is that Dracula appears in Victorian London as an American   entrepreneur peddling science and technology, while actually on a personal mission of vengeance against those who condemned him long ago to eternal life.

The other, Crossbones, premiering in July according to the Washington Post, stars John Malkovich as Blackbeard.  Such information as there is, can be found here.  This one might, perhaps, have some feature roles featuring characters of color?

Sunday, May 12, 2013

For Mother's Days - Isabella Rossellini's Green Porno Which Leads to Mammas

Give great thanks and praise with great praise the very smart, very funny, splendid, beautiful Isabella Rossellini today (other days too, of course).

She's always been interested in animal behavior, so lately she's been going for a Master's in the subject.

One of the outcomes, so far, of her studies is this series of short films for the Sundance Channel, on the sex lives of insects, fish, etc. called Green Porno. Some Green Porno can be seen here.

Now she's releasing to the Sundance Channel her new series, Mammas, which is even more comic, though factually accurate as to behavior as well.  "Now I have my babies. Now I eat them!"  The recent interview -- in which Rossellini is very smart, witty and funny about sex and motherhood -- with Kurt Anderson of Studio 360 is here.  

Happy baby eating, all you mammas!   (Never fear -- she's equal opportunity -- she's portrays a mamma who gets eaten by her babies as well.)

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Louisa May Alcott Taught Me About the Civil War & That Women Could Be Writers

Elsewhere someone speaks about Louisa May Alcott's Little Women and women as artists, after re-reading the book for the first time since she was thirteen. Which got me thinking again about Alcott -- who enters my thoughts constantly and has since I was nine, and first read Little Women and Little Men. Both those were on the shelves at home. It wasn't until three years later that I was in a school that had her other books in the library.

What I have taken away from so many re-readings of all of Alcott's books that they are memorized is that she believes the artist will spring up in any family at any time no matter what class the family. Talent should be nurtured and hopefully guided into the paths that will best express the talent, while owner is taught to be decent person -- while always taking into account talent might not be 'enough.' Nor is one to believe that artistic talent in a woman or a man makes them superior to the talent that it takes to create a home and nurturing environment for their families.

Family is central. However, as the family is central to a woman, so it is to the father -- and so, with a man's, is women's place in the larger community and the world. Women have as much a role to play in the world outside the home as do men, and a duty to do so.

At the end of life filled with toil and sorrows, it was just Louisa and her father Bronson living, 'all in all to each other,' as is described the care Jo March provides for her dying sister, Beth in Little Women. Daughter and father died within days of each other, she going first. Bronson Alcott's grief was inexpressible.

The books that brought Alcott fame and fortune were all written subsequent to the Civil War, which they ardently supported. The Alcott family was intimately connected to the intellectual and social circles of Boston for whom Abolition was an article of faith from before Louisa was born -- along with advocacy of many other conditions, such as prison reform.

Louisa Alcott herself lived everything that she endorsed, including the Civil War, fought in order to abolish slavery from the United States. She mutes her advocacy about the subject of the Civil War in her novels, yet it is always there. Alcott herself nearly died after nursing wounded soldiers in a D.C. hospital. She wrote her "Hospital Sketches," her first seriously noticed work from letters she sent home during that time. She also wrote other anti-slavery essays and poems before and during that period. Earlier, her father lost a school for bringing in a small black child to be educated with the white students. Not even abolitionist Boston would put up with that. This was a great difference between the Alcott family, as led by Bronson, and almost every one else: they stood for full integration, along with the 'radical' abolitionists such as Thaddeus Stevens.

The first time I learned of the Civil War in fact, was from Alcott. The opening  page of Little Women refers to the absent father, "far off, where the fighting was." When the father becomes ill later in the book and is sent to a D.C. hospital, Jo March wants wildly to go there and nurse him.  In Little Men, old Silas, the black man of all work at Plumfield, tells the children the story of his heroic, beloved horse, shot out under him in a battle, while he himself is gravely wounded, next to another dying, enemy soldier. Though not a word is said about this, Silas would have been either a free black man who enlisted in the black regiment out of Massachusetts and Connecticut, or a contraband slave, who then enlisted in the Union army. Growing up on a farm in a state that didn't even exist when the Civil War was fought, it wasn't a constant from birth as it was for my Southern-born el V. I didn't hear of the Civil War in school until the fourth grade. (Also, though it was a time in which the Civil War centennial was going on, in which slavery was left out of the official observances entirely, in our schools we were taught the war was fought "to free the slaves.")

Elsewhere someone speaks of re-reading Little Women for the first time since she was thirteen, when she hated the book because she thought the writer character was denied her right to be an artist. She sees the book rather differently and wonders if Alcott continues this dialogue about women and artists. All of her books do this in some way or another. Alcott speaks directly, straight up, in some of the chapters of the second volume of An Old Fashioned Girl about women practicing art, and the never-yet-resolved conflict for women between the domestic sphere and the practicing artist.

Nor does she leave not notice that this is a dilemma for boys and men too. Under the Lilacs provides a rather odd arc of the lost boy circus equine acrobat tale, who shows up at the start of Under the Lilacs one day and is taken in by the family to whom the lilacs belong. Unlike the March family, this one is a modest rural family, and are not connected to the great intellectual, political and social currents of the day, but are decent, self-sufficient people, who do their best for others, while making their own way.  He has to give up that kind of exhibition in order to grow up -- in order to not be an orphan, to become a useful part of the community. He does a farewell appearance, which is heart-tugging, even though he's willing -- he knows as well as the Mother that in a few months he'll be too big to do his tricks.

In Eight Cousins and the sequel Rose in Bloom, there is not interest in being an artist one's self -- as there are all through the March family chronicles -- among the upper crust, wealthy family members and their social circle who feature in these two books. However, in the first novel there is Phoebe, a kitchen girl, who can sing extraordinarily well. She is befriended by the lonely, newly orphaned Rose. Over the course of the book Rose learns lessons from Phoebe, in patience, resolve, carrying one's burdens with a cheerful, willing heart. But, by the opening of Rose in Bloom, Rose's uncle-guardian had subsidized Phoebe's professional vocal training, as her voice is worthy of that nurture. Phoebe has embarked on an authentic career as soloist. In this second book, Mac, another of Rose's cousins becomes a celebrated poet -- going against the family's expectations for him in the first book -- but he's also gotten qualified as a physician. At one point Rose frets that she's  just a stay-at-home, not famous and celebrated like Phoebe and Mac. With her uncle-guardian's guidance she understands that what she does is equally valuable. In the meantime Phoebe and Archie, the oldest of the male cousins, fall in love -- to the dismay, displeasure and prohibition of the aunts. "No one knows who she is!" In the end, it isn't Phoebe's talent or success in exercising it, but that she, along with the doctor-poet Mac, nurse Rose's uncle to health during a life-threatening illness, that gets her accepted by the aunts. Now Phoebe's will give up her career -- and sing only for the expected babies. Yet it was the very wildness and sound of Phoebe's voice, at least as much as her sparkling black eyes, that attract Archie into love. There's also a very very very subtle hint that Phoebe may have some 'black' blood ... the Alcotts were nothing if not abolitionists first, and after the war, integrationists.

In Jo's Boys, the final March family chronicle, Josie, Meg's daughter, Jo's niece,  is mad to go on the stage (as was Jo March when young -- she and her older sister Meg loved acting in their home theatricals. As the family is a respectable entity to themselves and their community, Josie's ambition is discouraged (actresses were still pretty much part-time prostitutes at the time, with few exceptions). Yet, in, the end, she gets permission to study, when a great actress watches her perform and declares Josie has what it takes -- though without any guarantees, of course. There is also the character of Nat, continued from Little Men, whose love for the violin has also continued since Little Men. He's provided training, and then is subsidized to study in Europe. It is thought he has sufficient authentic talent enough to earn a decent living (which is nothing at all to sneer at -- the abilities necessary are many and not that many people possess them), but he's not a great musicians. In the meantime, Jo March has continued to write, and had begun to do so for money.  Then it was to feed -- I loosely quote -- the "ravenous maws of the children who demanded, more, more, more."

Louisa Alcott always wrote for money even more than she did for expression -- she was so poor for most of her life. She wrote when she was ill, when the people she loved were dying and after they died. Alcott, as much as any of her female contemporaries this period -- equally, I feel, with George Eliot, who also was very poor for a very long time, and wrote for money as well as expression -- was in the situation to explore the varieties and levels of talent and how to express it as a woman. -- as well as the enormous and many obstacles against her doing so.

To bring us back to the Civil War, after it was over, and sometimes even before, hordes of southerners made their way north, particularly to New York City, to re-make their fortunes. They were called the Confederate Carpetbaggers.  Many of  them were writers and other professionals. Among them were many, many women, and many of them too turned to writing, to support their families.  They wrote for the same reasons Louisa May Alcott did, and some of them with equal success.

Friday, May 10, 2013

*Scandal* + "Scandal's" Creator - Shonda Rhimes

We have a multi-screen feature on Shonda Rhimes first, and as close second, her latest creation, the melodrama Scandal, starring Kerry Washington.   In the NY Times Sunday Magazine:
With 8.3 million viewers, “Scandal” stands alongside stalwart network hits like “CSI” and outpaces cable darlings like “Game of Thrones” (4.4 million viewers) and “Mad Men” (3.4 million viewers). Rhimes has found a way to make successful, popular, original dramas under the grueling, constricting conditions of network TV — 22 episodes a year; strict limits on language and subject matter; a fight about every sex scene. The key to the appeal of “Scandal” may be, simply, that it’s more fun than anything else on television. Rhimes often describes it as a show “I want to watch” — an emphasis that underscores her bedrock belief in the pleasure principle of TV.

Television is so personal, isn't it?  What we stop watching, what we faithfully follow. This current golden age of arc television really provides all the pleasures that a certain kind of novel used to give us, as well as the mass sharing of that experience, that novels once were able to regularly provide, starting with the serial publication of Samuel Richards's Pamela - or - Virtue Rewarded, back in 1740. It was a public reading event, consumed  breathlessly by all classes, ages and gender.  Those who could not read the book for themselves, heard it, as it was read aloud at a gathering.  Scullery maids and footmen in the cellars and kitchens discussed poor Pamela, her trials and woes, while their masters, mistresses, their daughters and sons their friends discussed Poor Pamela upstairs.

Myself, having loved the first season of Scandal, this time around am having a deal of trouble with the show: constantly interrupted schedule (I am looking at you too, The Good Wife!);  the general immorality and criminality of all the characters; the entirely preposterous premises of some of the characters' characters, such as Huck the murder-torture lover, who is yet with a heart of gold and loving family man; the so-called torrid passion of primary character, Olivia Pope, and the whining, petulant, murderer-stalker, POTUS Fitzgerald Grant, for each other (this viewer simply cannot believe it -- but then, it's not unusual for outsiders to be unable to see what a couple sees in each other, is it? ).

On the other hand, if Scandal  turns out to be written as the general state of morality of the majority of the people who currently are running our nation as their own personal fiefdoms, the control of  which they battle for power in the same way as the warring nobles and barons of ye old medieval and Renaissance periods -- then I'll forgive all and applaud.  If I'm being taken for a ride only for the purpose of being taken for a ride, i.e. then we have redemption arcs for all these anti-social powerful characters -- well, then I'll probably not watch next year.

This isn't particularly a criticism of either Rhimes or Scandal -- it's about my own taste and desires in my entertainment.  And if I don't like Rhimes's offerings, then I can just go watch something else or make my own!  As the numbers above show, I shall be alone, all alone.  :) 

In the end I still see how compelling television Scandal is, which is not surprise, as Rhimes put herself to school with the best, which the article informs us:
It was when Rhimes’s older daughter was an infant that she got turned on to TV. The baby wouldn’t sleep, so Rhimes would lay her on her chest while she watched “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Felicity” and “24.” “I thought, God, television is really good. And I’m really tired of writing about teenage girls and their makeovers.” She wrote a pilot for a show about war correspondents that stalled when the Iraq war started. Then she wrote “Grey’s Anatomy.” The show, about a bunch of great-looking, sharp-talking, bed-hopping, work-obsessed surgeons, became an unexpected hit in 2005.

There's another aspect to Scandal that I love, and the best way to describe this is to shout-out to all my African American friends: Thank you for telling me I had to watch Scandal!"

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Royal Shakespeare Company + Google + *Midsummer Nights Dreaming*

Tip-off in the UK Guardian:
Midsummer Night's Dreaming: the RSC takes a smattering of Google fairy dust An internet production of Shakespeare's classic comedy is not so much the RSC dumbing down as Google flaunting its cultural credentials – and that can only be a good thing
 As I write, news is coming in of a collaboration between the Royal Shakespeare Company and Google, titled Midsummer Night's Dreaming. This digitally inspired event promises to take "reinterpretation" to a new level. If I've understood the publicity, people all over the world will be able to go online to join the RSC live as they and Google+ present a one-off digital theatre project riffing on Shakespeare's text. Audiences will be able to watch scenes from the play on the web on the weekend of June 21-23, with additional events taking place in Stratford-upon-Avon on the Sunday. According to the press release, "the story will also be reported as it happens, by new characters created by a group of commissioned artists, and shared through the internet".
There's a trailer video on both the Guardian and the Royal Shakespeare Company sites.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Among the Celebrities from NBA & NFL Attending the Kentucky Derby

Not to mention country singers, models, etc . -- finally -- a writer!

Nora Roberts at Derby Day

It's lovely to see this unbelievably productive author (200 novels and counting -- she also owns her own town -- Boonsboro, MD) take an hour off,  put on a chapeau and watch some horses!

Leaving, Not On A Jet Plane

In 13 days.  So much to organize.  Because we're not going to a specific place, because we are actually traveling to many places.  I hope ye Back is up to handling  this without too much pain or incapacity -- which is part of the organizing ....

Thursday, May 2, 2013

*The Vampire Diaries* Moves to New Orleans *The Originals*

The Vampire Diaries was entertaining the first season, which I watched while living a small town on the Chesapeake whose historic center was designed in the same layout and had the same architect for the old public business buildings as the Georgia small town where Diaries' exteriors were shot. Also the small Virginia town of Mystic Falls reflected the culture of my small old South town -- a village almost -- of constant public ceremonial observances of all important national, state and very local events.  The high school students were indeed forever holding car washes to raise money for a good cause and doing all kinds of services for the public good. This utterly delighted me.

Second season, less interesting -- already bored with the vamp brothers. When Elena's dark double vamp showed up, it got even more dark soap opera-y.  You either like this sort of thing or you don't. i.e. Dark Shadows, whose charms have eluded me.

However, the most recent episode of the current Vampire Diaries series was a sneak pilot for a spin-off vampire - werewolf - witch series.  This series, titled The Originals (what a terrible title! how unoriginal!) which is set in contemporary New Orleans.  I had to watch that, so I did.

It is suggested that the entire witch thang will make much more sense in New Orleans than it does in Diaries. The Mystic Falls's witches are black, who came to slaveholding Virginia from Massachusetts in the wake of the Salem witch trials.  Which seems as inexplicable as Tom and Huck sending Black Jim down the Mississippi from at least nominally free soil southern Illinois -- when northern Illinois was genuinely free soil --  in order to free him.  Further it is suggested these Mystic Falls witches are  descended from Tituba. but no histories of Salem's witch trials ever mentions she had children, but that at some point she seemed to have gotten herself back to the Caribbean from where she was brought.

However, black witches from 17th century Salem going to New Orleans seems highly unlikely as the official founding date of New Orleans isn't until 1718.  So that's the first thing The Originals has in common with Diaries -- an utter lack of history as chronology or effect.  O. The witches are also white it seems, with the exception of one elderly black woman telling fortunes on Jackson Square, complete with gelle headdress.

The witches also seem to be interchangeable with what New Orleans considers to be vodon.  You see one of them drawing veves (very badly) in one of the cemeteries.

In the real New Orleans, Katrina came to take up residence.  Which probably is why really bad television and movies get set there -- the state has provided huge subsidy and breaks for Louisiana  location productions.

There was a single aspect of The Originals that is is attractive -- one of the Bads, the black vamp, Marcelle, played by Charles Michael Davis. Marcelle's 'stolen' New Orleans from sort-of bad hybrid were-vamp, Klaus, who wants it back now. Within classic soap operatic dynamics, Klaus is Marcelle's sire. In the same vein, as Diaries watchers know, Klaus's brother is the sort-of good Elijah, who Diaries watchers also know. Klaus has managed to impregnate a witch.  Everyone just wants a family!

There's also a "Blonde Brave Bartender" who says she knows martial arts.

The witches? They all look alike.  But then, it's always dark night in this New Orleans, which evidently Katrina passed by.

It is all ridiculous. But is it a good thing for New Orleans?  Since this series' New Orleans seems confined to the French Quarter -- and the historic cemeteries -- maybe it will bring in more tourists to pour pee, vomit and money into the tourist economy, as an expanding segment of society pours into the city searching for the witches, the weres and the vamps they know are part of the Happening City. This will delight a lot of local power personages.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Framers of Pro-slavery Philosophy

The evolution of anti-slavery thinking, and who helped craft that thinking, is fairly well known to students of the Civil War.  These people's names, whether Harriet Tubman, William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, all of the Beechers and Stowes, the Grimkés, Seward, Stanton, Chase -- Lincoln himself, and so many more -- are highly recognizable names today, even among people who aren't specialists in the Civil War and the related subjects. There are many books who include the work and writing of less illustrious, though equally effective abolitionists.

Then there are the many, many slave narratives, the books written by free people who were kidnapped into slavery, such as Solomon Northrup, or those born into slavery and escaped finally, like Harriet Jacobs.  There is no corresponding genre that the slave power could counter with, no slave narratives, penned by slaves extolling the wonders of their condition.

However, there were also many well-known, published and highly respected men who equally consciously and carefully crafted the southern slave power's pro-slavery philosophy between 1820 and 1850. But these days the only widely recognized names for anyone who studies American history are probably Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry and John C. Calhoun. James D.B. DeBow was at least equally influential as the previous three.  I would be curious to learn who aren't historians looking at slavery can say off the top of their head who DeBow was though.  As enormously influential as he was, as well-known as he was in those decades, right up to 1860, and even after, maybe his name isn't as recognizable as I think?  He never served in the house or the senate or in a president's cabinet, unlike Calhoun -- who is also forever closely linked with other very famous figures, such as John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay and Andrew Jackson.) There aren't many books about these men.

Thus the last few days I have been digging into dusty, musty bound volumes of the writings of some the other famous pro-slavery men, besides DeBow: Hinton Helper, Michael Pillard, BGeorge Fitzhugh, Leonidas Spratt and Edward Deloney.

I'm so completely convinced of the sheer right in every way of the anti-slavery people, I cannot in the least find any value at all in a single word any of these men wrote, or in the authorities to which they appeal -- the two foundation documents of course for them are the Bible (Old Testament) and the Constitution.  There is one other authority to which they appeal, and that is classical Rome and Greece, because they too had slaves. In refutation one begins immediately: " But the slavery in the Bible, classical Rome and Greece, was not race based." And that's just to start with.

As distasteful as perusing such texts are in so many ways, they do bring one closer to 'feeling' those decades.  In their own way looking at these proudly proffered words about the dogma around which these men and so many others organized their lives, their families, their communities, their finances and their politics helps draw back that inexorable veil between then and now.

According To Salon Dot Com There Are No Women Worthy

At 10:30 AM EDST today, there are only three -- 3 -- THREE females who are worthy enough to be featured on their site: one is the over-indulged, under-educated young woman who went to Italy and got herself involved in a sex murder crime; the second is the utterly irrelevant to anything for YEARS AND YEARS, the woman who can't even bother finish her term as governor of Alaska; the third, some bimbo who won't back down on inviting a (male) homophobe to speak at some dumb event.

All the rest of the many, many feature stories feature men in the photo, the caption and the body of the text.  O wait, there was another female figure, in a still from a film by George Cloony, the feature which was titled and about George Cloony, and oh yes, he was in the photo too, staring at the young blonde in the foreground.

So, in the entire world in which things are happening these are the only women who are doing anything worthy of being put on a news aggregation site?

Why are we seeing this in the USA, in the year 2013? Or -- rather, why are we not seeing women in the USA, in the year 2013?