". . . 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, December 28, 2017

Cold Turn -- Final Season

     . . . .Turn AMC. Season 4 (2017). Netflix download.

 I’d recently re-read Alexander Rose's Washington’s Spies (2006).  So, once again, I was struck how different the actual people in the Culper spy network were from the  characters in the AMC historic fiction drama.

Last night I began making a dinner that wasn't out of holiday left overs, of which there is a great deal,  while making lists of packing for Cuba -- where, unlike here -- it's in the 80's (here we are down to 12°, 13° and 14°).  With dinner safely in the oven, I wrapped the Finland wool cape around my Shetland sweater, poured a glass of gift wine, put up the feet and happily departed from the here and now.

Due to time limitations I had put off watching these last episodes of Turn's final season for these last days in the turn between 2017 and 2018. They were  perfect viewing for this liminal period as the season turns to winter (and lordessa, has it EVER turned into winter here!) and to the next year.

Even though in Turn it is hot, sweaty Virginia during that turncoat traitor Benedict Arnold's campaign (like Cuba will be next week!) --still this final season of Turn felt appropriate to this interregnum of frozen time.  Arnold's is the campaign which got Thomas Jefferson pilloried for the rest of his life as a cowardly Virginia governor who ran from Brits (who burned Richmond).

My goodness! The writers even accurately deal with Benedict Arnold's Virginia campaign! And though historically Simcoe and Caleb Brewster were at Yorktown, but -- the rest of it -- the prolonged final showdowns among Caleb Brewster and Abraham Woodhull to take out Colonel Simcoe, was pure fiction. Yet, despite some plot convenient departures from fact, -- and speeding up in time -- most of this is remarkably true to the events as they occurred. 

View of Westover Plantation's Big House from the frontage on the beautiful James River.

It was a pleasure to see Turn's interpretation of the Westover Plantation and Yorktown, where el V and I spent a lot of time back in 2012.

However, the true finale of Turn – it is so not historical, though emotionally satisfying as everyone ends up with whom they should be with, after the long personal revolutions in personal relationships which, presumably? were caused by the upending and chaos of the times in general.  But really, beyond Tallmadge, nobody ever knew or learned the names of the Culper Ring, not even Washington.  So Washington writing Abraham a check to cover his not insignificant out-of-pocket expenses and losses is entirely goofy – particularly as Washington himself was broke and in debt at the end of the war.

Abigail, a slave in Anna Strong's Setauket, Long Island tavern, occupied by the Brits, spies for the Rebels. She then goes to Philadelphia where she becomes servant to John Andre, taking messages back and forth between this British spy and Peggy Shippen for the Brits.  When Peggy marries Benedict Arnold Abigail and her son Cicero are in that household, spying for the Rebels. Nobody turned as often as Abigail, who in the end, understandably, chose as her only side, freedom and future for herself, her son and her husband in Canada. She couldn't have that in the loosely confederated states after the war.
But the only real problem, it felt to me, that Turn suffered was from their laudable desire to include African Americans among their significant characters. However, as African Americans did not support the War of Independence that didn't include abolition of slavery among its objectives, and did overwhelmingly support the British, who did provide escape from slavery, this through line through the arc of Turn's four seasons, and the characters of Peggy Shipton's maid, her son and the father of the son, was always muddled. 

The greatest irony, in terms of Turn, in which Colonel Simcoe is always the most bad of the bad, is among the accomplishments for which is he is most noted after the events of War of Independence, is as governor of Canada.  He supported and sponsored abolition of slavery, and providing substantial legal and administrative support of those African Americans who escaped from the young Republic to Canada.

I truly wish PBS or netflix -- preferably netflix -- would sponsor other dramatic series of US history.  

What a brilliant series would be one focused on Elizabeth Keckley, who earned the money to buy her freedom from slavery, and who, in Washington D.C., became the first couturier in the United States, who at a moment, dressed both Mary Todd Lincoln and Varina Davis, and who was in the White House constantly with Mrs. Lincoln during the war.  

Or what came to be called the Christiana Riot of 1851, a shoot-out between a Maryland slave owner, his sons and supporters, and the free African American Pennsylvania farmer, William Parker, his sons, wife and neighbors in defense of a group of slaves who were going for freedom.

Or -- holy cow!  Harriet Jacobs's Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl!

Our national history is as filled with brilliant events as any other nation's.  We should take advantage of this instead of, when we bother at all, re-doing all the same few, phony, fake false fantasies of ourselves.  That Turn didn't do this made all the many satisfactions of the series.

Monday, December 25, 2017

It Is Christmas! Finally!

     . . . . Bright blue sky such as we've not seen for a week. It rained for hours after midnight. 

Last night I was quite miserable on behalf of Santa and his reindeer in this part of the sky. This afternoon it's quite cold, getting colder. Down into the deep freeze by the middle of the week. 

Unknown Spanish Painter. Madonna with Christ Child and Angels Playing Music, Museo Lazaro Galdiano, Madrid.

Listening to Spanish court Christmas music of the Renaissance -- villancico. The term villancico mostly refers to secular compositions from the 15th and early 16th centuries, which are among among the earliest sectional music -- containing solo and polyphonic sections. These Spanish musical compositions are among the very first to be published that are specifically conceived for instruments; namely, a set of duets on different pitches, or tonos. However, among the generally secular villancicos are Christmas-themed, religious compositions. 

Adoration of the Magi , Central Panel, (1510), Hieronymus Bosch; Museo de Prado
Those from a little later -- the high Renaissance -- reveal the significance of Franco-Flemish influence on the development of polyphonic vocal style in Spain. Franco-Flemish style was dominant in Europe at the time, but the style spread everywhere via composers traveling to and from Spain, which was now part of the Holy Roman Empire. *

Thinking about what I need to do to start the winey beef stew, but I'm really thinking of Spain and the brilliant Queen Isabella I (1451 - 1504) and wondering if we're going to make it there, meaning Spain, this spring, as is being planned.

El V's  tearing apart the book room looking for some of my 'lost' research materials. Achoo dust starting to float, so only so much of this can be done in one go.

However!  Hooray, at least the centennial histories of Richland County, Mooreton Township and Brandenburg Township have been exhumed!  Still haven't found the family genealogies, and a buncha photos though.

The guys at the wine store gave me a mixed carton of wine -- and a bottle of champagne for Christmas!  I fell over in surprise when I took this delivery that I hadn't ordered.  I sure as heck am not the $pending level of cu$tomer who would rate this treatment, one knows.  But they threw me into that category.  This has never happened before.

Ooops, time to start chopping the beef and browning it! And opening the bottle of wine.  


* Or, perhaps equally accurately, now the Holy Roman Empire had become Spanish, due to the marriages of  Juana of Castile (a/k/a Juana the Mad, thanks to the ill-treatment of her Austrian husband and horrid, ignorant Spanish relatives), and Juana, Infanta of Spain and Portugal, and Archduchess of Austria.  IOW, the ambition of Austria (as would be Bourbon France's later) was to rule Spain, as Spain's was to rule Austria (and Bourbon France) and they both got what they wanted.  

Isabella I of Castile, depicted in the painting Virgen de la mosca at The Collegiate church of Santa María la Mayor (Church of Saint Mary the Great) in Toro, Zamora, Spain.

In terms of music as with so much else, the the achievements in learning and the arts sponsored at the humanist court of Isabella I of Castile and Leon, she of the Moorish - Jewish expulsion and geographical expansion, have long been neglected by European historians due to the backwater status Spain fell to after the Enlightenment, and then the ravages of the Napoleonic wars fought there in the British Peninsular Campaigns.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

'Tis The Day Before Christmas!

     . . . . It's impossible to feel this is Christmas Eve.  Somehow, all natural philosophies are contradicted when Christmas Eve and Sunday are the same day.

Such befuddlement I am feeling, despite having been doing Christmas activities non-stop for days and days.

This is also befuddling as we have no plans for either today or tomorrow, beyond a lunch today with an old friend.  We are looking forward to just hanging out, cooking (again, me, with the cooking!) and listening to music and reading our giftie books.

Badge - logo of the Institute of Postmambo Studies. "Open your ear and hear the word, the law the important matter."

This befuddlement is particularly so (at least for me, who tends toward introversion) as we leave for our Postmambo Studies' Central Cuba trip right after the New Year, which means spending almost all waking hours in company of many others.  Such wonderful people (again!) are going to be on this deep dive into the culture and history of this region, seldom visited by non-Cubans.  There's a lot of vodun in this region as well as in the east.  This came via Haitians migrating to work in this region's sugar industry late in the 19th century -- in contrast to the Haitians who arrived in the orientale via French slaveowners fleeing the Haitian Revolution with their 'property.'

But then, planning the extended stay in Cuba is complicated, complex, and lengthy.  At the moment thinking of clothes that are right for Cuba seems impossible as it is clothes for cold and freezing are in the forefront of my mind. No wonder befuddlement.

Our dear friend who lives across the street has either a super cold or flu (both he and el V are such he-men they can't be bothered with flu shots, o no!).  So I made huge batch of chicken - tortilla - chili soup, cooked up a bunch of rice and, with some packages of Hermosa non-GMO corn tortillas, sent that over via el V.  It was exactly the right thing, the thing he needed right now.  

Yesterday it was all rain. 

By later tonight and Christmas Day we are to get more rain, which may well turn to snow, even here. Lots of snow north of us, of course, with these two winter storm systems converging.
Flights in and out of NYC were already being delayed yesterday.

Among what we are looking forward to this coming week is the anniversary party for Robert Farris Thompson, on the occasion of celebrating the first publication of his still unsurpassed and brilliant and essential work, Flash of the Spirit, first published in 1983.  (I read it first in 1990 -- and met Bob in 1992.)

Master T -- as he has long been affectionately known at Yale -- in 2010.  Several of the Cuban Postmambo travelers have taken his courses while they were at Yale.  So what comes around keeps coming around -- and shows the quality of the average Postmambo traveler!

We are told that by tomorrow the temperatures will plunge into deep winter.  These deep freeze is forecast (but who knows?) to last at least through our departure date to Havana.  Never fear -- we have the technology to survive, lovely comfy sweaters, beautiful opera length cashmere mitts, faux fox fur boa, faux fur coat, beautiful knee high boots.  

We are looking forward to reading Tolkien's translation of the splendid Christmas tale,  Sir Gawain and the Green Knight aloud to each other tonight. 

But, in the meantime, it is Christmas, all the time!

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Godless: Classic Hollywood Western Films -- No Spoilers

     . . . . Godless is a limited (7 episodes only) original mini series. The cast is stellar, starting with that scenery chewer, Jeff Daniels, playing the most eviLe of EviLe.

Godless is the third Western I've watched this month, along with Wind River and Longmire

Godless is set mostly in the town and environs of La Belle, in Taos County, of the New Mexico Territory, in 1884.  With few exceptions, the men of La Belle died two years ago on the same day from a mine disaster -- the silver mine being the purpose of this new town.  In the meantime a long operating gang (more like a small army) of sociopaths, run by a "preacher" named Frank Griffin -- the number one villain --  is preying on the payrolls and metal shipments of silver mines throughout the region. They are responsible for dead piled up like foothills, women are raped and killed, for no other than the gang gets their jollies this way.  They are also responsible for chewing up all the scenery with their evil.

Roy Goode, the good guy, rides a wild horse sans bridle and saddle.

Long ago Frank "adopted" a very young boy without family, Roy Goode (if we can't tell by his name, Roy is perhaps the numero uno good guy; if we couldn't tell he was  good guy from his name we know he is because he's a Horse Whisperer).

Among the many Hollywood classics of the western genre that Godless most frequently references are Shane, High Noon, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Stage Coach.  Shades also of The Searchers, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, and many others.

What follows are from the notes I made while watching Godless. As mentioned here, I have been living with the western genre in print and screen all my life, starting from my earliest days as my dad was a huge Western fan.

Episodes 1 - 3:

Favorite Western trope subversion so far -- unlike, say, McCabe and Mrs. Miller (Robert Altman's 1971 film, much praised for his "unorthodox" and "revisionist" take on the Western, as well for its beauty), in a town where women become widows, they don't become whores.  The brothel shuts down, the sex workers move away, or do something else, like become the town's school teacher.  They do take on the roles that their husbands filled, from clearing the mind, continuing to explore the silver veins, being mayor, running the hotel.  What felt so promising about this is it's clear which men in town didn't die in the mine accident, which reveals starkly economic / class structure: the sheriff, the owner of the general store, the guy who owns and tends the bar, the owner of the livery stable and his black ostler.  It's never explained why the mayor had gone down the mine that fateful day, but now his wife, sister of the sheriff, is acting mayor.  This all looked so exciting.  

Horses – how dangerous these big animals can be.  More than once we see big jaws viciously snapping, aimed at ripping out another horse's flesh.  However, not once do I believe these are mustangs. For one thing, only human agency trim and shape their hooves so perfectly. Which brings us to –

Teaching the kids.  Played by Michelle Dockery, The Widow’s son Truckee (her name is Alice Fletcher, but I think of her as The Widow, due to Western trope characters), is afraid of horses and doesn’t know how to ride, despite his Paiute heritage and being on the verge of manhood.  So Roy teaches him.  Which brings us to --

My favorite character, mayor Mary Agnes McNue, played by Meritt Wever, (with the Widow, Alice Fletcher)
Clothes.  Mary Agnes McNue (Merritt Wever's arguably the best actor in the Godless series), now the acting mayor, has put off her women's clothes in favor of her husband's. There’s a bit about Roy wearing Truckee’s dead father’s clothes, to which Truckee's Paiute grandmother mightily objects. It’s after being given the clothes of Truckee’s father that Roy successfully starts teaching the boy what he needs to know to be a man in this environment.  How did the reviewers miss this massive transference?  Frackin’ shades of Shane

Women – would a woman really go riding around town stark naked?  In the summer blazing sun of high altitude New Mexico territory?  Frackin’ shades of Longmire!

Another favorite trope subversion -- The very young, but highly skilled gun slingin' deputy to Sheriff John McNue, Whitey Winn, played by Thomas Brodie-Sangster (JoJen Reed in GOT) turns out not to be a version of sociopathic, idiot Billy the Kid (who found his end in New Mexico, btw). 

African Americans -- Among the tropes of classic Westerns, what was missing among the settlers, ranchers, outlaws, doctors, newspaper editors, bartenders, general store owners, etc.?  African Americans.  We never saw African American characters in print or on screen, yet they were there.  Like everyone else, from defeated confederates to railroad investors to German immigrants, they too came west, looking for affordable land and a new life.  They are here, in Godless, thank you Jesus, a settlement of ex-Buffalo Soldiers and their families, right where we’d find them historically in 1884. 

They also provide the only source music in the series.  Of course.

RIP Sam Waterston's Marshal John Cook.  You are gone far too early. Thanks to Waterston, Cook's every scene lights up, opens up, relaxes, and provides comfort, which the populations of Godless certainly need.  And so do I.

Biz men from back east --  if we didn't know they too were evil and filled with more shit than a chicken coop, the lead biz guy mistreats his horse.  They shall certainly get theirs.  Hopefully from Frank, so they can see what a real bad guy is.

Thoughts re 4th & 5th episodes:

Alice the Widow's horse ranch -- hookay, shades of Liberty Valance perhaps?  John Wayne's character, Tom Doniphon, who did take out Liberty, had this mysterious horse ranch business, which is hinted to be located in New Mexico too . . .  and let us not forget how much Ford was trying to subvert the classic Western tropes in Liberty Valance (though, in the end, it's still the one righteous he-man with a gun who saves the day) -- and makes the legend.  It would be so cool if it is Alice -- or Mayor Mary Agnes -- who takes out Frank Griffin, not Sheriff McNue or Roy Goode.  Please gods of television, let it be so . . . .

Classic Western trope subversion -- the cavalry isn't going to save the day .

Pinkertons, per usual, are not good guys.  But this trope is well and truly frackin' subverted -- he's not even a Pinkerton!

How much clothes matter in this series, the putting on of others' clothes and the taking off our old ones, beginning with Roy digging up his father's coffin and putting on the union uniform in which he was buried. This theme continues throughout these two episodes.

Horses!  More horses! They weave their way through the series as they weave their way through Western classics, and indeed the entire history of humanity.

6th -- & 7th Final Episode

A small thing -- I am absurdly delighted with every episode having at last one scene in which those classic Western old-school round canteens are attached to riders' saddles.  Until Godless I'd forgotten how long it had been since I saw such a canteen when they were always part of the supplies attached to the saddles of every western I watched as a kid.

Boy, was episode 6 ever filled with frackin' shades of Shane!

Had to take a break from the final episode because, for me at least, it's all too tense -- these women in one place, attacked by all these men, men who are fresh from the massacre of Blackmond Buffalo Soldiers and their families. The other women and the children hiding in the mine, what will happen to them? With the recent memories of the atrocities in the Bosnian war and others one knows much better what will happen to them than we did in the days of hailing the refreshingly massive, prolonged depiction of so-called Western violence brought to us by1969's Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch. After The Wild Bunch movies continued increase the length, intensity and detail of all varieties of violence.


My biggest criticisms are all about the writing.

Why in HELL was Whitey Winn by himself in the sheriff's office, instead of with the women in the hotel where he could do a lot of real good shooting down the evil guys?  Shyte, he doesn't even get off a single shot, and isn't even taken down by a faster slinger, but a knife. What the Eff?  He's smart enough to rescue his lady love, Louise Hobbs, and her little brother but not smart enough for this?  Also, I have to think -- a guy in love with an African American girl and his name is -- Whitey?  And how come his is the only funeral we see when so many women were killed? Who buried the African Americans?  What happens to Louise Hobbs, who with her brother, are the only survivors of Blackmon?  And why in HELL did not a single one of these Buffalo Soldiers, who had chased Frank and his gang out of southern New Mexico and Texas, never get off a single shot and killed not a single one of the gang? And most of all -- why in hell did the wife and mother invited them into her house?  Didn't she ever watch The Searchers and learn that evil must never be allowed to cross into the threshold into domestic interiors?

My other biggest criticism is that the creators who are so lovingly, meticulously recreating every detail of the Western left out the snubbing post, so characters like The Widow get dragged around by a wild horse after she ropes it. In ranching work, even now, a snubbing post for the handling of cattle and  horses in an enclosed space is essential.  Rope the animal and wrap the rope around the post so the heavier, stronger creature doesn't take off and pull you along behind it while your clothes and skin are rasped away by the grit and velocity. The saddle horn of a western saddle is mini snubbing post, powered not by being pounded deep in the ground, but the weight of the rider's horse.

I did rather like, though it is heavy handed, but keeps that clothes theme going, that Roy again changes clothes, takes off the clothes of the father and husband he had been wearing while working for the Widow and teaching her son, Truckee, and puts back on the clothes of the bad outlaw in preparation for taking out the adoptive father that he's repudiated, sociopath Frank Griffin.

I don't get the ghost Indian, horse and dog -- and is there a connection between them and Truckee's grandmother? Someone suggested this might be the Shoshone ghost and his dog were Bill's spirit guide. At least until Roy saw him too.  Then there's this too:
"Truckee (Wuna Mucca,[1] The Giver of Spiritual Gifts,[1] Old Winnemucca, One Moccasin,[1] Onennamucca,[1] sometimes known as Captain Truckee) was medicine chief of the Northern Paiute and an influential prophet.[1]"
But if this is so, it didn't go anywhere, while demanding the viewer google, which is a negative, even a deficit, on the part of the writers.

As far as Truckee and Frank -- holy cow, talk about grooming, as Frank tries to pull in Roy's surrogate son, for -- well, what, really? the seed of a new band of sociopathic killers? 

My only previous reference to "Truckee" have come from old 19th century popular songs of the Gold Rush, and the post War of the Rebellion era, about railroads, and the carnage of Indians and the buffalo massacres, which lyrics contain geographical points such getting washed out crossing the Truckee River.

And that newspaper editor -- o yes, the media was as filled with liars then as now.  Damn! somehow that skank survived. Yet more frackin' shades of Liberty Valance, subverting a subversion.  No printing of legends here, only lies, i.e. fake news.

In any case, the series begins in a cloud of dust, it -- mostly -- concludes in a cloud of dust, fire smoke and gun fire smoke.  From the dust thou hast come and to the dust thou wilt return. 

Do not requiescat in pace, Frank Griffin, you evil, terrible, ugly man. May you suffer through all eternity.


I immensely enjoyed seeing the series of homages to the great Western movies that we all know and have watched so often.  I particularly then enjoyed how, in the right places, the creators of the series twist them around from what they've always been.  They don't do it in every case, but one can feel and see the intelligence behind choosing not to subvert the trope.  So the series works beautifully at this level, particularly because it is seamlessly united with what Westerns by the Hollywood greats, John Ford, Howard Hawks, even Sergio Leone, etc. looked like. However, this strategy for creating a world class Western depends on the viewer knowing these previous films. This strategy then becomes almost a game for the creators, playing with their own favorite, most admired material out of the work of others many decades ago, particular the cinematography.  In that sense Godless is a personal production, aimed at insiders, not necessarily aimed at everyone.

Unfortunately that means that the creators didn't care as much about narrative power and audience's engagement by seeing all the parts add up to something larger than the parts.  These beautifully composed, lighted and filmed scenes receive significance, they don't provide it.  The more the viewer knows the homage, the more the viewer sees.  The less the viewer knows, the less the viewer receivers. Godless didn't work well on these levels of story and character.

Today, the more I think about it, the less successful it appears.  The narrative tension and drive don't come from unfolding plot and character revelation, but from the audience's foreknowledge that yet another terrible massacre will be coming from Frank Griffin and his gang of sociopaths -- horrific, beautifully detailed violence -- frackin' shades of Peckinpah and The Wild Bunch. Will Roy save the day?  Will the women of La Belle save their own bacon -- or be as hideously raped and murdered as we've seen the gang do already? 

Then, in the end, despite the shout lines about Godless that the story is about a town of women and children, somehow, with plot armor and hand wavium, two Real Men save the day.  Which doesn't quite make sense either.  Frank's gang has 30 members. The women took down at least 82 guys by themselves by my count -- yet Frank isn't shot and there are still 30 men to be taken out by Roy the rogue outlaw and Bill McNue the Sheriff, plus then, the final show down (Classic trope!) between Frank and his adopted son, Roy.

We never find out why one of La Belle's women shot Alice Fletcher's husband -- and in the back no less.  Nothing more is ever made of her dead husband other than her giving Roy his clothes. Alice's Paiute mother-in-law says this is bad because Roy is death and she wants him gone. When he does go, she calls him "dove" -- frackin' shades of Lonesome Dove, maybe the most successful  New Western ever on television.

We don't know why the wife of this new settlement's mayor is the sister of the sheriff, making a nice power bookend for the town, right? We don't know how the general store owner and his sons behaved after the sheriff forced to them to rescind their forced and illegal occupation of the Widow's ranch. It really bothers me that the class / economics strata don't get any attention. We never learn how the Widow became a successful horse supplier and dealer, despite evidently never hearing of a snubbing post or how to break horses en masse.  

And in the end it is made cinematically clear, despite what the creators told us, this wasn't the story of a town of women, but of men, particularly one single solitary man, who rides off into the gorgeously shot western scenery for more than the last EIGHT minutes of the final episode's screen time, who is the last thing we see before fading to the credits.  How much more unsubverted, non-revisioinist classic western trope can ya get?

So yah -- like Wind River, another New Western I watched this month, this is all surface -- beautiful, gorgeous, meticulous surface -- but not much content.

Who wouldn't want this coat, since we know it was not made of baby seals but some faux fur substitute?  (Normally Declan Harp doesn't look this good -- he gets beat up and bloody at least as often as Walt Longmire and Henry Standing Bear do in Longmire.)
     . . . . Western next up, the second season of Frontier, another Netflix original, located in the very early 18th century, in Canada, featuring the struggle over control of Canada's extraordinarily lucrative fur resources. Among the actors are Jason Momoa, who played Drogo, the Dothraki ruler, who made Daenerys, Mother of Dragons, his wife, and Katie McGrath who plays Morgana Pendragon in the Adventures of Young Merlin series.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Eurasia, Winter, the Ottomans: History and Archeology, Television and Books

     . . . . El V's enthralled with Barry W. Cunliffe's Steppe, Desert, and Ocean: The Birth of Eurasia (2015). 

It's lavishly illustrated with the most helpful maps possible, many photographs and other illustration, index, etc.  It's not quite a coffee table book, but its glossy paper, luxurious spacing and layout and dimensions does quite resemble more a deluxe museum catalog of a distinguished exhibit than a non-fiction hardcover.

Sir Barrington Windsor Cunliffe CBE FBA FSA

A Humanities Network review that hits the book's talking points can be read here.  

It goes well with the two books I read this year by Jack Weatherford -- The Secret History of the Mongol Queens (2010) and Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World (2004). 

     . . . . It goes well too with the Turkish period series I began early this year and still haven't finished watching. One cannot and should not binge anything this long. I'm finally to episode 66, and it's still season 1 of Resurrection: Ertugrul (2014 --76 episodes in all).  The time period is the 13th century and the pressures from the Mongols are pressing hard on all nomadic peoples and everyone else, north, south, east and west, including Seljuk Turks (Salah ad-Din's people, falling into eclipse at this point), Arabs, Roman Christians, and Byzantine Christians -- none of which like each other and are in serious conflict.  The only uniting pressure for many of them is Islam.

Ertugrul is the legendary warrior who supposedly united and founded the peoples who became known as the Ottoman Turks, by re-uniting the Seljuk and the Oghuz Turks, was father of the equally legendary forefather of  Suleiman the Magnificent, whose grandfather, Mehmed the Conqueror, took out, finally, after many failed Ottoman attempts, Constantinople, in 1453.  Thus the Turkish television series' title, presumably -- resurrection of the Turks via union, which held back the Mongols, and defeated the European Christians, and the Greek Christians, to become the great Ottoman Empire which ruled the region for at least 500 years.

Season 2 of Ertugrul is also available on netflix (so far, I believe there are 3 seasons), again of 76 episodes.  So I could keep watching this for another year -- and probably will.  Among its many charms is seeing the western perceived exoticism of this eastern world through its own eyes.  It's great fun too, to see these palaces as filled with secret passages and vicious political assassinations as the romances.  It's stuffed with romance of story and character as well as the romance of its poetry, which runs through the cultures of all the peoples in this series -- and which illustrates from another angle than my grad courses in medieval and comparative literture courses how much Courtly Love and the Romances of the medieval world acquired from interaction with the Arabic cultures, particularly from Moorish Spain. The Pyrenees between Aquitaine and Al-andalus. 

Also, the horses are magnificent. (Cunliffe's book focuses a great deal on horses, of course!) How could I resist Ertugul, who confides at length to his lovely horse, all the doubts, fears and yearnings which he cannot express even to his loyal beyond death warriors?

El V says, "We're getting our winter on. Last winter: the Merovingians.  This winter: the steppes."

Ya, I say, "As winter disappears with the melting of the ice caps in Antarctica and the Arctic and the end of the glaciers. Winter, the primary fact of life since the beginning of life, of so many, including my own entire life until leaving the northern midwest, is rapidly becoming an exotic fantasy."

At least we still have books . . . .

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Netflix Originals: Longmire Final Season + Godless Mini Series

     . . . . I had been looking forward to the 6th, final season of Longmire. Foolishly, I expected that this season would correct the errors into which the series had fallen further with each season since the second one. Instead, in many ways, it was a disappointing mess.

Sheriff Longmire and Henry Standing Bear, the really good relationship in this series: with authentic conflicts and constant loyalty that the viewer can believe in.

The actors did their best, but the writers seemed to be phoning it in.  So many lost opportunities to have a stellar finish, but they went for merely finishing.  However, in the first episode as Walt Longmire pulls his life-long friend Henry Standing Bear from the jaws of death, while not dying of either thirst or snakebite himself, and driving them both to the hospital we have been shown definitively that both these men who undergo tremendous physical abuse in every season, that they and they alone are truly the strongest men in the universe, the realest of real men that the fictional television West still produces now just as it did in the past.

The fall of Longmire began around season 3.  This is due to the writers turning Absaroka County Sheriff's Department's female detective, Victoria (Vic) Moretti, from Philly into the weak pole of the series. They never could figure out – or just didn’t notice – or, worst of all, thought this might grow the series’s viewership among white guys under forty? -- that they didn’t know what to do with her beyond the most cliched usage of female characters reaching back to the beginning of television. This is such a pity, as Vic Moretti, her character, how she behaved in her job as consumate professional, was someone any police force anywhere would want: strong, dependable, so cool under pressure that she didn't take stupid chances, she was a primary draw and foil for her boss, making what by season season two had become a terrific ensemble cast of interesting characters.

But for reasons only the writers know, they abruptly dropped that Vic for a different one. In exchange for the original Vic we got one who suddenly unbuttoned her shirt two buttons too far, a Vic who pranced about jiggling. They even turned her into honeypot and pole dancer. There's a prolonged scene in this final season where she's supposedly learning to ride a horse. She is shown, under the cooking blaze of southwestern high altitude summer sun, in the middle of the day wearing a clingy, thin,sleeveless, t-shirt, open to her breast bone, trotting -- jiggle jiggle jiggling. Beyond that she is damsel in distress who Walt repeatedly rescues and worries about, one who is kidnapped, raped, tortured, shot,  -- when she began so smart and so strong and competent.   She also gets pregnant, which ultimately means nothing to the story arc, other than she gets shot and loses the baby, which keeps Walt all worked up (we never even learn who the father is) -- that's the only point of having her be pregnant. The only other thing dreamed up for her was the so tired lusting yearning for Walt, her boss, the sheriff of fictional Absaroka County, Wyoming, who is at least 30 years older than she, whose daughter, Cade, is the same age as Vic.  I came to dislike seeing Vic at all.

Matthias, Cheyenne Tribal Police, another character we get to know and admire, along with the development of the relationship between him and Standing Bear.  If the writes could do this with the men, why couldn't they do it with the female characters?

And get this in the writers' cheap failure with female characters!  In the final episode of the final season, Walter persuades his daughter, who has not a bit of prior experience with law enforcement, who has never showed any interest in law enforcement, who is a practicing lawyer, to run for sheriff of Absoroka County in his place. Now he can conscience-free live with Vic and his finally acquired personal cell phone happily ever after in the idyllic log cabin at the foot of the mountains. Such a shame. It had everything to be much better than this: acting talent, location and photography. Only the writers failed.

     . . . I haven't encountered any of the books in the series from which the television Longmire has been adapted.  I have no idea even if any of the characters beyond Walt Longmire are in them. I’m sure if he were still with us, my dad would have had these novels.  He led the way in our household, which was all about Westerns when we kids were all growing up. I read all his books and magazines too, so I’m not ignorant of how Westerns work!  And I’m thinking of Dad, and those days, today, of course, it being Thanksgiving.


Godless (2017) Netflix Original, complete seven-episode mini-series.

I hope Michelle Dockery and the other women (many women characters! which bodes well right there) get treated better by the Godless writers than Longmire’s Katee Sackhoff's Vic Moretti did, and better than the barely named female FBI agent (Jane! her name is generic girl Jane!) played by Elizabeth Olson in Wind River.

I only began to watch Godless yesterday, and so far don't know what to think of it, other than it is beautiful and includes every trope of a classic Western, from the stagecoach, the train, the mine, the ranches, the bad guys(eviLe outlaws, and eastern cheating business guys), the horses (one way we know one of the good guys is a real good guy, is that he's also a horse whisperer, able to tame mustangs by talk and gesture, and never ever abides the mistreatment of a horse), Native Americans, the plucky widow, the whore no longer a whore -- you name it, it's there, even the tropes of High Noon and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.  One might think that the cinematographers and director analyzed for years every scene in Days of Heaven. Look at that elongated series of ever widening scope, in which the eviLe outlaws cross on horseback a rushing small river or gully washer.  Those ascending, toppling, falling, expanding fans and curtains of water, each droplet visible, held just that right bit of time hanging motionless in the air. I am among the few who does admire and like very much Days of Heaven, and have never understood why US critics declared it a miserable failure.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Wind River (2017) + Longmire

     . . . . Wind River (2017) premiered at Sundance, as a Sundance Film Festival pick, where it achieved a theatrical release deal. Ironically, this from a Weinstein company, from which the film severed ties in October. It also picked up several awards and nominations, including for Canne Film Festival. 

     . . . . Death in winter, on a Wyoming res At the center, is a  professional hunter, employed by Fish and Wildlife, who is divorced from a native woman, evidently due to the mysterious death of their daughter, which has happened prior to the opening.  He finds another dead young woman while hunting a mother mountain lion and her young, who have taken to killing livestock.  Her death is the film’s opening, a prolonged death running barefoot in the snow, breathing freezing air. The examiner determines she has been been violently assaulted sexually and otherwise either multiple times or by multiple assailants. But the death cannot be listed as homicide since it was breathing freezing air that burst her lungs, and which ultimately killed her.

That's the whole story, which is provided to the viewer in the first 5 minutes, followed by some soft-focus, lingering and detailed scenes that are pure gun and ammo porn.  However we know what's his name -- people's names in this film do not matter -- is the good guy because he gives his kid a gun safety lesson, and makes his own ammo.

All that's left for the rest of the film to occupy itself is who done the rape - murder.  The surface is a more than satisfying viewing experience, but there's little beneath, and what is, does come through as glib, to put it kindly. However, one does feel that the production, writing and filming honchos are so familiar and at ease with the locations and the matters of these places and their residents that they didn't realize that this is how it would come across to other viewers. It might be intentional though, as so many think its this is best thing they've watched all year.

It’s shot with that signature graceful, authoritive surface that tells the audience  they are about to experience a solid entertainment, in the old-school sense of that word applied to Hollywood films. Nothing that will truly disturb them will be on offer, either in action, character or story. Whether or not there is violence, all will end as it should, and the viewer is going to enjoy going on the ride.  Which itself some viewers may well find disturbing as at the end, with two fathers, one native, one white, sitting together grieving the loss of their native daughters, exchanging wise-cracks, a title card states that “missing persons statistics are kept for every demographic except Native American women, whose numbers remain unknown.”

Wind River projects the same quiet confidence and authority that is the signature of the on-screen presence these days of Robert Redford and Jane Fonda, and which no one possessed so completely as Paul Newman, from whom, presumably Redford learned a great deal. Newman could say more by standing, sitting or watching than most actors could in 20 minutes of on screen action.

As well, Redford has had much experience shooting in snow-covered mountains in his own star turns in movies such as Downhill Racer, Jeremiah Johnson, The Electric Horseman and The Horse Whisperer among others in his long, distinguished career as actor, director, producer.  These snow-covered mountains are virtually the backyard of Sundance, Utah’s first citizen, Robert Redford -- which is where Wind River premiered and was picked up by Weinstein productions, if I understand the film's history correctly.

BTW, the lovely Longmire television series, its final season up on netflix today. It's set in a fictional Wyoming that is really New Mexico; one of its chief recurring character's actor is also in Wind River. Longmire is possessed of the same gloss and authority, but less confidence, stumbles sometimes, and frequently is disturbing in terms of character, action and story line, i.e. a less comfy viewing.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Dream Eagles 11/17/17

     . . . . I was in the process of walking across the

University of Wisconsin Student Center, far back in the day.
 campus of the University of New Mexico, which was really the University of Wisconsin,

North Dakota barn, pasture and slough.
but really was the vast backyard of our farm.

I was on my way to the library, which was really NYC's midtown research library, which was really the

Bobst Library and Washington Square Park.

NYU Bobst Library situated on Washington Square Park, where I was having a class meeting  in my graduate writing program.

There was a brilliant sky marquee in that only-in-New Mexico saturated blue purity, and in it were birds, birds, birds, particularly raptors, and particularly very large eagles. Dream me wondered if eagles were the the source of humanity's dream of dragons? 

As I walked, the campus, off to my left, ended in a large body of water -- a lake or a bay. It too was filled with birds, particularly Canadian geese. 

Twice I watched eagles make a successful hunt on these geese, from the initiation of their hunt, circling high above -- but they were so large I could see the feathers of their throats and wings, to the targeting of the prey, to the astonishing glide-drop to the back of the goose, both going underwater from the impact of the overhead strike’s velocity, then the eagles beating their rise from under the water, up into the sky again, their meal in their talons.

Schwarzman Library

At the same as I arrived at the columned portico of the library (which Bobst does not have, but Schwarzman in midtown has, I had brilliant conception for a novel. 

Then I was in the house that I shared with my writing major roommates. I couldn't wait to describe to them what I had seen, but simultaneously, deliberately refrained, restrained, to preserve the marvel of it -- not just once did I see that successful targeted plunge through air and water and ascension again, but twice! Nor was I going to tell them of my novel breakthrough! 

It was at that point El V woke me . 

I was able to recall in detail the eagles, but not the novel. All I can recall of it is that it involved two women and their relationship to writing, which informs entirely their relationship with each other, and with life generally, which is hardly a brilliant conception, and certainly not even original. Nor have I ever been in a writing program, whether in university or otherwise, though I have certainly been graduate schools!

Oddly, these days when I dream of being back in school, it's always graduate school, not high school or undergrad, as those dreams used to be. Still, as all my life, I still spend a generous amount of time on campuses and in libraries. 

While drinking tea I realized the landscape of this dream included all four of the landscapes that I have imprinted upon, due to inhabiting - walking, every day for years and years, or nearly every day.

Upon even further reflection this dream includes yet one more formative landscape -- Chestertown and the Chester River of Maryland's Eastern Shore, which is where the Canadian geese come from.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Black Sails and Treasure Island + Outlander and Voyager

     . . . . Black Sails (2017) Season Four, final season was very good.  At this moment I'm still wondering this may be the most historically accurate action adventure period presentation dramatized on screen (and read in most historical fiction).  Cuba! Views of its bay and fortalezas and habana vieja that I too have seen and been to! Invasion of Nassau to put down the motley pre-era of Revolution crew of pirates, self-emancipated slaves, free blacks, indentures and the lower classes in general – as the greatest threat to civilization.

The Black Sails writers really read Marcus Rediker it looks like.

A deluxe 1886 edition of Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island included a treasure map.

 This isn't to say that some liberties with historical facts have not been taken -- for instance the Peruvian shipment on the pirated Spanish vessel, Urca de Lima, was made of valuable commodities such as hides and chocolate,  but not that ever more powerful chimera of gold! gold! gold! which is the ever more enthralling, ever more unattainable source of the stories of  Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island and Starz's Black Sails.  But, over all, throughout, Black Sails tacks remarkably close to what historical facts of Nassau's early history we know.

Guess who . . .  he didn't begin like this.

So it matters more for Spain and Britain to cooperate in putting them than the current war between their rulers. Their sheer outrage that anyone not of the ruling classes should attempt to change anything is brilliantly emoted.

These outsiders' ideals of anti-slavery, equality and fairness, have been bubbling along for the previous season, though sometimes submerged either by the imperious demands of survival, which means financing survival, and rivalries and conflicts of interests of all sorts.  In the final season both the ideal, inter-personal conflict and greed are at center of every action.  In the last episodes the audience begins to glimpse through the current action, the characters as we first got to know them in Stevenson's Treasure Island.

Professor Marcus Rediker

After watching the end of the series, I re-read Treasure Island, on Gutenberg since Black Sails is the prequel to the stories of all these characters long and long before Jim Hawkins enters the picture at his mother's inn, the Admiral Benbow, the black spot and all the rest.  Needless to say, in Black Sails, everybody was much much younger and very good looking, which they generally are not in Treasure Island, except perhaps that charming, enticing storyteller we meet as one-legged Long John Silver, with a parrot named Flint (Captain Flint is the central protagonist in Black Sails) -- and many of them had ideals of freedom, liberty and equality, escape from the real evils of the poor and powerless  attempting to create an alternative to Europe's ancien régime.

But in the end, as stolen treasure does, the Urca's fictional gold destroyed them all. And now they're old, so old, if not actually you know,  like Captain Flint, dead. Yet they're still chasing after that damned treasure for which  that hundreds if not thousands have already lost their honor,  blood and lives.

It had been a long time since I'd re-read Treasure Island.  What isn't different though -- and this is brilliant of Black Sails, considering its unique social and political concerns (also so much part of the age), which are seldom if ever found in adventure entertainments --  from the first pages already, the evil miasma of the Urca treasure contagion is in play.  Hawkins, the boy, of course, like we kids who are much of Stevenson's targeted audience, can't see it.  But the boy can see danger, far more quickly than the adults do.

This particularly struck me in terms of Starz's Outlander, both because I just finished re-reading Voyager, the third novel in Diana Gabaldon's historical romance series from which this current season is adapted, and the latest episode takes place at sea, sailing to Jamaica. The ships used in this episode are among those that had been constructed for Black Sails. 
Voyager's action is located in the spread of 1745 - 1765, only a few decades after Black Sails in 1715.  The African slave trade, slavery and indenture slavery were reaching their peak during this entire arc. This is something that the pirates of the era understood thoroughly.  The more oppressed the bottom, i.e. slaves, can be, the more oppressed are every class above them.

Voyager was the book in the series after which I quit, because none of it was working any more. The arbitrary artificiality of the obstacles being put int the way of the twenty years older Claire and Jamie, to have a life without running, and lots and lots of their happy, happy sex is preposterously obvious. This is the point where the series goes off the rails in the books, and probably does on television too.  It's all more likely due to the author's embarrassing caricatures of non-white characters and her ignorance of the cultures in the Caribbean in general.

The author's determination to keep this a romance, is, in the end, makes the effort only about the personal, and by extension to family and clan's well-being, which are still personal concerns.  In Black Sails, romance was not the point.  Sex wasn't even the point., though there was a lot of it, some, unwatchably violent and abusive, detailed and prolonged. Though lesbians were not punished for being lesbian,  gay men had to keep their love a terrible secret, which such demand by society and law at large, has effects on the development of character, thinking and action.

Loyalty and companionship matter of course, but most of all for some, at least, among the Black Sails' crews, there were those who had larger loyalties to ideals of social and political justice, for women and men, for black as well as white. Not only is Black Sails a prequel to Treasure Island, but it's a prequel to revolution, located as it is on the eve of the Era of Revolutions that set the whole world on fire (with help from that anti-revolutionary, Emperor  Napoleon) -- Washington, George Danton, Toussaint L'Ouverture, Símon Bolívar.  But the Outlander books, really about Claire and Jamie's ROMANCE, and  her family and their romance,s as more and younger members of her family arrive in the past from the future, are missing this dimension.

Perhaps that makes the contrast between Starz Outlander and Black Sails all the more stark: Outlander's Voyager turned us cranky and impatient; Black Sails got ever more compelling as the seasons and episodes rolled on.