". . . 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 29, 2014


Every fact as presented by the film is not only false, but deliberately twisted and manufactured to be something else than what little we've got of the story of these people who lived in the England of the 18th century, when England was the center of the globe's African slave trade. This is a fantasy that ignores the historical facts that are the story of Dido Elizabeth Bell - and her cousin Elizabeth, so far as the record kept track of them.

It's a phony story too, about  the Chief Justice, Lord Mansfield.  The case he sat on that helped abolition was Somerset v Stewart (1772) 98 ER 499,  not that of the slave ship  Zong. The manner in which he settled the Zong case, ruled in favor of the insurance company, which excused them from paying compensation for slaves deliberately murdered to get an insurance payout on loss of property.  It did nothing about saying that slavery was wrong, that the chattel was free, or anything like that. What the Lord Chief Justice's private opinion on these matter were are not a matter of record, nor did speak them in public. The film claims that the Zong case advanced aboliton, but it did not -- he actually reversed the lower courts' cases that tried to say killing slaves was illegal:
In reaching these conclusions, Krikler comments that Mansfield ignored the ruling of his predecessor,Matthew Hale, that the killing of innocents in the name of self-preservation was unlawful. This ruling was to prove important a century later in R v Dudley and Stephens, which also concerned the justifiability of acts of murder at sea.[43] Mansfield also did not acknowledge another important legal principle—that no insurance claim can be legal if it arose from an illegal act.[67]
Mansfield ruled on Somerset. over ten years before he ruled on the Zong case. It's because of his ruling on the Somersett case that Dido could be called free in England. She was the daughter of a slave, and English slave law is that the child takes the status of the mother, thus not a free woman. However, the movie never mentions the Somerset case at all, which makes no sense, within the many scenes devoted to discussing the Zong case and that Masefield would be ruling on it.

Dido did not marry a gentleman, not even one so made because her uncle sponsored him to study in the Inns of Court, as the film says.  She married a steward's son. Mansfield gave her 500 pounds.  In the meantime her father portrayed as a true lover of her mother (a woman who was still a slave when she died?), but a philandering sort, who had other slave women and children by them (who were not brought to his uncle to be made free), as well as a couple of wives (who died), who gave him more children who were legitimate.

Dido was not an heiress, but her cousin Elizabeth, portrayed in Belle as a pauper, was one. Twisting the facts out of shape leaves huge plot holes.  For instance, since the Lord Chief Justice and his wife had no children, and his fortune was made by himself, there is no entail -- and his fortune is so great he can live in that mansion and possess more than one carriage, and they love their niece Elizabeth -- so why were he and his wife not giving Elizabeth a fortune?  Not even considered.

They even change the famous painting, that supposedly inspired the movie to be written, to leave out the feather and the turban. Why?

Not to mention the pure Mammy figure, stout in body, head wrapped, being all mammy-like to the young lady mulatta who gives her orders and pouts at her. There's so much in this film that doesn't make any sense in terms of class of the period -- or a coherent story.

In truth this he film is kinda of a mess, and it's a mess because of twisting the facts into what didn't exist.

But nevermind, the dresses are pretty, so are the actresses, and the square piano they play is period correct, along with all the other period detail that has nothing to do with how the characters on screen behave or the story being told.  That's all that matters, right?

The writer and director could have told this story by making it all up instead of pretending to the tell the story of something that happened.  Except then, she'd have had to leave out the Lord Chief Justice, and that would be bad, because ... well, I for one don't know why that would be bad.  It would have been pure historical romance then, and we wouldn't have to feel that the historical Dido Elizabeth Belle had been cheated and disrespected.

It would also have spared me from the rest of my life having to futilely attempt to explain all this to those who will cite this film as the facts of what happened -- and racism and slavery weren't that bad.

While I still futilely convincing people even now that what happened in 12 Years a Slave really did happen, and that Solomon Northup actually existed, and was really kidnapped into slavery, and yes, being a slave was really that bad, and in fact for millions, it was even worse than that.  And there was no actual fairy tale Jane Austen ending of his story.  He suffered so much from PTSD from his kidnapping, sales, what he saw and experienced in slavery, that he descended into drink and lost his family, and died not that long after, alone. All of which is documented.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Decoration Day

The assumption, here, is everyone who thinks about the significance of  Memorial Day knows this day was started by African Americans in Charleston, South Carolina. After WWI Decoration become known as Memorial Day. Despite having started the commemoration, African Americans such as the Hell Fighters were segregated out of the commemoration ceremonies and parades then as well, despite their great heroic sacrificial contributions to the effort. This has remained to be the case most often until, perhaps, the Vietnam War.

For more history of Decoration Day, go here.

From a black newspaper, the New Orleans Semi-Weekly Louisianan dated June 15, 1871. It describes an event that occurred at the then-newly-established Arlington National Cemetery. Like the U.S. Colored Troops who’d been denied a place in the grand victory parade in Washington in May 1865, the black veterans discovered that segregation and exclusion within the military continued even after death:

The custom of decorating the graves of soldiers who fell in the late war, seems to be doing more harm to the living than it does to honor the dead. In every Southern State there are not only separate localities where the respective defendants of Unionism and Secession lie buried, but there are different days of observance, a rivalry in the ostentatious parade for floral wealth and variety, and a competition in extravagant eulogy, more calculated to inflame the passions than to soften and purify the affections, which ought to be the result of all funeral rights.

Besides this bad effect among the whites there comes a still more evil influence from the dastardly discriminations made by the professedly union [sic.] people themselves.
Read this extract from the Washington Chronicle:


While services were in progress at the tomb of the “Unknown” Comrade Charles Guthridge, John S. Brent, and Beverly Tucker, of Thomas R. Hawkins Post, No. 14 G.A.R., followed by Greene’s Brass Band, Colonel Perry Carson’s Pioneer Corps of the 17th District, Butler Zouaves, under the command of Charles B. Fisher, and a large number of colored persons proceeded to the cemetery on the colored soldiers to the north of the mansion, and on arriving there they found no stand erected, no orator or speaker selected, not a single flag placed on high, not even a paper flag at the head boards of these loyal but ignored dead, not even a drop of water to quench the thirst of the humble patriots after their toilsome march from the beautifully decorated grand stand above to this barren neglected spot below. At 2 ½ o’clock P.M., no flowers or other articles coming for decorative purposes, messengers were dispatched to the officers of the day for them; they in time returned with a half dozen (perhaps more) rosettes, and a basket of flower leaves. Deep was the indignation and disappointment of the people. A volley of musketry was fired over the graves by Col. Fisher’s company. An indignation meeting was improvised, Col. Fisher acting president. A short but eloquent address was made by George Hatton, who was followed by F. G. Barbadoes, who concluded his remarks by offering the following resolutions, which were unanimously adopted:
Resolved, that the colored citizens of the District of Columbia hereby respectfully request the proper authorities to remove the remains of all loyal soldiers now interred at the north end of the Arlington cemetery, among paupers and rebels, to the main body of the grounds at the earliest possible moment.

Resolved, that the following named gentlemen are hereby created a committee to proffer our request and to take such further action in the matter as may be deemed necessary to a successful accomplishment of our wishes: Frederick Douglass, John M. Langston, Rev. Dr. Anderson, William J. Wilson, Col. Charles B. Fisher, William Wormley, Perry Carson, Dr. A. T. Augusta, F. G. Barbadoes.

If any event in the whole history of our connection with the late war embodied more features of disgraceful neglect, or exhibited more clearly the necessity of protecting ourselves from insult, than this behavior at Arlington heights, we at least acknowledge ignorance of it.

We say again that no good, but only harm can result from keeping up the recollection of the bitter strife and bloodshed between North and South, and worse still, in furnishing occasion to white Unionists of proving their hypocrisy towards the negro in the very presence of our dead.


Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Source for Accusations of Henry Adams Anti-semitism

Lordessa, was he ever a anti-semite, which makes me feel badly, very badly.  Because he was a great historian.  There simply is nothing in the discipline of history scholarship like his volumes of the administrations of Jefferson and Madison.  There's nothing like his work about the Civil War or about the Haitian Revolution.  There can't be because no one else who has ever worked with these events was alive and / or direct descendant of, who knew these relative in his life time, as well as so many of the other primary players.  He also wrote penetratingly of other significant figures and events in American history, including John Randolph and Alfred Gallatin.

It's the Dreyfus Affair.  It went on for years (1894 - 1906). It was a mobilization of ugliness and hate -- hate of everything -- as great any as we saw in the Civil Rights ere here, though, unlike here, it doesn't appear that anyone was actually killed for believing in the innocence of Dreyfus and the culpability of the French army and government in forging evidence and wrongful conviction.

By then Henry Adams was in the depths of bitterness, anger and resentment.  It seems to have been triggered with the estrangement from his wife, Clover, her breakdown and suicide, as well as the lack of recognition by the public at large and his peers particularly of the startling achievement of his work with Jefferson and Madison.  He turned his back not only on the U.S. but on American history.  He spent most of his time in Europe, particularly in France and immersed himself in the medieval ages.  For him, considering the results of this, it meant the French middle ages.  As you see in that quite stupid book that was the result,  Mont-Saint-Michele and Chartres, he didn't understand the Middle Ages at all, and beyond that created an idealized fantasy of them, in a French version, that wouldn't be out of place in a role playing fantasy game today.

These ideas, along with his personal bitterness, anger, and sense of betrayal, he projected upon poor Dreyfus -- as did all of France project whatever they wished upon him, and by the end, so did the world.

Mr Adams, Mr Adams, oh how I wish you had been a better man.  But as well as their place in society and their brilliance, you inherited some of the bad qualities of your distinguished forebears, and it took over your life.  But they died peacefully and happy.  You died -- deeply disappointed

Television Series, Hieroglyph - Coming Soon!

Hieroglyph features Pharaoh's private investigator -- a thief, plucked from prison. Fox.

My prophesy is this series will be panned by puffers and 'critics' because spelling 'hieroglyph' and pharaoh' will be too much of a pain.  Otoh, t&a + violence quotient in 'exotic' milieu may be just what the doctor ordered.

Doesn't he just look dynastic Egyptian as eff? Or -- Is he Young Merln all grown up? Or -- backwards as Merlin's legend has it? Also why is your name Ambrose?

Why are most of the principals white?

Description plus trailer, here. Is it a spoiler if it is suggested that while watching the trailer watch out for the fangs?

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

American the Beautiful

Hate, bigotry, ignorance are attractive, elegant and witty.

This is the legacy of slavery in this country, the consequence of which we all are heirs still, today.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Is This Caused by Gender?

The American Slave Coast, focused as it is on slave-breeding and the domestic slave trade, cannot avoid addressing certain matters such as actual birthing.  One of the themes runs something like this: when all women, even the most elite and privileged women, have no rights to their own bodies, no legal standing to refuse sexual advances, predation, abuse and rape from their own husbands -- and even their husband's friends*, have no control over their reproduction, are shamed and blamed if they do not reproduce to the extreme of their reproductive capacity, when obstetrics were brutal when they existed at all, and the consequences are frequent and early death for both woman and infant -- what do you think it was like for the most powerless of all women, an enslaved, fertile woman?  She is certainly not receiving adequate nutrition, doesn't even have a bed frame or floorboards in many cases, is overworked right up to and rapidly after birth.

But we needed to do some fact checking on some statements we've made, such as the enslaved frequently followed the birthing practice of many African cultures, squatting in the later stages of labor and the birth, which also helped expel the placenta-afterbirth more rapidly and completely, while white women did not do that.

Well, now, is that a fact, or is it a supposition merely?  How do you find out?

Due to a computer problem my search privileges in my research library consortium were temporarily revoked.  No access.  El V couldn't find a thing: every search defaulted to present day Africa, African American, American, African birthrates, maternity care, etc.  He couldn't find anything that addressed birthing practices in the pre-Civil War south.  As this is was such an intimate matter, and one that was considered obscene -- no decent woman would be talking about this, much less keeping track and writing about it -- much less a man, who was interested only in the child arriving and living and increasing his wealth.**

When I was able to get back into the research libraries' resources and typed in a string, which I think was -- birthing slaves antebellum south. Voila, though the body of research published in this area is small, there is a group of dedicated historians who have been working to compile the information and stats. One title in particular, is a whole book, published in 2006, and is on the shelves here locally at Bobst.  Now we can confirm the statements as false or fact:  Birthing a Slave: Motherhood and Medicine in the Antebellum South, by Marie Jenkins Schwarz.

El V is a grand champion searcher. But he didn't get this, when I was able to on first try. Is it that he just didn't have the gender intuition of the right string of terms?


*  For notable example, Thomas Jefferson attempted "to seduce" forcibly, i.e. rape, the wife of one of his closest friends -- full account in Meacham's The Art of Power, an historian who deeply admires TJ.  He tried it on more than once, while his friend  was absent, in the army, and she was alone, even so much so he climbed on top of her while she was sleeping in her bedroom.  She fought him off, was terrified and disgusted to be around him for years before she told her husband, who then wanted to fight TJ in a duel, but TJ managed to placate and get away.  No way was the physically cowardly TJ capable of facing anyone in a duel.  Then, of course, he bred his wife, whom by all evidence he dearly loved, to death.

** Note, how even today right wing white southern males demonstrate nearly every time they open their mouths their complete ignorance of how reproduction, birth and all their associated systems work, as well as maintaining contemptibly stupid convictions of how these matter do operate.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Most Pleasurable Part of the Publication Process

The very best part of the publication process (besides seeing that actual book as a book!) is writing the acknowledgments.  We're working on them this week.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Mapping the Spread and Distribution of U.S. Slavery

These are nineteenth century thematic maps.

From Lincoln Mullen's blog entry, "Mapping the Spread of American Slavery" -- and another version at the Smithsonian site:

This one was a favorite of President Lincoln's.
"The map showed at a glance the large-scale patterns of slavery in the American South: the concentrations of slavery in eastern Virginia, in South Carolina, and most of all along the Mississippi. It also repaid closer examination, since each county was labeled with the exact percentage enslaved. The map of slavery was one of many thematic maps produced in the nineteenth century United States.
This is part of Mullen's commentary as to the utility of such maps to doing history and creating one's arguments:

The first thing to observe is that slavery spread more than it grew. The population of slaves in 1790 or 1800 was already very high compared the maximum population levels. In fact, in Charleston County, South Carolina (one of the counties with the highest populations of slaves) the number of enslaved people in 1860 was only 63% of what it had been in 1840. This is not to say that the total number of slaves in the eastern seaboard states did not go up over time. But the number of enslaved people in a particular place did not grow at anything like the rate of free people in the north. The free population in the north both grew in the same place and spread to the west. The slave population had a different dynamic. It grew in intensity in places around the Chesapeake bay, even as slavery was gradually abolished in the North. But primarily the slave population spread to the fertile crescent of lands in Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, and most of all to the Mississippi River valley. Below you can see two animations of the density of the slave population and the density of the total population (keep in mind that the scales are different). What you see in these maps is the spread of slavery through the domestic slave trade. You also see the origins of the sectional crisis in the continual expansion of slavery.
 I.e. we see the domestic slave breeding industry and the domestic slave trade in action in his animated maps.

These maps, and their use for understanding populations' numbers, growth and distribution, demonstrate how important statistics are to understanding history, particularly within the context of both past and present.  A person cannot understand or "do" history without numbers, starting, of course, with the first law of history: chronology.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Found -- Perhaps -- Columbus's Santa Maria

From the UK Guardian, an announcement that perhaps the wreck of Columbus's flag ship, the Santa Maria, has been discovered in the waters off the coast of Haiti.

Shipwreck found off coast of Haiti thought to be one of the most significant underwater discoveries in history by David Keys:

The Santa Maria was built at some stage in the second half of the 15 century in northern Spain’s Basque Country. In 1492, Columbus hired the ship and sailed in it from southern Spain’s Atlantic coast via the Canary Islands in search of a new western route to Asia.
After 37 days, Columbus reached the Bahamas – but, just over ten weeks later, his flagship, the Santa Maria, with Columbus on board, drifted at night onto a reef off the northern coast of Haiti and had to be abandoned. Then, in a native village nearby, Columbus began building his first fort – and,  a week later, leaving many of his men behind in the fort, he used  his two remaining vessels to sail back to Spain in order to report his discovery of what he perceived as a new westerly route to Asia  to his royal patrons  - King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain.

Tragically, many of the signifying objects, such as the cannon, that would help investigators definitively identify the ship have already been looted since it was first looked at in 2003.

"The investigation into the wreck is being supported by the American TV network, the History channel, which has secured the exclusive rights to produce a major television programme on the subject."

Monday, May 12, 2014

A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby - Kara Walker

Kara Walker's new show,is an installation  site-specific -- the abandoned Brooklyn  Domino Sugar Factory. The visitor is presented with figures from our country's southern antebellum past, made of sugar and other sugar industry products such as molasses.

 It's profoundly historical in an ever-widening pattern web of  relationships and events connecting the European Middle Ages to the present, economically, culturally and politically.

This is revealed immediately in the title she has given this show is brilliant, invoking European history back to the crusading medieval era, when the lucrative, if dangerous and very expensive sugar trade with the Middle East brought the sweet stuff to the tables of the ruling elite. Their kitchens fashioned  the sugar into extravagant shapes, landscapes and emblems served as centerpieces at banquets, called an entremet, and in England, more commonly by the Renaissance, a subtlety. By the Renaissance the Europeans were already slaving Africa, taking the people to the New World, to work in the gold and silver mines that financed the architecture and wars of Europe's baroque, rococo and neoclassical periods, and the sugar plantations that would finance the Industrial Revolution.

"Carrying either big baskets or bunches of bananas, they are enlarged from small cheap ceramic figurines still made in China."

... Dominated by an enormous sugarcoated woman-sphinx with undeniably black features and wearing only an Aunt Jemima kerchief and earrings, it is beautiful, brazen and disturbing, and above all a densely layered statement that both indicts and pays tribute. It all but throws possible interpretations and inescapable meanings at you.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Crime Fiction Is Always About the Past

Irish crime fiction writer, Brian McGilloway, nailed it perfectly, when interviewed by the UK Guardian, about the crime fiction set in Northern Ireland:

" ...  issues of right and wrong and how the past impacts on the present.
"Crime fiction is always about the past: it begins with a dead body and the detective has to go back to work out what happened. The whole genre is about starting at a point in time and then tracing back to work out where it all went wrong."

This explains why crime fiction, like historical fiction a genre with a vast variety of sub-genres, including crime investigators from all eras, appeals to so many historians. I had noticed quite some ago that crime fiction is sort of universal genre solvent -- it dissolves successfully into every other form of fiction there is, and this must be why.

Thank you Mr. McGillowy!

Friday, May 9, 2014

Two James - Henry and Charles - Women in Society and Fashion

As an amuse-bouche  for the eyes, ears and brain, I've been watching BBC Affairs of the Heart, Series I (1974) and Series 2 (broadcast 1974 and ?; available in U.S. on dvd 2008).

Diana Rigg and Jeremy Brett in "Grace" - Affairs of the Heart

The series feature fine casts of familiar players. However, though the stories are based on some of Henry James's (1843 - 1916) shorter works, the titles have the stories have been changed to female names.  For example, The Aspern Papers became "Miss Tita."

As the title of the series indicates, these are all tales of love, love in all its permutations, many of which are wry, ironic and twist in directions that confound the expected romantic resolution of happy pairing. These stories are not for an audience that wants comfort romance, fast action and physical violence

The writers and director, Terrence Feeley, strip the James's stories to their bones, focusing solely upon the strange ways of men and women of a certain class all too frequently drive right past each other while desperately wished to bond.  These being James works, many of them are culture clashes of how the old English monied classes and the newer American monied classes just miss each other. Everything else is told through impeccable production values of location, set dressing and particularly what the characters wear.

Which brings us to the second James, who has been featured extensively in this city's media this week, the designer, Charles James, about whom more here.

From the catalog for the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute exhibit of Charles James:

James, who was born in England in 1906, began as a hat designer and settled permanently in the United States in 1939, building his art on the simplified lines and bias cuts of the early-20th-century French modernists Paul Poiret and Madeleine Vionnet. He also synthesized forms from the deeper past — the imposing split skirt of the 18th-century robe à la française, several kinds of bustles, army greatcoats — but his best garments exude an undeniable modernity. They are, in their own way, as organic, forward-looking and self-evident as a Brancusi sculpture, an Eero Saarinen tulip chair or a Pollock drip painting. They transcend yet celebrate function, elucidate while mystifying form, and reveal by adorning the female body in sometimes startlingly erotic terms. In the exhibition’s lavish catalog, James describes fashion as “what is rare, correctly proportioned and, though utterly discrete, libidinous.”
Similar references dot the walls of the galleries where James refers to his innovative shapes as “a high form of eroticism” and describes his driving passion “for form related to movement and, above all, to erotic grace.” He notes that bluejeans are “functional and, being functional, highly sexual” and that the true function of fashion is as “a rehearsal for propagation.” After all, what could be more crucially functional than the propagation of the species? . . . .
The ball gown gallery, where each dress is a feat of engineering, is one of the great demonstrations of how shape and color convey meaning and pleasure. James is at his most erotic in a 1948 ball gown partly inspired by a Georgia O’Keeffe retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in 1946.

"The dress is an explicit yet elegant combination of vulval drapes and labial folds in pale peach silk faille and orange silk taffeta.
These gowns are made for dancing, which is why they are designated ball gowns. Ball gowns have featured on the page of novels and journals that include women, written by women since before Jane Austen, and ever since.* Can anyone describe better the why of so many words given over to dress up clothes, balls and dancing in fiction featuring women than Charles James?
... describes his driving passion “for form related to movement, and, above all, to erotic grace.” He notes that bluejeans are “functional and, being functional, highly sexual” and that the true function of fashion is as “a rehearsal for propagation.” 
This is what went through my mind last night while watching a ball room scene in one of the tales in the Affairs of the Heart.


*   This is why too, though Henry James is an American, why so many BBC series have dramatized his fiction. In this context of love, dancing and gowns,  I adore that Affairs of the Heart chose to include in the Aspern Papers in the series -- reaching as it does, back to the age that saw club-footed Lord Byron spending his time in the ballroom sneering at those who danced, while being adulated by all and sundry young ladies for his dashing poetry.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Another Observance From May 5 -- Metropolitan Museum's Annual Costume Institute Gala Fund-Raiser

It seems whatever era we are in things remain the same: ridiculous, useless wars, financial panics and depressions as the ruling elite gets richer and richer and the poorer grow ever more poor and in numbers -- and frivolity and frou-frou remain for the richer and richer.  Yesterday's date hosted a most important event in NYC, the annual Met Costume Institute fund raiser gala (complete slide show of the attendees and their sartorial choices included at the link).  Each gala observes the glories of fashion as displayed by the most wealthy social classes of the past via what this year's social - celebrity elite chooses to wear.

Cecil Beaton's portrait of women in Charles James's gowns 1948
Charles James 1958
This year it honored Charles James's (1906-1978) post WWII gowns that themselves honored

Sargent - "The Wyndham Sisters" (1899-1900)
Ena and Betty, Daughters of Mr. and Mrs. Asher Wertheimer (1901)
the Gilded - Edwardian age of John Singer Sargent's (1856 - 1925) women of the elite classes, their billowing clouds of skirt, sleeves and / or deep décolleté.

The First Lady opened the newly re-named for Anna Wintour (forever editor of Vogue) Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute earlier in the day.  She was the ribbon cutter.  She wore a plain and simple a-line dress, to the knees, and teeny heels.  The most dressy thing about the dress was that the fabric was a print. It was no gown at all.  So she must not have attended the gala.  Surely she could have, if she'd wanted to.  A scheduling conflict?

I clicked through all the photos of the celebrities who attended the gala, to which this years the men were instructed to wear tails -- which almost none of them did, saying tails made them look like short, tubbby schlubs.

However, Johnny Depp went tails all the way, including walking stick and white gloves, all just slightly exaggerated, just a bit off, retaining his dark glasses, a presentation true to his signature demented persona.

Cumberbatch looks to the tails born.

For the first time I wondered: can you use the bathroom while wearing this? Some Red Carpet walkers must have been sew into their dresses. Does that mean they went without eating or drinking for three days before (typical for Victorian and Edwardian women for ceremonial occasions such as being presented at court)? Or subjected themselves to a severe cycle of purging? Neither one is good for one's health, and is particularly bad for the complexion, one might think. On the other hand it seems to be an actress these days means never eating.

The women who looked the best, i.e. natural, in some of these gown-extravaganzas, naturally, were the professional models.

Sarah Jessica Parker's acres of Oscar de Laurenta gown covered her foot gear. However, it was big news here in NYC last year when it was revealed that Ms Sex in the City had to give up heels forever because of the damage to her feet. Then there are the shoes.  Women's feet these days all look like ballerina feet, and those feet are ugly!  Doubtless this is from a couple of decades of stumbling about in ever-more ridiculous high stilettos.

What Lupita Nyong'o was thinking -- well, we all make sartorial errors. When you're been called on as constantly as she has been to be on view on red carpets since 12 Years a Slave began its film festival screenings -- that she blew it this time, no thing. Besides it's the Costume Institute gala and attendees have traditionally gotten "creative."

Nor was she the only one, by a long shot.  A lot of these! And look at those poor feet!

Though Madonna's bandage costume this year got banned by Wintour, so Madonna stayed home.  Which is just as well.

For what it is worth, which is nothing, I liked this look (on her) a lot. Also, so not Charles James.

Back when I was young enough to wear anything and chose to wear mostly nothing (but with a tan! it was warm! it was the desert!) who would have thought I'd come to enjoy looking at Red Carpet photos of fancy dress? I've never been a consumer of fashion magazines -- unless they were from periods prior to about 1920. Now clothes from the past have always interested me. This was part of which developed me the historian, from my earliest years, pouring over illustrated books and magazines stored in my great-grandparents' basements, their photo albums, even the art illustrations in my piano practice books. After I moved to NYC I've always attended the Met's exhibits in the Costume Institute. In fact, the first, or at least among their first costume exhibits was The Horse, the catalog of which was very useful to me while writing my Horse Girl Fantasies. Since then I've always been clear there were connections between art and fashion though art and fashion are not equivalents -- just as pop culture is not the equivalent of culture.  As well as being pop culture mad, this  city has always been fashion mad, -- though generally seldom what one could call elegant. And, finally, I've come to know a few fashion designers. So those are probably the reasons I now enjoy looking at Red Carpet photos.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Today We Observe These Events

Bungle or Necessary? As the War is understood in terms of class, and at least as importantly, in terms of military weapons, battlefield, offensive and defensive engagement.

Today the Independent, a long discussive article, in observance of the commencement of WWI.

As well, today is the anniversary of the 1893 Wall Street crash.

And, of course, the Cinco de Mayo Battle of Puebla, 1862, in which the Mexican forces defeated the invading French army of Napoleon III (nephew of Napoleón I), hoping to rule through the Austrian puppet, Maximilian I -- and incidentally defy the U.S. and the Monroe Doctrine. He wasn't as successful with this strategy as was his uncle.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Filming Vonda N. McIntyre's The Moon and Sun

The film production of Vonda N. McIntyre's 18th century French alternative historical novel (featuring Pierce Brosnan as Louis XIV) flew McIntyre over to watch some of it in progress.

She provides an account, with photos, here

More photos here, with a link to a YouTube video, that begins with a beat of Vonda McIntyre sitting next to Brosnan.

YAY! Go Vonda!

Friday, May 2, 2014

Vikings - History Channel - Season 2 - Ep. 10 , "Lord's Prayer"

That was one suspenseful, tight-tensioned finale.  Usually I'm more than excellent at calling plot lines long before they are on screen, but this time, I couldn't. This is a large part why I love this show -- I don't know!  I am frequently surprised, and almost always in good ways, with the notably unfortunate exception of whacky sex-obsessed Mercian Princess Kwenthrith.  Fortunately, we do not see see her or any Saxons, unless Athelstan counts, or England in this, Viking's season two final episode.  It's about the Northmen taking care of their home business.
Floki named his daughter Angrboda, after Loki's first wife, mother of monsters. He sends his beautiful daughter and wife Helga back home, out of Kattegatt. Something bad is coming.  Soon.  So, it seemed it was all over, that Floki honestly was on the dark side. 

He proceeds then to shoving a psychotropic mushroom into the very wounded from last week's disastrous-Horik-battle-loss Rollo's mouth -- what was that about? Seemingly, to get Rollo back in his head and start working on getting fit from being nearly dead. But we don't know, really.

Floki continues to be busy.

He secretly gives mushrooms to Torstein, one of Ragnar's most loyal and fierce warriors. And Torstein dies. So why didn't Rollo die?

Floki and Ragnar sure did play a loooooooooooooong game, and they played it so well. We've seen how very cunning Ragnar is, and his capacity for the waiting game as part of his long game -- which is why Horik lost that battle last week, because unlike Ragnar he could not wait -- that we believe with no trouble at all that the seeming duplicity was Ragnar's strategy all along. 

Athelstan and Ragnar in a pretty place to recite "The Lord's Prayer"
Ragnar's determination to learn about Christian practices, even a prayer, is part of his determination to learn other languages, so he doesn't need to rely on interpreters. However, Ragnar didn't wish to conclude the Lord's Prayer with its proper conclusion:

And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive them that trespass against us. 
And lead us not into temptation, 
But deliver us from evil. 
For thine is the kingdom,
The power, and the glory,
For ever and ever.

Ragnar has no intention of forgiving anybody directing evil against his family.

Nor is it clear whether Floki's disdain for Athelstan is real or also part of the game?  Athelstan fought again, and was there, with the Ragnar family in the Hall where Horik's world ends. It's this sort of ambiguity I can live with, particularly when it is Floki - Loki.
Two arrivals by water, both of them boding extreme ill for Kattegatt and Ragnar's people. With the arrival of Horik's family I knew the king's plot was nearly at the boil now, because why else would he bring his family there?  (Even so, it still made no sense for him to bring his family to a slaughterhouse, even if he expected to be the chief executor.)

Between the first and the second water-brought visitors was an impressively shivery short bridge scene on the beach. Lagertha and Aslaug stand shoulder to shoulder looking at the storm raging in the sky and beating at the water.  Aslaug says, "The gods are coming."  Those two were planning something, certainly, but what? Don't you just love women like them?*

After the storm two ships beached, stopping the heart, filled with warriors -- or were they mercenaries -- greeted by Horick's still-unnamed, and, now, never to be called by name ever, son. O dear, one thinks.  Jarl Borg's invasion reprised.

But -- in the Great Hall, where Siggy was to murder Aslaug's sons, is revealed, one-by-one the whole Ragnar family, minus poor Rollo -- who did manage to do his bit despite nearly being dead, perhaps due to the mushrooms Floki gave him. Siggy's one of them so the ability to breathe resumes. The tension rebuild immediately -- what else was going to happen beyond Horik getting his?  Who else will die?  His queen was dead already.
Lagertha was terrifying in the icy fury in her combat with Warrior Queen Gudrun -- is that her name? The actress does this so convincingly -- not every actress could pull that out of her, one thinks. I don't know, of course -- but just for instance, say -- Glenn Close can, but Lena Headey cannot -- she manages uber-whine-bitch fine, but this, she cannot do, it seems, or at least isn't allowed to.

Lagertha and the others fighting with her walked away from Horik's terrified children and their maids. How refreshing -- some mercy for the innocent, like Siggy wasn't killed when her husband was. But -- all those sisters, his daughters that Horik joked he could marry to Ragnar's sons, who he was all the while planning to kill, ended up dead. His warrior lady queen had plotted with Horik to murder all of Ragnar, Lagertha and Aslaug's children, so they reaped what they sowed.

When Horik gave Siggy a special dagger and told her to kill Ragnar's younger sons with it, it was impossible not to hope that Siggy would not carry through with that because it was in her eyes how much she hated Horik for how he'd humiliated her -- nor did she believe he'd marry her -- and -- she'd be only second wife -- he was humiliating her casually yet again. What I'm not sure of is whether Siggy was part of Ragnar's long game all along, that she'd deliberately set herself at Horik to spy on him?  Or was this part of Siggy's attempt to figure out her new life?  I kept thinking of that scene some episodes back, when she'd been talking - plotting with Horik at a feast, and afterwords asks Floki if he can keep a secret, and Floki said it was impossible, while you knew his eyes had penetrated effortlessly what she'd been on about with Horik.  

The end of Horik is brutal and somewhat prolonged.  Yet it is satisfying within the milieu -- almost all those whose deaths Horik had planned -- these are all people he knew and ate with -- give him a cut, and then depart, leaving the king alone with Ragnar. Ragnar does not hold back.  However the writers and photographers do, for which they are highly, highly praised.  We know exactly what is happening, but there is no wallowing in it, and we are not pushed into participating.

We'll ne'er know ye name, o only son of Horik!
Was Horik's son saved for the blood eagle, or even for what Floki said he'd do to the person who had poisoned Torstein?  Floki's reaction to Torstein's death seemed excessive even for Floki, even when at the time the audience does not know Torstein was not dead, which flipped the thinking again to: "Is this a Ragnar plot?"

As part of Floki's busyness, he sneak-follows Bjorn everywhere, even when Bjorn and Porunn have sex after a somewhat bloody bout of foreplay. This echoes the walk Ragnar did last week with Athelstan out of camp to where he was safe from assassination by a Horik man. Or so it is understood, once we learn that Floki's doing this to keep Bjorn safe, rather than killing him, as Horik had ordered Floki to do.

So, we conclude the season with Bjorn taking up the mystical sword (where did that come from?) and Ragnar looking filled with years -- and holding this sword, which is a symbol of something, kingship? That Bjorn handled this sword first, is this a portent of the inevitable, generational changing of the guard?
Great finale -- terrific season!
I've noticed today some are saying they knew what was happening all along, so this was a weak finale. They also are disappointed that at least one of the principals did not die in the course of this season, which makes the series too predictable. But by now now we're so used to principals getting written out a series with a Big Death Not Expected, that that is the predictable thing.  So those critics are wrong! :)

I have hope next year's will be as good as season two was. If they rid is of sex-crazy Princess next time around, or have her fall on her head and get sane, then I can be entirely satisfied.

Edited to add there is an interview with the show's creator and writer, Michael Hirst in which he tells us:

1) Horik's son is saved by Ragnar, though all the girls were killed by their slave girls -- which I say is a very bad idea and will end badly -- why not save girl and marry her to one of his sons?  much safer.  Also -- the toad's name is Erlendur.

2) We are not seeing the same version of Vikings that is seen in Europe -- which has more scenes and is longer.  Which explains why we slide over so many things, seemingly.

3) Next season Ragnar goes to Paris.

4) Horrible Princess Kwenthrith is going to be around.  I hope she eats Erlendur.


*   Probably every watcher's favorite bit from last night's final episode came when Horik's Queen Gudrun? asks Lagertha how she became an eorl in her own right, and Lagertha says, "I put a knife in my husband when he tried to put himself in me." The two women laugh great bonding laughter. So ... what happens later is even more surprising.