". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Reading Weds. - Sicily by John Julius Norwich

John Julius Norwich, now in his late 80's, is a distinguished popular British historian with a long bibliography.

The first book of his I ever read was A History of Venice: The Rise to Empire (1977), preparing myself for my first trip to Italy, at the conclusion of which I saw Venice for the first time.  That trip to Venice was mightily enhanced by having done so. It was very early in our marriage then, and el V was deeply, and happily impressed at what I could tell him about all sorts of the things we experienced and saw.  It was on that early journey in our marriage now of many, many journeys, wandering happy and excited through the deserted galleries of museums all through northern Italy (it was off-season, early winter and we got everything to ourselves) that we realized that we traveled very well together, each of us providing what the other didn't and together making it better than alone.

Norwich has written about Sicily before, but felt he hadn't made the best job of it, having left too much out and having learned more along the years as he returned on occasions to this Mediterranean island between Carthage and southern Italy. His interest in Sicily's history never flagged but only grew.  The result is Sicily: A Short History From the Greeks to Cosa Nostra (2015).  Surely, if one has never been to Sicily before and can read only one book to prepare, like Norwich's book about Venice, this is the one to read.

Sicily's history is a melange of cultures that are embedded in the Sicilian language. Sicilians, no more than Venetians, speak Italian, but have their own language, with a great deal of Greek, Arabic and Spanish influence, not to mention French from the short era when the Normans held much of Sicily. Additionally the Greek both ancient demotic Greek, as Sicily was their colony, and the Greek of the Byzantine empire.

Sicily's history has always been fractured by violence, conquest and resistance -- it isn't a happy history, but it is a fascinating one, filled with opportunities that kept getting lost or snatched away.

I enjoyed it all the more from having read so much about the era of Nelson and Napoleon in connection with Naples and Sicily.  He also manages to make sense for the reader of the inordinately complicated mess things became for Sicily with the competition between the Normans and the Holy Roman Emperor and their heirs, from which the island never really recovered. Moreover the interest for the reader does not flag as the eras roll on.  His accounts of Sicily in WWII is as interesting as anything during the age of the Roman emperors.

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