". . . 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

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Lest Anyone Believe Lancaster A Utopia --

As may have been gathered our little anniversary jaunt last week to Lancaster, Pennsylvania exceeded any expectations we had.  We liked the city very much too, which was fortunate as we made it our center of operations for the things we wished do outside of Lancaster. It was where we made our home for four nights, at the Cork Factory Hotel, so it was important that Lancaster itself was interesting and pleasant.  And it was, o so much. Lancaster felt a place where I could live happily.

But it was there I saw a very sad thing. This was the long screed posted in the windows of The Seed, a cooperative free lending library-art gallery-restaurant-comm
unity center located within a sort of shopping mall made from what had been a large factory in the historic downtown of Lancaster. The Seed is a a communal, worker owned venture.

Poster, inside one of the Seed's bathrooms.

The Seed, as a communal collective, is especially concerned that it be a safe space for ALL people, and particularly the young of the local LGBT Lancaster community.

The screed so very respectfully requested gun owners not come into the Seed openly carrying. They pointed out that PA isn't an open carry state even, and thus it was against the law.  However, more importantly, openly carried guns made many of the people who come to the Seed to feel safe, feel very unsafe. All the language of the screed was placatory and humble, basically begging the gun carriers not to smash up their place of business or shoot the people who come there. The Seed is the hangout for all who don't fit in elsewhere and so on -- that was so obvious among the heavily goth, pierced and tatted under-25 clientele, or those who operate it.  But that cannot include gun carriers.

What a dilemma for a venue that sincerely believes in inclusivity, diversity and eshews excluding anyone.
The performance space in the Seed.

Except, of course, there was nary an African American or Hispanic anywhere to be seen.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016


We're sitting here trying to get our apartment cooled down before bedtime, back from where it was sooooooooo hot to where it is just as soooooooo hot, catching up on our e-mails etc., returning phone calls and texts, listening to NPR coverage of the DNC and the Thug's latest treasonist, illegal actions, drinking some of the case of Kolsch Beer* el V brought back from the Lancaster Brewing Company. Periodically we jump up to toast the success of our get-away.**

View from the bar into the dining room of the Cork Factory Historic Hotel where we stayed in Lancaster, PA. I learned back when staying in the Penn Stater at Penn State while doing gigs there that even the HOTELS in PA have the best food. This means that even the crab dishes on the menu out of crab season are more than worth eating.
This may be only the second time we've gone away that didn't involve work, sponsored by work. The first time was another anniversary, when we went to French Canada after living a year in New Orleans (though I must confess, that I steered us to a library where we actually did perform some research, though this was not the plan). This anniversary was our second authentic vacation. 

44th New York Infantry Monument, from where I looked down to the remains of the boulder breast works and the Devil's Den.  It was So Hot, when I climbed up there.  But it couldn't have been any hotter than July 1, 2 and 3, 1863.
Everything exceeded our expectations, but particularly did Gettysburg and Wheatland.

The trees on Wheatland's remaining grounds (it wasn't within Lancaster proper quite yet when James Buchanan lived there) are magnificent.  They were already full-grown when JB was in possession.
In fact, Wheatland wasn't anything at all resembling our imagined experience. Anyone who has more than a cursary interest in our U.S. history of the Civil War, before, during and after, the politics thereof, the social and material history thereof, would be more than pleased to have the Wheatland and Lancaster County Historical Society experience. 

The restored facade of Thaddeus Stevens's House on Queen Street in Lancaster.  Unlike his frenrmy, James Buchanan, though they had so much in common, including treating their housekeepers as family, leaving them significant legacies, and practicing law, Abolitionist Stevens lived in town,

The disappointment was that the Thaddeus Stevens House and the content that goes with it is currently closed to the public. Not fair. So we only were able to see it from the outside. 

Then there was the food. I don't think I've ever eaten anywhere with such fine quality, local, fresh from farm to table meals in my life. Well, when growing up on the farm, but to be honest, though my mom was considered one of the very best cooks in our community, what we did with food out there isn't at all like what's going on now. Lancaster County is filled with endless numbers of fairly new establishments who are working this vein with everything they can think of. Additionally, beyond the long experience of brewing beer that goes back to the first Germans and (non-Quaker) English, PA loves, knows and gets beer -- PA has vineyards too. 

Dinner on the patio of the John J. Jeffries restaurant.

I had a glass to start with at the veddy high-end restaurant farm, bay, to table restaurant where we ate our anniversary dinner. It was . . . OK. I switched to a French Cab after that glass, to go with my incredible beef. But as climate change continues to raise temps, and if the PA mountains can still collect freezing temps at the right time of the year, they may well have that too in a while. 

And everybody was so nice to us! Everybody we ran into were more than willing to just talk about anything we were interested in. They were happy to take the time -- and surely they had more stuff to do, right? 

PA has got it all. No wonder the Penn Family has and the descendants are still fighting the legal fight to get it all back. Those Penn Family Lords Proprietors had a true kingdom there, with everything that a kingdom needs: ports, lumber, coal, iron, fertile fields, rivers and, on top of it, part of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. 

Not to mention talented and even brilliant people who are those who live there, with a very strong work ethic. 

And yes, the less fortunate, from the Indians, to the slaves, and the poor whites too. And all that continues as well. 

But still, PA is a great state, or least possesses everything necessary to be a great state, including that it possess it all right this minute. 

And all the while the DNC is going on in Philadelphia -- which is why we didn't go there in this vacation.  We still expect to spend some serious time there too, fairly soon.

There was much more to what we did than this, of course.  But right now we're still blithering and toasting this little vacation of two historians who celebrated their anniversary so happily.

The Wheatfield battle field; second day of the Battle of Gettysburg.

I HAVE FINALLY BEEN TO GETTYSBURG! I've been wanting to go for years, so I could finally understand this turning point Civil War battle within the context of Lee's invasion of Pennsylvania.  I feel much more confident in my ideas on this than before I spent a whole day climbing up and down, pouring sweat, getting in and out of the car, etc. on this battlefield.  Most of all I was so impressed again, with our National Park Service, and how they have handled this historic site.  There are working farms and fields with growing crops and hay everywhere within this very large battlefield which hosted so many discrete battles throughout these vital three days in July of 1863 -- just like was the case back then.


*Ironically, the beer cooled faster than the apt., in the freezer. 

** Over the years now this is maybe our 9th or 10th serious visit to Pennsylvania. But I think it was the first visit to Penn State, that I did alone, to help Alis R with her twins's bar mitzva, when I finally began to see PA as more of a valuable destination rather than that big state I had to get through to get back west or get back to NYC

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Did Himself Bring Home To Me A Box of Chocolate Truffles?

Charles kills Manfred. Of course  Manfred wasn't killed like this, in a duel.  He did die in the battle, but just how remained mysterious.

No it wasn't a box of chocolate truffles, but something that operates with me just like,  as Himself put it, "a box of chocolate corrupts someone who is on a diet."

I'm supposed to be working on popular culture, politics, etc. from the end of the War to Southern Rebellion to the erasure of slavery, revision of history, etc. and the Rise of the Glorious Lost Cause.  I'm supposed to be reading reams of African American newspapers.  And, btw, this stuff is supremely depressing, as depressing as our current national events horror movie, the roots of which are all in it.

So what does el Vaquero do?

"Hi, look what I found that I bet you're gonna like!!"

It's The Sicilian Vespers: A History of the Mediterranean World in the Later Thirteenth Century by Steven Runciman,. This classic work of history of this period of Sicilian history was first published in 1957 by Cambridge University Press, and reprinted now for the 10th time (2012).  I cannot keep my hands off it.  I'm devouring all this detailed history of the conflicts among the Roman Popes, the eastern Empire, the Arabs, the Holy Roman Empire and its emperors, the French kings, the parade of Henrys, Conrads, Tancred, Manfreds, Fredericks, the Norman kings of Sicily, the marriages with Portuguese and English princesses, Spanish invasion of Italy, crusades and Mameluks. Even more complicated the wars of the Guelphs and Ghibellines are involved so all these personages are in Dante's circles of hell too.  And, la the pièce de résistance -- the MONGOLS!  Ooo la lah, things were a'poppin' in the 13th century.  And Sicily was right in the center of it, as Sicily is the stepping stone between Europe and Africa, between west and east.

Church of the Holy Spirit in Palermo, site of the Vespers Uprising.

As for what are -- or rather what was the Sicilian Vespers, and why it matters -- it was the rebellion of Easter 1282, in which Sicily got rid of -- slaughtered - 3000 French.  But ultimately all this was about the war between the Hohenstaufans and the Pope for control of Italy.  This was called the War of the Sicilian Vespers.

So many incredible characters, so many amazing deeds, many of which were downright evil, and a few heroic.  No wonder there are operas made of them; see, for instance Rossini's Tancredi.

My friend, who also is my hair person. has relatives in Sicily.  She, who is not that much interested in history in general, knows of The Vespers.  We dreamed together yesterday of going to Sicily together.  I've never been there, and neither has she.

Reading this book, it's like going on vacation, but safely, into the very unsafe time and place of 13th century Mediterranean life.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Horror Movies

In the grand tradition of this nation since 1619 when it was just the Virginia Colony, these people steal from black people.  Or as -- I'm paraphrasing -- black twitter says, "Ya want something good ya steal it from a black person."

Just like the Turtles tell the thug to cease and desist using their "Happy Together," just like Queen telling the thug to not use "We Are the Champions," just like the lady who doesn't want to give up home so the thug can build a casino, the thug just takes it anyway.

And then -- then! the thug has the a$$hatne$$ to blame -- Hillary Clinton! When the First Lady worked on that 2008 speech the thug stole from with Hillary Clinton's speech writer.

Not to mention also stealing without attribution from black activist Marva Collins.

Then the rickroll.

This country is being scripted by Terry Southern, Stanley Kubrick (Magic Christian; Dr. Strangelove) and Gore Vidal (Myra Breckinridge).

Beyond disgusting.

Gads, the women involved with Michelle Obama's 2008 Dem Nom Convention speech, Hillary's speech writer, the First Lady herself, must feel the way the ghostbusting women felt when slimed.

But -- who we gonna call?

Monday, July 18, 2016

The American Slave Coast - Audio Version

The audio package of The American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave Breeding Industry is now available.

Cover for the audio cd package of The American Slave Coast

Tantor Media's art department did a nice job adapting Slave's Coast's hardcover cover for the audio package.

We'll listen to at least some of it in the car as we take our long weekend wedding anniversary jaunt down to Thaddeus Stevens and the Gettysburg National Park area of Pennsylvania this coming weekend.  That should be interesting to hear these words in a voice that isn't ours.  The reader for Slave Coast is excellent.

In the meantime the reviews on amazilla for Slave Coast now number 59 -- almost all of them 5 stars.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Cornwell's Saxon Tales on BBC: The Last Kingdom, season 1

   The Last Kingdom's first season is streaming from netflix as of the 10th.  The source material for this series is Bernard Cornwell's historical fiction series about a Saxon brought up as a Danish warrior and the last kingdom standing from the Danish invasions of the 9th century, Wessex, ruled by King Alfred.

England in contemporary mind may be small, an island, but the large variety of locations provide a sense of expanse and openness. One feels how long it takes to get from just one part of Wessex to another.  This is quite in contrast with the almost claustrophobic sensibility of some others of the current action adventure historical or fantasy television series. Nor does it feel rushed in the story and plot. The first episode's battle in which the child Uthred's father is killed, meat grinded down between two shield wall lines, was spectacular. The actors playing both Uhtred's father, Matthew Macfadyn, and the child Uhtred, Tom Taylor, were very good.

As for Alex Dreymon, who portrays the adult Uhtred, true he isn't Travis Fimmel, who is unique in his Ragnar (the lead in the History Channel's Vikings). But Alexander Dreymon is his own man, and he is making Uhtred his own convincing man, who must learn self-control in order to survive and fill his quest, to regain his kingdom of Bebbanburg, which is lost early in the first episode., with his father's death at the hand of the Danes who capture the child Uhtred and raise him as one of their own.


So far the greatest stand out is David Dawson,* the actor playing Alfred. Dawson's Alfred is a full human being, and he is kingly, someone we have to respect. David Dawson has made Wessex his, and the Last Kingdom his too. The scenes in which Dawson and Dreymon must play against each other, followed with other scenes in which they are in concord, are pure viewing pleasure.

Without someone as convincing in this lynchpin role as Dawson, The Last Kingdom wouldn't work on all sorts of levels. But particularly it wouldn't work because there wouldn't be a plausible foil for Uhtred, thus Uhtred would lose stature and plausibility.

We had to have an actor who can do all this because in the books Uhtred tells the reader all this, but on screen this isn't possible.  Or if it is possible, it would have been a bad move. The viewers couldn't possibly be as wide-eyed involved if Uhtred is doing all this in voice over as they ride and they fight or spar verbally in court.  It makes absolutely clear that there cannot be great men -- Uhtred -- without a Great Leader who knows what to do with Great Men, or even Great Men in the Making -- Alfred.

The referencing of burning the bannocks during the swamp sojourn was just right -- not too brief, but not making much of it, and perfectly plausible, while also telling us a great deal of how these royals had to live within a much more egalitarian society than in their court and courtly entourages. Everyone had to pitch in, though naturally not everyone was equally capable in performing all the duties.

Then, in contrast, Alfred's determination for a decisive big battle with the Danes, to make or break his further survival and that of Wessex. brings back the King. The tiny flickers of expression of pleasure, amusement and interest around his mouth and in his eyes listening to the men exchanging their manly scatological banter, in which even the priest Boecca participates, as they ride to battle. For once Alfred, frail of body, feels himself a part of this fundamental experience of his world, of men riding to battle.  In the battle himself, he burns with joy. Other moments when he notes the men and women scoring verbally against each other and even himself -- one sees that all this religious talk wasn't just pious -- it was a terrific matter of recreation and interest in world in which amusements had to be made individually and socially, no movies or tv etc.  This runs throughout the season on all sides, whether pagan or christian, everyone is discussing and arguing about religion and magic.

King Alfred’s before-battle, rev ‘em up speech was brilliant.  It makes that other much vaunted attempt in another series look like just what it was -- totally silly, and additionally so as it was delivered in a variety of faux accents wandering all over a variety of languages that  never existed. Earlier, Uhtred had advised Alfred that the speech he was planning to give before the Final Battle was a sermon, and that was no way to get men ready to kill and die for him. It's a time for the body not for heaven. Earlier the priest Beocca advises Alfred to make a physically personal appeal, a laying of hand on shoulder, a look squarely into the face and eyes, of the messengers he's sending out to appeal to the Saxon lords to bring their men to this Final Battle.  Alfred is not only very intelligent and capable of continued learning, he has good advisers. Without preaching any sermons this final episode, dramatizes why King Alfred  was a success as a ruler who unites the Saxons and pushes back the Danes, and becomes 'the Great' in history. The Final Battle was great! ** Very good script writing that understands the source material.

King Alfred and Queen Aelswith

The women are all good, particularly Eliza Butterworth, who plays Alfred's queen, Aelswith. She's not sympathetic surely to most members of a contemporary audience, but it seems she wasn't sympathetic to many of those who knew her in her own day.  But she doesn't play as a fool either. She's a narrow-minded religious woman who knows her place in the world and will not deviate an inch from it, other than in temper -- breaking the social and religious dictate that women are never to be angry, never to raise their voice and never attempt to tell a man what to do.  I believe we know people like this even now . . . .  She is sincerely, not hypocritically, an early medieval world Christian, beset on all sides by pagans, who are Satan's minions.

This aspect of the series I also find entertaining, as in the books: seeing the various characters, all of whom are very sharp-minded, spar with each other over religion. It's another dimension of the series that portrays all these people within their time, all of them very smart, the cream of their society, and fully alive-O within it.

I was quite glad they moved so quickly during the Uhtred's childhood. Thus we can begin experiencing what becomes his life-long conflicts of loyalties, conscience, honor and inclination.  It was splendid how quickly, seamlessly is introduced for what the book readers know will become a struggle too for Uhtred, achievement of literacy. This wasn't a filler scene in the least.  There were no pointless scenes that don't lead us somewhere, unlike, alas, what has happened with too many of our previously well-regarded series.

Danish warlord Guthrum, fascinated by Christianity

Dane warlord Scropa, not fascinated by Christianity

Ragnar, Uhtred's Danish brother.
I'm wondering if this is partly because of how efficiently the author of the source material (the books) presents all the content in each book of his series? He's already had deep experience of his very long Sharpe's series as a long-running, continuing BBC series. This would also mean the showrunners don't need to concern themselves with endings or what will happen.

As far as aging the actor though --if I remember the location correctly, there was a scene outdoors in the firelight, with Uhtred and I think the woman Brida,  in which his face is leaning over hers, and by the firelight and other lighting, he looked decades older. So aging these young actors going forward might not be as much a problem as it might be.  Uhtred's already being subtly aged with tiny, unremarkable changes in facial hair. His face was always bare of hair, until there's a patch on his bottom chin. A couple of episodes later, there's a mustache. Beyond this, when Uhtred goes berserker in the Final Battle with the death of his lover, his face becomes the well-seasoned, elder face of the terrible, cynical and very clever and experienced warrior Uhtred, who has been in many battles and killed many people.

But I'm still quite breathless at how sure-footed in almost all parts this season was with the exception of the costuming. Which, since they are doing the aging of the actors so well, makes it seem all the more odd that the Uhtred's and Brida's clothes are so often so contemporary -- it's the structure of the jackets and the sleeves that particularly stands out here.  The costumers' choices here look all too contemporary -- most non-early medieval. There is one other bit that seemed a bit wrong-footed: the battle to death decreed by King Alfred between Leofric and Uhtred. It was interrupted by a Danish invasion that was almost too deus ex machina. But this is a world in which God's decisions are totally believed -- and of course, there is God the Novelist's compositional choices from the source novels.

Queen Iseult in the swamp
But more than making up for this was Queen Iseult and Uhtred's love making under the trees and stars. No ripping of the clothes, no throwing things around and on the table, no screaming and shouting, yet passion melting with enormous tenderness and love and healing. And this doesn't happen in a mosquito-ridden swamp, but in a dry aired forest. After their love-making there is caressing, talking, holding, loving.  It almost brought tears. There is a purpose to this sexual love scene. Later on, we see them sitting together, entwined in each others arms, while "the boys in the swamp" discuss matters. Iseult makes a good luck charm of his and her hair, o that was just lovely.  It also is what we remember when Uhtred goes berserk.

That I spent so much on Alfred and Uhtred should not take away anything from all the other characters. Let's see, there's also Our Fool -- every royal family has one, right? -- the king in his own mind that should be, Aethelwold. He's a great character  They all are!

I am happily anticipating the next season.  But, who knows?  I liked the first novels in the series best.


* Interesting for me personally is that Dawson's played roles in all sorts of my favorite series starting (for me in terms of the series I watch/ed) with The Mystery of Edwin Drood and The Hollow Crown in 2012.  He's been in Ripper Street, Dancing on the Edge -- even The Borgias and Peaky Blinders.  The Last Kingdom must be his breakout role.  All of these with the exception of The Hollow Crown are also available streaming on netflix.

The Final Battle
**  All those overhead shots brought to mind how much money in the budget has gone for helicopter or small plane shots, whether battles or as in the very last scene of the final episode, the three riding north.  So BBC didn't stint on the budget.  But to keep this up, particularly after Brexit, BBC needed a cash infusion from elsewhere, which turns out to be netflix, which is co-financing season 2.  OR . . .  as a friend suggested, are these shots with cameras via drones?

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Trifecta Win for Discrimination!

Female, black, not skinny (but certainly NOT overweight! Not even!).

We are making a party to see the Ghostbusters reboot Friday. 

Leslie Jones is a favorite in our house, btw. We cite her in The American Slave Coast at one point for one of her first sketches when she joined SNL.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Take A Little Trip! Ride Ra's Solar Barge: Gods of Egypt (2016)

Gods of Egypt almost went straight to video. Probably it was saved from that fate and actually had a global theatrical release back in February because, shot in Australia, their tax liability was zero, and all costs were reduced by 40 - 50 %.  So though it was a box office bomb and disappeared immediately, it actually took in sales of a single million over the production cost.

Even before the film was finished critics from around the world lambasted the producers for casting such a white bunch of actors for something set in ancient Egypt. The reviewers unanimously found the film risible, which is understandable, but -- maybe they missed the parody?

This flick is visually so over the top that it's gloriously entertaining.

Khepri, the scarab / dung beetle, is associated with Ra; as Khepri faithfully rolls his ball of dung across the earth as Ra's barge ferries the solar disc daily across the heavens. Thus Khepri is God of rebirth, the sunrise and scarab. Ra's aspect in the morning. I couldn't find an image of the scarab from the film.  Damn.  It was so cool.

We even get to see chariots pulled by giant scarabs.

Ra on his Solar Barge, engaging in his daily battle against Apep or Apophis, the monster of chaos.  I have not been able to find an image of the film's Solar Barge, and am very sorry.  It is magnificent.
The greatest achievement of all is Ra and his Solar Barge. In fact, the Solar Barge and Ra are astounding. It's quite imaginative in exactly the way in the first half of the 20th century children's picture books of the gods might well have portrayed it and Ra,

Thoth, god of wisdom, writing, memory, libraries, has such a huge brain that while recording the world's knowledge in his library there are countless Thoths. Multi-processors -- Egypt, totally up-to-date when the rest of the world lived in caves!

It takes a while to understand what this action adventure flick is: it is (almost) a parody of the action adventure superhero comix flix, employing humanity's first superheroes, the gods and goddesses of Egypt. The story line follows fairly thoroughly, though updated, and reduced to graphic novel dimension, while referencing contemporary superheroes such as Iron Man --  the Egyptian Book of the Dead journey, and Egyptian founding gods’ mythology.

I.e. the simplistic formula of Joseph Campbell's hero’s journey, which is the plot of Gods of Egypt -- Horus must mature and learn what being hero means.

See! Scarabs! In the background!  I did not make them up!

However, one does suspect this happens out of desperation rather than having any idea of what anybody involved was doing or thought they were doing. It's hilarious to see the god Horus become Iron Man, except Horus, being an Egyptian god, he's the element of gold, of course. The Egyptian gods don't have blood, which is what distinguishes them from humans. They have gold in their veins instead.

I thoroughly enjoyed this silly thing. Though I’d never have spent the 18 bux at a cinema to see it, it was just fine to pass the time streaming from netflix.

One does wonder what the cast thought . . . a couple interesting figures in it -- Coster-Waldau and Rufus Sewell.  One can see that if the studio seriously expected this thing could become a franchise they had to be disappointed.  But how could they have thought any such thing?  Making it a parody of superhero comix must have been something pulled together in the editing studio in hopes of at least not embarrassing the project too badly.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Party Couldn't Have Been Better

   The weather had changed drastically from Friday's so hot-and-humid-all-day-and-night at some point, with a bit of rainfall and temperature dropping into the 60's. So it stayed cool and damp of yesterday and last night and still is, at least at the moment, about noon on Sunday. This was not what They Said it was to be, of course. 

However, though it was misty and cool, while we were ate, talked, sang and danced on the West Village rooftop, it never actually rained until right at the moment el V and I got out of the cab coming home -- and then it poured. But not a thunderstorm. 

The attendees were just as wonderful as on the bus and hotels and restaurants and music events in Cuba, back in January. Even more so, maybe. One way and another everybody who was on the January trip, wherever they live, managed to make it to the Birthday BBQ Reunion, with the exception of only three -- one from Atlanta, another from California and one from North Carolina. 

Just as in January, the party operated as an integrated group. People fell together in teams to help bring food up to the roof, to taken things back down to the kitchen and to clean up. The hosts, who had done so much work all week preparing for the party, at least didn't have to have clean-up. What so impressed me is there was no discussion about it.  People just Did It.

The people who are partnered, but whose spouses, fiancés, fiancées, boyfriend, girlfriend etc. weren't on the Cuba trip, brought them to the party. Guess what? Their spouses, etc. were just as interesting and cool as the Travelers themselves. 

Another way to put is this was a party of people who couldn't be more different than this (from the New York Observer).

I did have a lot of trouble hearing, but so did others -- who were getting over or suffering the same thing I am. But my coughing -- just about entirely gone - YAY!  So I had a wonderful time too.
Nor were the terrible events of the week ignored. That was another thing -- there wasn't a single person there who is a secret or semi-racist in any way. These are people whose outlook is international, cosmopolitan, compassionate, empathic, generous and kind.

As well they are very talented. For instance, several are in performance productions that are scheduled for Scotland's annual International Fringe Festival -- and are touring with their groups about the east coast in preparation for their heading over to Edinburgh in August. For another example, most of the musicians are playing a gig at Lincoln Center one night or week in August (all separate engagements).  A lot of us will be in attendance those nights.

One of my personal favorites among the guests is someone I see often as G lives here (and knew him long before January 2016).  G's a lawyer who
 made so much money practicing corporate law he quit, mostly, keeping only a few very lucrative private clients.  He's passionate about Latin music, particularly Cuban and Puerto Rican salsa.

Currently he's in the process of getting a doctorate in the history of the Scottish Enlightenment. He's been taking classes so far via internet from the University in Edinburgh, and at Harvard. But next winter he's going to go live in Edinburgh for about 7 months and do f2f course work with tutor/advisors. We have such terrific conversations about history -- and last night about the 18th century philosophers, during which we said nice things about Hume, bad things about Kant, and were so-so about Berkeley. I had quite a few very bad things to say about John Locke and his personal contributions to theconstitution of the colony that became South Carolina. Except for Locke, the facts of the matter is that I myself really don't understand these guys. But G is so good at explaining and so passionate about them I sometimes think I do! G's honed legal mind is perfect for 18th C philosophers.

Times Square 1975.

Another of my personal favorite friends in the group is BL. H also lives here and I've known him and his wife, a brilliant public television documentary film maker, for many years by now. B reached out to us the year The World That  Made New Orleans was published, which became one of the Treme cast and crew's bibles. David Simon was just getting serious about making Treme at that point. B's the music director - supervisor for most of Simon's stuff since The Wire.  Now B's working on DS's new HBO series, The Deuce.  They've recreated the 1970's Time's Square uptown, and we're supposed to come and visit.  B said, "Once Deuce is finished you will be as educated into the sex industry as you got educated in the drug industry by the end of The Wire." He jhrugged, turned up hands and kind of laughed.  What can ya do?  It's David S!

So many other terrific conversations as well, including several with S, about various matters including and his intense experiences with whales and dolphins off the coast of California, from which trip he'd just returned. As per usual when S and I are together, at some point we talk about Foyle's War.

During the year when the cancer came back and nothing more could be done medically, and S's beloved, beloved wife A was dying, they watched Foyle's War. S still doesn't know why A fixated on that series through the haze of the heavy duty drugs. But that was all she wanted to watch, and he said, "She wanted it, she got it.  It was so little that I could do. I'd get in bed, hold her in my arms, and we watched Foyle's War.  For A, each re-watch was fresh and new." S still doesn't know if that was due to the drugs or the cancer itself.  But e
very time they finished up the 9 seasons she insisted they start all over from the first episode of the first season to the end, and then start all over again.
She died in February 2015. 

The Cuba trip a year later was what allowed him to come alive again, he says.He didn't have any idea this would happen.  It was just something to do to fill up his empty life. But it ended reconnecting him with life on so many levels, even as with every new person he met and and made friends with, he thought of just how much A would have loved it all herself.

But then, S is an awfully terrific, vital person himself.

I'd never had any interest in watching Foyle's War myself, until hearing him tell me about watching it with A while she was dying. And I still didn't. Nevertheless, after coming back from that January Cuba trip and S's and my conversations there, I watched Foyle's War myself, in solidarity with my new friend S and memorial to his A, who by all the many and varied obits of her, was a most wonderful, special and talented human being.

These are the kinds of friendships that get forged on el V's Cuba trips.

I feel so much better. I can't wait for the ears to clear up. I'm going back to an ENT person this week.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Villainy vs. Evil + Jazz + Television + Beer

It was Himself's birthday yesterday (the big party is tonight -- a rooftop barbeque in the West Village).  In the natural order of such occasions, we shared dinner with some old friends.*

I had been somewhat concerned about how dinner would go, meaning the emotional tone of it, here at the conclusion of yet another truly awful week of tragic and terrible events. Not least of which bad news is Congress's refusal to fund anything to help pillaged Puerto Rico even to attempt to counter the Zika crisis that has already infected so many expectant Puerto Rican women -- four of the people with whom we were eating are Puerto Rican.

But mostly, as we are indeed all old, trusted and loved friends, we had an enjoyable time and didn't have to put out a lot of energy to keep from things that are depressing and terrifying.  Music, art, travels, friends in common, some television and film discussion, and always back to music and gossip about some of the more bold face names that the talent agency that of the one of our mutual friends owns, manages.

Pedrito Martínez

Chucho Valdés

We did discuss though, the depressing piece in the Guardian yesterday that inquired whether jazz has risen from the grave of irrelevancy and is again hip.  Why was this depressing?  Because anybody who honestly follows contemporary jazz knows that since the 1920's, for the last two decades, jazz is as least as exciting and ground-breaking, because Afro Latin Jazz artists, particularly from Cuba and Puerto Rico have made it so -- they've long been world class, even though so much of the self-defined hipster non-Spanish speaking music establishment refuses to notice. When not crazed with other work, el V himself tends to be out several nights a week, attending great shows of his Afro Latin jazz buddies everywhere from Dizzy's Club Coca Cola (Lincoln Ctrs.'s jazz space at Columbus Circle), the Jazz Standard, Sub Rosa, The Blue Note, The Bitter End, etc.  I often go with him. Yet the stupid article never mentioned a single Afro Latin artist, not even any from Cuba. Talk about self-willed ignorance.

In a different conversation last night, vis a vis talking about a Brasilian telenovella from ancient days, El Rey del Ganado, that was very popular with Spanish speaking audiences too, and the ladies had grown up with In Ponce, while el V and I watched it during that long stay, 1999-2000 in Havana -- we asked, what is a real villain?  What makes a person or character an actual evil person, rather than a cartoon Big Bad Guy Villain? Beyond the lazy signals that change to some degree from one decade to another -- now it's pedophiles in particular.  It used to be gay people, but that's pretty much over. (GOOD!) Some of us still watch Got, while some of us had quit -- some of us quit even several seasons ago.

These television / movie eviLes are outsized cartoons -- a big reason those of us who quit watching Got quit, and why none of us go to superhero comics movies. Audiences adore these villains, while often sneering at their victims. Breaking BadThe Sopranos, we thought of, obviously. And for my own first personal experience of this pop culture attitude, the film Bonnie and Clyde. When I protested that the protagonists got what they deserved because they killed innocent people and stole their money, and many of those whose money was stolen from the Depression era beleagured banks were poor farmers, my more "sophisticated' peers sneered -- "They were stupid and deserved to die!" Those who attempt to counter such villains are also sneered at, and often depicted as bumbling idiots -- or more evil than the villains.

Whereas in life villains seem to be usually well-dressed and don't carry weapons and are merely servants of faceless vast corporations (unless police or George Zimmerman -- and whoops, Zimmerman behaves like a cartoon, but he's still evil, he's still a villain. Which led us to contemplate the cartoon horror from our City currently demanding to be POTUS -- is he evil, is he a villain? As we're all NYC residents at least for our entire adult lives, and thus have been inflicted with him all our entire adult lives close-up and personal, we agreed he's both.

Later we progressed to contemplation of what happened in Dallas -- evil? a villain? a black man whose mind snapped after a lifetime of war made on the color of his skin and the awareness that in the U.S. there's been war waged against black people in this country since 1619.

Why then, is it classified as 'race war' by rightwingers, whites, media and so-called experts only when a person of color kills or attacks a white person / a cop, (cops who kill people of color have also been of color, thus the division into white people and cops / police state), whereas the killings are tragic mistakes day after day, year after year of white people / cops killing people of color with impunity and immunity?  Why are flags all over the country hung at half mast and the Empire State Building lit red white and blue (which was directly in our line of sight from our restaurant table) because cops got killed in Texas, but the Empire State Building doesn't get lit up when people of color are killed every day by white people / cops? Why is it that it's demanded that killing of someone in a blue uniform be classed a federal hate crime and that Men in Blue Matter, but that #blacklivesmatter is now responsible for hate crimes and murder, when Black Lives Matter has always been about exactly the opposite?
Needless to say, one might hope, is that none of us advocates or wants anybody to shoot anybody -- or be cruel, mean, bullying, exploitive, repressive or oppressive to anybody.

We did not resolve this question of what makes a villain a villain, what makes evil evil, needless to say.  We were also drinking margaritas. Very, very fine margaritas.

As well we had a happy conversation about this development about a beer pipeline in Bruges; the entire table voted in favor of the pipeline -- this subject also came to us thanks to the Guardian.  As everyone at the table, in one way and another, is part of the European music festival circuit, everyone has been to Bruges and certainly has partaken of Belgian beers.

Yah, a hot an humid night, margaritas and cerveza were the Thing.

A conversation not so festive was what Brexit means for artists, entertainers, musicians and so on. Among other things this means that any BBC production will cost more as those terrific location landscapes made such splendid use of in series such as The Musketeers will be more difficult for the production teams and actors to get to and work in; recall Prague and surrounding locations in the Czech Republic stood in for Paris and the French countryside, forests and mountains. This could also affect, even, gasp, Got!

* It was beautiful yesterday, as so many friends from all over the City, the country and, yes, the world, reached out by phone, e-mail, snail mail, and other ways, to wish el Vaquero happy returns of His Day.  The esteem, respect, affection, and in many, many cases, love, in which he's held by peers, colleagues and very old friends is something to behold.  It made him (and me too!) so happy.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

WPA Slave Narratives

 This review of the history of the WPA interviews that make up that body of federal slave narratives contains pretty much what we have learned about them in the last decades. 

I recall back in the early days of social media, prior to the interwebs, writing about the WPA slave narratives, a protesting commentator insisted that these WPA slave narratives often spoke about missing the good old days of slavery on the plantation, so obviously slavery wasn't so bad, actually quite a carefree and easy life.

My response then is remains the same as it would be to such a statement today:

1) many of those interviewed had been young children in the last days of the antebellum south, in regions where the slave system had just reached maturity, so as with so many of us, their memories have a rather golden glow. It also meant they hadn't experienced the horrors of being sold off or having their prime age parents sold off as overstock -- in another few years, if the fireeaters hadn't driven the antebellum south off the secession cliff, they'd have had that.

Allan Lomax interviewing a freedman.  Lomax filed copyright on many of Leadbelly's and other bluesmen's compositions.

 ". . . there was a conscious effort, at the federal level, to swing interviewers toward the folkloric and away from the controversial personal histories of enslavement. In 1937, Stewart finds, Lomax, then the WPA’s national editor on folkways and folk culture, redirected Ex-Slave Project interviewers to try to find out more about black folk customs and folk tales. While the information gleaned from this approach has been immensely useful for latter-day researchers trying to write histories of these aspects of black culture, Lomax privileged these stories over the ex-slaves’ assessments of slavery as an institution, preferring interviews about (as he wrote to the Georgia staff in directing their work) “the stories current at that time, the gossip of their associates, the small incidents of farm and home life, etc.”
2) most of the interviewers were white people (interviewers such as Zora Neale Hurston in Florida were exceptions, not the rule) for whom in general freed people, as much as the slave of the antebellum era, had little or no trust, and perhaps a great deal of well-hidden contempt. Telling these people what they wanted to hear and not telling them what they didn't want to know was rule that governed so much of interactions with white people;

3) some of the interviewers were members of the families who had owned them and / or their parents in the antebellum and Civil War years, had been determined to reenslave them before Reconstruction, and treated them badly in what was still the Jim Crow era-- people who still owned all the power where the interviewee lived. 

So, I had learned this in the 80's when I first began reading the WPA narratives. Most of it is obvious to see for the average inquiring reader's eye Thus we included some caveats about the WPA slave narratives in The American Slave Coast.

It seems the (white) media, for the nonce, has finally caught up with this clear-eyed reading. So, once again. the racial wheel of history of the U.S. is being reinvented (rediscovered), as it seems it will have to be eternally.

One can almost long for a Khaleesi who vows, "I'm not going to stop the wheel, I'm going to break the wheel."

See  Catherine Stewart's new book Long Past Slavery: Representing Race in the Federal Writers’ Project.  The value of her examination is incalculable.