". . . 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

Monday, May 29, 2017

David Blight Considers, Again, the Meaning and History of Memorial Day

     . . . . David Blight, renowned historian of the era of Reconstruction and Jim Crow, muses upon Mitch Landrieu's moving speech in New Orleans on the occasion of bring down New Orleans's white supremacist monument to the glorious lost cause of perpetuating and expanding slavery throughout the entire United States (and hemisphere, at least for the most hopeful and deluded of the secessionists), and the changing meaning for the country of Memorial Day.

It's in the Atlantic Monthly, here.

By the way, how many of us know that today's holiday is not the same as Veteran's Day, and that the first Memorial Day-- then called Decoration Day -- was instituted by African Americans in Charleston, South Carolina, on May 1, 1865?  Blight has written extensively about this process in his laudable Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory

The Library of Congress preserves this photo, taken in 1865 while the African-American reconstruction of the cemetery in Charleston was in progress. The rows of markers are newly established individual Union graves.

Friday, May 26, 2017

A Day in the Life of Jack The Fox

     . . . .Darling amiga, Austin Slim sent me this.  It's so purrfect it must be further shared
"A fox looks like a dog, purrs like a cat, but in fact it is neither."
"The have the nicest nature of any animal I have ever met."

"Sometimes he may do naughty things.  But not to those who are nice to him."

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Looking For Louie Louie : lwi - Louis

     . . . . As the France's Carolingian period isn't among my historical specialties, I have put in an inordinate amount of time these last few days trying to track down why the contemporary name Louis, for one of Charlemagne's sons, shows up in his family tree lines.

Why call him Louis when the other sons don't have latinized - frankified names? Before Louis shows up, and when he shows up, and after he shows up, one sees Lothars in the tree, but no Ludovics or Ludowigs etc. These are germanic forms of Louis, They Say.

But I had learned that Louis is derived from Clovis -- and as we know, of course, it is a Clovis who was the first Merovingian king, and there were many other Clovii in Merovingian history.  But no, no, no! exclaimed another friend.  From the dox we know that Ludwig and variations are the names from which Louis derives, she informs.  That was puzzling enough to make me doubtful. If Louis comes from Ludwig, why did so many other scholars and historians state so confidently that Louis, pronounced 'lwi', derives from Clovis?

No wonder it's so difficult for English speakers to get a handle on early French history -- especially if like me, they don't know latin, German and French!  I haven't had time yet to begin my short stack of Charlemagne books, beyond finishing Towns and Trade in the Age of Charlemagne (1994) by Richard Hodges. These books might have given me the clues to follow, but, as said, I haven't had the time to immerse yet -- though, yah, without a clue I did foolishly devote hours digging in the web. But I couldn't find anything until a friend gave me a couple of links.

These links didn't provide any linguistic information of the sort I was looking for -- but from them I did learn something fundamental -- so fundamental that it is duh -- but only if I'd read these Charlemagne books which I haven't yet read would it be duh --
i) WIDEGO (-[after 22 Jun 823]). "Widegowi filii Warini comitis..." witnessed the charter dated 6 Jun 799 under which “Bernherus” donated property "in pago Rinensi in Locheim" to Lorsch[781]. "Witegowo" donated property "in pago Wormat. In Albecher marca" to Lorsch by charter dated 784[782]. "Widegowo et soror mea Reginburc" donated property "in pago Gardachgowe in villa Francunbach" to Lorsch by charter dated 806[783]. Emperor Louis I confirmed the donation of " pago...Lobotengowe in villa...Siggenheim", previously acquired by "Warinus quondam comes ad partem fisci nostri" and granted to “Widegowo comes per beneficium largitioinis nostræ”, to Lorsch by charter dated 22 Jun 823 [784].
This is in the 9th century, so it is Emperor Louis the Pius, Charlemagne's son (r. 1814 - 1840). Louis the Pious (b. 778 – 20 June 840), also called the Fair, and the Debonaire, was the King of Aquitaine from 781. He was also King of the Franks and co-Emperor (as Louis I) with his father, Charlemagne, from 813.

Fibula of the Carolingian period: copper, gold, and turquoise found at Chalandry in the musée de Laon
The second link my amiga provided mentions "Louis" only twice, once in the description of his mother's family and antecedents via the biography of Louis I written by a churchman named Thegan of Trier (or Degan of Treves), and once in the footnote citation. Thegan was a Frankish Roman Catholic prelate, author of Gesta Hludowici imperatoris, a principal source for the life of the Holy Roman Emperor Louis the Pious, the son and successor of Charlemagne. Louis I's mother was thoroughly German as was all her family -- but, this was what mattered in my quest for lwi/Louis --I learned that this son of Charlemagne was born, not in the germanic regions of his empire, but on soil that would be France.

Louis the Pious

So, finally, I search Louis I. At this link, the following was at the top for Louis I:
Alternative Titles: Louis le Débonnaire, Louis le Pieux, Louis the Debonair, Louis the Pious (and in Germany) Ludwig der Fromme
The takeaway for me, in terms of Louis I being not only lwi, but the first lwi, besides actually being born in what we now call France, is this:
" . . . (born April 16, 778, Chasseneuil, near Poitiers, Aquitaine [now in France]—died June 20, 840, Petersau, an island in the Rhine River near Ingelheim [now in Germany]), Carolingian ruler of the Franks who succeeded his father, Charlemagne, as emperor in 814 and whose 26-year reign (the longest of any medieval emperor until Henry IV [1056–1106]) was a central and controversial stage in the Carolingian experiment to fashion a new European society. Commonly called Louis the Pious, he was known to his contemporaries by the Latin names Hludovicus or Chlodovicus, which echo the Latin name of Clovis (c. 466–511), the illustrious founder of the Merovingian dynasty. Louis was appointed king of Aquitaine in 781 and was already a seasoned 35-year-old politician and military commander when he became coemperor with Charlemagne in 813. He was the fourth monarch of the Carolingian dynasty, preceded by his father; his uncle, Carloman; and his grandfather, Pippin III, the Short."
Damn!  I DID NOT KNOW that Clovis, Hludovicus or Chlodovicus were latinized versions of germanic names!  I assumed they were germanic names.  How stupid is THAT? Answer: Very Stupid.

So Louis is king of Aquitaine, the least gothicized of western France. Where then, presumably, they spoke some sort of "french" that would make a lwi / Louis out of Clovis. In the end they didn't speak the same form of French as the rest of France, but the language King Richard I learned as a child, and so did his mother, Queen Eleanor. Even now, in this region:
Many residents also have some knowledge of Basque, of a variety of Occitan (Gascon, Limousin, or Languedocien), or of the Poitevin-Saintongeais dialect of French.
Louis I lived in Aquitaine from age 3. His nurse was, it appears, to have been from a regionally indigenous family -- at least indigenous since the days of the Roman conquest -- though that region was also the least latinized in the days of Roman Empire, if I recall correctly. He was thoroughly Aquitaine-ized not only in his name, persumably.

So, oddly, perhaps, did this liw-ization of Clovis started in a language that didn't become the mainstream form of French? He did bring his Aquitanians with him to Paris after Charlemagne's death, and as they were his cohort from childhood, presumably into the German regions of the empire. Presumably I will learn more when I get my Charlemagne, Capetians and middle ages stack read.

I have to find a good history of the Viking incursions into France. By the time the William invades England these Norsemen are already speaking the French of Paris -- they arrived first in the reign of Louis I's son, Charles II (the Bald -- Charlemagne is the first Charles). (The siege of Paris was 845.)


Something else I have grasped this last week btw, which previously I did not know, for reasons I do not know, except, most likely, I wasn't paying attention: the first two European actions that later got called the Crusades, and the history of what was Outremere, were very much French affairs. That the French were the dominant European power in what they came to call Outremere must have had so much to do with the shaping of not only the literature and language of the courtly romance -- but also that of their fairy tales. This is one of the reasons the consciously composed French fairy tale is so different from those that the Grimm Brothers printed.

Yet it still took me until this week to overtly understand that the English had nothing to do with early formation of Crusade politics, manners and literature. (The Spanish didn't contribute either, as they were thoroughly occupied with the Reconquista. That, at least, I always understood.)

Not until relatively recently -- o say the last couple of decades, did I overtly recognize that England didn't go on the First and Second Crusades. The civil war between Matilda and Stephen prevented English participation in the First Crusade. Then Henry II needed to put together and hold together his own empire, so though he contributed funds to the Second Crusade, he and his men stayed in Europe.

But we've so identified King Richard the Lion Heart with the third Crusade, that we / me English speakers have the unexamined presumption that the English were present in the earlier actions. It may also be partly due to Henry II's marriage to Eleanor -- who did go on the Second Crusade with her husband King Louis VII -- and that she was Richard I's mother, who did go as far as Sicily with his wife, Berengaria of Navarre, during the Third Crusade. It's in this era of Eleanor's daughter by Louis VII, Marie of France, the Countess of Champagne, and Richard, Duke in Aquitaine, we see the outpouring of courtly romances* (in the Holy Roman Empire too, because of Conrad and Tancred who were Crusade monarchs too). These are some of the roads to the romances' treatment of the Matter of Grail -- and how it enters into England, where it gets married to Arthur and The Matter of Britain. This, even though Richard spent barely any time there, and Henry didn't either. But Henry did have a continental empire, and the movement of churchmen and his administrators between the continent and England was constant.

Some nights ago all this came to mind while I watched the French live action La belle et la bête  / Beauty and the Beast (2014 France, 2017 US).  Live action, produced in France, it is so different from the Disney versions.  It was adult in attitude, and even more so, it contained in decor and manner a through line that I swear goes back at least to the Crusading era.

So that's my next French quest.  When did that transition happen, from Frankish to French?  It wasn't in the Carolingian era, which is its own distinct period from the Merovingian or the Capetian.

* Several of the most well-known French courtly love romances include events that were inspired by events in Queen Eleanor's and Henry's lives, such as The Knight of the Cart, in which Queen Guenivere is abducted, and rescued by Lancelot. After Eleanor's grant of divorce, as she traveled back to Poitiers, two lords – Theobald V, Count of Blois, and Geoffrey, Count of Nantes (brother of Henry II, Duke of Normandy) – tried to kidnap and marry her to claim her lands.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

It's Done - He Did It

     . . . . For months he threatened he was going to make cornbread. 

Weeks ago he acquired the essential cornmeal.

Yesterday, he did it.

     . . . . At my suggestion he baked it in the miraculous Bayou cast iron deep skillet. O my, what a perfect crust all around and bottom it made. The slices came off the cast iron with barely a crumb left behind.

After the recommended baking time he did the toothpick in the middle test, and then cut out a teeny chunk. He thought it was quite done enough in the middle. I said just put the skillet back in the now shut off oven.

I thought the middle was baked sufficiently already, but he wanted more, and he was the baker.

It was perfect by his reckoning when he pulled it out again some minutes later.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

To Great Cheering, He's Down!

     . . . .VIDEO - Removal Of General Robert E. Lee Statue Monument From Lee Circle In New Orleans.

And it is accomplished to the accompaniment of the sort of celebration that can happen only in New Orleans.

What has always puzzled me about this particular New Orleans's CSA monument centers around the facts that Lee had no connection with New Orleans or Louisiana beyond sailing to San Antonio there at the outset of the invasion of Mexico in the Mexican American War. 

In the War of Southern Aggression Lee was all about, and only about. 'defending' Virginia. 
He wasn't even general of the Army of Northern Virginia when New Orleans and Louisiana were defeated and occupied by the Union forces.  He never had anything to do with Louisiana and the western states ever. This was unlike, o say, Sherman, who was superintendent of the Louisiana Military Academy when the War of Southern Aggression was declared.

A large standing bronze of Abraham Lincoln with the Emancipation Proclamation, by sculptor Leonard Wells. Is this not at least as much to historically honored as those who fought and killed for the sake of the expansion of slavery?

Contradicting those who defend these monuments, erected many years after Appomattox, as having nothing to do with slavery, but as preservation of our historical heritage, is there have been no monuments raised to Sherman or Grant in New Orleans. Nor, for that matter, have any been raised to Lincoln, though there was of Jefferson Davis (that one was been removed earlier). 

In other words, these monuments are part of the revisionist history of the United States, another white-wash of our national shame of slavery, telling a false tale of our history, and then glorifying the lies. This is why these monuments to owners of slaves need to be removed.*


Equestrian statue honoring Andrew Jackson in Jackson Square, New Orleans.

*  I am no defender of Andrew Jackson (see the account of him in our The American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave Breeding Industry), who was a slave dealer and slave owner, an Indian killer, and hater of the English and anyone who crossed him. 

Nor am I generally a defender of that catastrophic War of 1812 (though the Brits were behaving most thuggishly).

However, the monument honoring Jackson in New Orleans memorializes his defense of the city against the British invaders, not his Indian massacres or slave dealing -- though of course that great Battle of New Orleans was fought after the treaty ending the War of 1812 had officially been signed. Yet the battle was fought, and the Americans under his leadership did soundly defeat the Brits -- helping wipe away the many shameful defeats of US forces elsewhere, including the catastrophe that was the US invasion of Canada.  So yah, I can see logic to having that kind of monument, which carries a very different meaning and significance than the ones honoring those who blatantly, publicly and loudly declared war on the United States in order to preserve and expand slavery everywhere in North America -- and even into Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America -- and even the most rabid of the secessionist fire eaters declared -- into the Pacific.

Friday, May 19, 2017

A Small Stack of Charlemagne

     . . . . I wake, push my toes painted a pretty pink into my sparkly Italian leather flip flops,

I love sparkly!

put on my glasses -- and beam at my escape reading, as I start the tea. I pet the books while ye pooter boots.

- Capetian France 987 - 1328 (1980) by Elizabeth M. Hallam
- Charlemagne (1998) by Roger Collins
- Towns and Trade in the Age of Charlemagne (2000) by Richard Hodges
- Charlemagne (2005) by Derek Wilson
- Charlemagne (2016) by Johannes Fried

By golly, one way or another, I am vowed to learn how and why 'Louis" as a name for the ruling family showed up -- seemingly, to my ignorance, out of nowhere -- as a name in the Carolingian dynasty, first as the name of one of Charlemagne's sons.  Really how we get from all those Pippins to Louis? Pippins are still generally goth.  But Louis, Louis now, that's pure French.  It's a mystery.

Throne of Charlemagne in Aachen Cathedral.
I have vowed as well to discover the how and why the Carolingians then became a dynasty called 'Capetian'.  (I am entirely unclear as to how and when Capetian gave way to Valois as well, though a bit more clear re 'Bourbon' because that's more related to Spanish history, which I know rather a bit better than French.)

I have gotten clear, which was one of my goals, on how the Gothic Long-Haired Kings got to be the Merovingian dynasty, and then dissolved into the Carolingian dynasty, the members of which by the late 600's, were already holding the reins of actual Frankish power in the position of mayor of the palace ( maior palatii or majordomo -- maior domus) for the ineffective by now ineffective Merovingians kings of the northeastern kingdom of Austrasia.

Pope Leo III Crowns Charlemagne Emperor of Rome.
This event sets the stage for centuries of  invasion and conflict among
the Austrias, Germanies, the Italies, France and Spain.

Viking siege of Paris 845.

Another of my goals is to achieve a better, detailed knowledge of of Charlemagne and the Capetians and the Viking invasions of Frankia.  One thing about which I am now clear is that the Saxons, Avars and Danes were of far greater concern to the king, crowned Emperor of the Romans by Pope Leo III on Christmas Day in 800, than ever were any Saracens from anywhere -- contrary to the Legend of Charlemagne.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Netflix's Anne With An 'e' -- First Responses

     . . . . These are the thoughts after having watched the first two episodes of Anne With An 'e'.

First edition, 1908, initially published in the US -- not Canada --,by L.C. Page & Co. -- of Boston, Massachusetts.  Shades of Louisa May Alcott!* 

  .... The Anne With An 'e' writers were careful to think out all the aspects of the original text by Canadian author, Lucy Maud Montgomery (1874 - 1942). The series is both as enchanting as an initial read of Montgomery's novel, and appropriately terrible, at least through the first two episodes. The actors are exactly right. The series was conceived and produced holistically, not as separate tasks. This makes it a pitch perfect interpretation in terms of place, time, events and characters.

Some of those who watched this latest translation to screen of Anne of Green Gables on the CBC earlier this spring, or from screeners, have been angry at the changes. However, as I see it, there are no changes from what is in the text.  What has changed is that a part of what is contained in the text is not glided over, as Anne herself skates us over, what is contained in the smooth rush of her relentless vocalizing.

This television series gives space to the terrible life that Anne led before being adopted by Prince Edward's Island's Marilla and Matthew. She was orphaned at three months, without family, friends or any other resources. As soon as she was old enough to do anything at all the orphan asylum hired her out (that is the word always used then and there -- asylum). She was treated as badly as any US antebellum little slave girl could have been. Additional torment was meted out by adults and sister orphans alike, because she was the opposite of a pretty little girl, and worse, a homely child who would not keep quiet, and whose intelligence showed itself at every turn.  There is ample reason for the netflix series to have Anne identify herself with Jane Eyre, one of the many books she omnivorously has devoured.

One of the many brilliancies of the book is that not being a conventionally pretty little girl with pretty clothes, is that she is mocked and the odd one out for that.  But she exhibit neither saintly forgiveness nor a superior ability to rise above the lacks of feature and closet.  Instead these lacks are turned inward by herself upon herself, part of both abuse-induced trauma and self-hatred.  Anne resembles in no way the cliched YA heroine who hates feminine manners and clothes Instead she, like Jo March longs to be pretty, and like Meg March longs to possess lovely clothes.  In other words she is far more real than most YA female protagonists of thirteen.

There are mentions of these extended traumas by Anne, glancing and in passing, in the book's text -- which I first encountered at the same age that Anne is in the book. But the extravagant spillage of Anne's chatter and language, her passion, her instinctive sympathy with Nature, her imagination, keep the reader successfully suspended above these dark, dangerous serpentine, swift currents beneath the bright veneer of her mythos-making that conceals from everyone, most of all herself, that at best, life has nothing to offer her, but bleak privation.

What is brilliant about Montgomery's writing choices is that the closer I was to Anne's character in the first years of re-reading Anne of Green Gables, the less I noticed these dark currents and the slithers of terror in her revelations. I was mesmerized by all the other parts of her that I -- and countless other readers -- saw reflected in Anne of myself: her passion,  love of words, her love of school -- I even attended a one-room school like she did! -- history and fiction, her hatred of her own name and yearning for something more Romantic, a pull toward everything that she, at thirteen, labels as "Romantic," her real grief that she isn't pretty and has only practical, sensible and ugly things to wear -- united with knowing what others around her do not from history and books -- that transforms everything around her and her companions into a joyeous, delightful, beautiful, adventurous and -- yah -- Romantic realm. She could always come up with something new and interesting for her friends to play.

Anne suffers from Traumatic Stress Disorder. She copes by language, not with guns, she copes by turning to self-hatred, a form of self-harm -- for not being pretty.  She also copes by imagining a different primary identity -- Anne, who also plays at a host of other identities, such as princesses and heroines  -- not the abused Ann of beatings, starvation and the constant filth of others that she must clean up. It's not a change from the text, in other words, but an addition of emphasis. In this era it is equally obvious that no one, including herself, knows about this psychological process, in that era prior to WWI.

In that era the condition of orphans everywhere, as in Canada, was scandalously horrific. Changing this was part of the era's Reformist movements objectives. It was anything but uncommon for orphans to be abused physically and emotionally. Death before adolescence or even during adolescence was a common outcome.  No one mourned.

Particularly this was the case for the Irish orphans left in Canada from the ship loads of immigrants attempting to flee the Irish famines. The ships arrived with death voraciously aboard in the form of typhoid, cholera and other contagious diseases. Instead of attempting to care for the ill, The coffin ships, as they were called, were anchored off shore -- often without adequate medical attention, food or other supplies provided while the diseases raged aboard. **

I didn't know any of this when first encountering Anne at age twelve, As we see from her name, Ann Shirley, her "poor as church mice parents" were Irish. The Irish were treated even worse in Canada in that era than in the US, and we were awful enough.

As to be expected there are viewers who resent this emphasis on the backstory of Anne of Green Gables. They believe giving it a larger place in the story today is sacrilege to the 'true book'.  They want the Anne of their childhood memory, a comic adventure, perpetually sunny Red-Haired Girl, as she's known by myriads of Japanese tourists to Prince Edward Island. We North Americans want the Anne played by Megan Follows***  in the 1985 CBC version, followed by a Disney sequel.**** All of these reject the abused orphan Ann, who, for our sake and her own, has masked herself in swathes of language and dreams -- they want that one to be the only Anne.

However, the text makes clear always there were at least two Anns -- Ann and Anne.  Anne was made possible by Marilla and Matthew, who could appreciate this friendless child's only armor and weapons for survival and making her way:  her passion, strength of will (which includes her fiery temper), imagination, and intelligence. They saw the abused child as well, and had the sympathy -- Anne's word! -- which is one of the forms of imagination -- Anne's word too! -- to understand that this would indeed make her behave differently from the conventional expectation of a child's behavior.  That this could indeed have her 'act out,' as we call it now, but that her acting out was to overtly dramatize, not be 'bad.'  They saw that her core was was, in the language of the time, pure and good -- and honest -- and that her innate goodness and her outer Anne could blossom with proper nurturing -- i.e. in the language of the time, the influence of a good Christian home.

Having ordered a boy orphan and gotten Anne instead, Marilla says she must be sent back, but she sees that Matthew is reluctant.  What good can a girl do for them with all this farm work as they grow old, Marilla asks. Matthew's response is, "Maybe we should ask what good we can be for her."  He well knows his sister's piety is authentic.  This is what a Christian should ask in this situation.  These two are at least as brilliant creations as Anne herself.


* We may perhaps see some of Montgomery's own imagination at work here, according to this article about Irish orphans.  But Canadian novelist, Margaret Atwood, among others, have employed this historical event in her fiction.  That abuse and mistreatment of orphan children, and poor children, or just children, was rife in Europe and North America are no myth, however, as the historical and even legal records show here, here and here.


 Anne has generally been vastly dis-serviced on the screen in the same ways and approaches as has Louisa May Alcott's Little Women. Which reminds me that  An Old-Fashioned Girl,  Eight Cousins and its sequel, Rose in Bloom, should be purrfect for television series, set as they are within the wealthy Boston mercantile families in the era after the War of Southern Aggression, in what is called the Gilded Age.  Need I say I still have all these books, and more, as well as my copy of Anne of Green Gables?

***   Megan Follows most recently has been applauded in the role of Queen Catherine d' Medici, mother of Henri IV, in the historical travesty soap opera, Reign. -- mostly filmed in wintery Canada and Ireland!  However, there is a fiction writer part of me, as opposed to the historian, who believes staunchly that Anne with an 'e' would glory in in Reign, and play-act all the roles herself, not least that of the Queen Mother who is -- sometimes and sometimes not -- so cruel to Princess Mary.  There are enough princesses and beautiful clothes to even satisfy Anne of Green Gables! Moreover many of the important locations were in wintry Ireland and Canada. What goes round comes round, and Anne would know that.

* * ** Both, but particularly the Disney sequel, were so cloying for this watcher that I gave up on them after a few scenes.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Sorrow, Imagination, Amethysts and Wine: Anne With An E

     . . . . We have begun planning for M's Memorial and, later, his funeral.  The first obituary went up today, in Art News.  More are in the works for other publications.

Grieving and death are tiring.  I have been having so many dreams of M, in which he speaks.  I also have dreams in which his Haitian wife, M, also speaks.  But they are always separate dreams, and the two of them are not ever in the same dream.  Just as now, they can never be together as they used to be, the way so many of my memories of them have them.

The sky has turned sullen again.  A damp, chilly mass of air has moved in on the back of damp, chilly wind.  The rain that shall wash us here all weekend begins after midnight.  Every chronic ache and pain from the nerves pinched and rubbed raw by the damaged vertebrae are screaming right now.

El V's having yet more music tonight, way uptown.  This is his best way of coping.

Me, well, first I've wrapped myself in lovely Shetland wool.  Then I donned my amethyst rings, earrings and pendant.

 I have poured a glass of a wine the shade that my imagination presumes is the same purple Homer meant by "wine-dark sea."

One of the wine store caballeros gave me some sprays of lilacs from his courtyard.  His bushes are overwhelming all the space, so he was giving out branches he's pruned out to regulars whom he thinks will like them.

Thus, I am prepared to watch the first episode of netflix's production of Anne of Green Gables, "Anne With An E," which went up for streaming today.

Somehow, I feel Anne would enter into this with entire sympathy -- another word Anne with an e employed enthusiastically.

This version of Anne spends a bit more time on the dark side of her life before coming to Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, it is said, than the sunlit days.  This shall suit very well, me thinks.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Flower Fox - National Geographic Travel Photographer Contest

[ "     . . . .  The National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest is now under way, and entries will be accepted until June 30. The grand-prize winner will receive a 10-day trip for two to the Galápagos Archipelago with National Geographic Expeditions. National Geographic was once more kind enough to allow me to share some of the early entries with you here, gathered from three categories: Nature, Cities, and People. The photos and captions were written by the photographers, and lightly edited for style. " ]
Flower Fox - On one spring day, he took a nap. After that, he appeared from a flower nest. 
© Takahiro Sato / National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Reading: Rome, Merovingians, Charlemagne, the Middle Ages & the US War of Independence

     . . . .Having the night before finally finished reading Ian N. Wood's The Merovingian Kingdoms 450 - 751 (1994), way back on May Day night (the 1st) we began our new Read-Aloud-Before-Bed work: The Middle Ages (2014) by Johannes Fried, trans. by Peter Lewis.

Guess with whom The Middle Ages begins? Theodoric and Boethius, of course, whom I first met at the start of the year in The Ruin of the Roman Empire: A New History (2009) by James O'Donnell, which I lived with for some very happy weeks early this year, as well as in Wood's book.

Fried's Middle Ages covers 500 A.D. up to Columbus's voyages to the New World and Luther's Reformation -- though not the voyages or the Reformation per se. I approve of his perspective that the Middle Ages end decisively with the invention of printing, the incalculable extracted wealth out of Africa, North America,  the Caribbean and South America, and the protestant revolution -- which latter, perhaps, couldn't have happened the way it did either, without two entire continents suddenly available to pillage.

El V had been reading The Middle Ages by himself for a long time but whenever there was an interruption -- and there were many,  Cuba being only the most lengthy -- he had forgotten anything he might have absorbed. He would start over because upon resumption it felt as f he'd never read it at all. He loves the author's view of time and geography and everything about how the translation is working. He thinks though, he didn't have enough prior historical knowledge that would allow him enough focus to truly comprehend, and thus remember.

Working with Woods's book the way we did, reading it aloud together, as much as we made fun of it, laughing and giggling, still, we remembered the material. So we decided to do Fried's book this way too. It's a lot longer, however. Already though, I can tell Fried is a great historian, and a very good writer. All the messy non-organization an other problems of Woods's book -- none of that for Professor Fried! Germans are terrific scholars of the Middle Ages anyway, especially those who take a long and wide view.  However, he is not an historian for the general reader.  He's an historian for those who have the tools to read carefully and follow long, complex arguments and whose minds already possess a fairly detailed outline for European history in those 1500 years.

Kirkus review of The Middle Ages here.

This second review that includes Fried's book is worth reading if only to remind oneself -- if one needs reminding -- that one cannot rely on reading a single work to learn what needs to be known about an era, an event -- or anything at all, for that matter. This is true if only due to the unconscious biases of the authors, which, by the way, includes reviewers themselves, and those who publish them.

For myself, the second Roman history by which I've been  engrossed this year was The Rise of Rome: The Making of the World’s Greatest Empire (2012) by Anthony Everitt. It's the most detailed account of the founding of the city of Rome and pre-Caesarian Rome I’ve read. It's particularly good with the Etruscans and Carthagenians, and the pre-Republic wars with the Greeks.

I admired so much the author's way with latin, matter-of-factly dropping in information, without digressing or making anything of it. For example, he will inform the reader that a position such as pontifax comes from the original duties of building, guarding and repairing the bridges -- pontem. Bridges and ships -- another Latin word that matters -- rostrum:
Latin Rostra, plural, a platform for speakers in the Roman Forum decorated with the beaks of captured ships, from plural of rostrum] a : an ancient Roman platform for public oratorsb : a stage for public speakingc : a raised platform on a stage. 
Not only do these bits illuminate the  surrounding content, but provoke delight.

I've begun a third Roman history, Adrian Goldworthy's (2016)  Pax Romana: War, Peace and Conquest in the Roman World. It's too soon to know what I think of it yet, but so far it's very promising.

Another history read this spring was Kathleen DuVal's (2015) Independence Lost: Lives on the Edge of the American Revolution -- an account of the English colonists, the various Native tribes, and the French and Spanish in the Floridas, Louisiana and the Mississippi territories and their conflicting support for the War of Independence or those who preferred to stay loyal to England.

But now it's all Charlemagne, all the time.

Last week el V brought home for my pleasure Towns and Trade in the Age of Charlemagne (2000) by Richard Hodges. This slender book made me hug and kiss him! It's one of the titles in the Debates in Archaeology series. It deals with what I've been trying to figure out since my attempts to get a handle on the Merovingians and the Franks. While giving credit where credit is due, this book clearly lays out the refutation to the Pirenne Thesis, which I've been doubting for quite some time, which, in fact, provoked a lot of this reading in the first place.

The most extensive unfolding of Pirenne's Thesis is found in his works, Medieval Cities: Their Origins and the Revival of Trade (1925),  and Mohammed and Charlemagne (1935).

The Pirenne thesis was propounded by Belgian historian Henri Pirenne. In his famous essay on Mohammed and Charlemagne (1937) Pirenne argued that the continuity of Roman civilization in transalpine (northern) Europe after the fall of Rome, created real change in Europe came from the rise of Islam, not barbarian invasions.[1] His famous summary said, "Without Islam, the Frankish Empire would have probably never existed, and Charlemagne, without Muhammad, would be inconceivable."[2] That is, he rejected the notion that barbarian invasions in the 4th and 5th centuries caused the collapse of the Roman Empire. Instead the Muslim conquest of north Africa made the Mediterranean a barrier, cutting western Europe off from the east, enabling the Carolingians, especially Charlemagne to create a new, distinctly western form of government.
Since the 1980's historians who disagree with Pirenne's Thesis have gained a great deal of critical acceptance, which goes along with their choice to characterize that whole long period between the 5th century and 1500 as the Middle Ages. Historians of these matters divide themselves, according to academic jargon, as 'optimists' and 'pessimists'. Hodges is an unabashed 'optimist' -- as is, for that matter, Woods.

They tend to agree that Rome never did fall, per se, particularly when factoring in the endurance of Rome in the east. Archaeology's discoveries have played an enormous role in these matters since the 1970's, which weren't in play for Europe in the era of the World Wars. Prior to this historians of Europe seldom if ever included archaeology's studies and discoveries in their scholarship, which they do now.  Digs at emporia sites such as Viking era, Birka, Dorestadt in Friesland, founded specifically for trade, with their goods, mints, monesteries and trade routes across the eastern Rhineland, the Black Sea and down to Constantinople make persuasive argument in favor of the optimists.

Johannes Fried biography here.
Then, yesterday when I was at the library to pick up materials on the conflicts between Bonanza farming and smaller homesteading farmers in the Red River Valley, I spied two copies of a book displayed in the new book section. It was Fried's Charlemagne!  I've been so longing for a good biography of this figure! Also translated by Peter Lewis, Charlemagne is even more hefty than Fried's Middle Ages covering 1500 years.  Admirably, in this age of subtitles that cram in every possible key search word, as with his 2014 The Middle Ages, Fried kept to the most simple title possible -- a single word.

These are the first sentences of the Preface:
"The following book is not a novel, but it is a work of fiction all the same -- a fiction based on this author's visualization of Charlemagne. And even though the resulting image does, quite properly, adduce all the available evidence from the period in question, it is nonetheless subjectively formed and colored. It is impossible nowadays to fathom the depths of a life lived more than twelve hundred years ago, so the only thing remaining for a writer to fall back on is his own imagination . . . . Perhaps those same critics will also censure this author for the way he has chosen to approach his subject, although all they would be able to offer would be a different, no less subjective and fragmentary image.  An objective portrayal of the great Carolingian ruler is simply not possible."
El V in particular loved hearing this, from the PW review, as he just cannot get enough of Spanish history prior to Cristobal Colon's voyages.
Fried also elucidates the role the Franks played in Spain, both in the battle against the Basques at Roncevalles (778) and in later dealings with the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphates.
Win-win for us both.

We decided to buy Charlemagne. It's too extensive a work not to have on hand for reference. It's going to take me the rest of the year to read it through as it's such a dense accomplishment of scholarship and interpretation.

Also, as the author's German, deeply concerned with the philosophical significance of historical temporality (reminds me here very much of Jan Assman's The Mind of Egypt:History and Meaning in the Time of the Pharaohs (2002) in particular, not to mention other of Assman's works which I / we have not read, alas), and its a translation, the text and syntax are thick, ungraspable by skimming pixels on a screen.

Sometimes while reading I feel as if the signification of the sentence and paragraph are water I'm attempting to pick up with my hand and pour into my organ of comprehension -- the significance drains away before it gets to the mind.

So German, this temporal -- as opposed to chronological narrative -- approach to history as meditation on time itself.  One can see it, and how it has influenced modern historians, as with the Annales School -- so French! --  (at least now I can see it, I couldn't of course when I first encountered the Pirenne Thesis as an undergrad). As my linear track, narrative-oriented mind lacks any philosophical bent, and this massive life's work of scholarship is pinned to philosophical concepts of time and and interpretation -- you can imagine my struggles.

These are the books that have been my consolations in the previous 12 days. At the end of April we received the terrible, unexpected news that someone very dear to us both had been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.  M's diagnosis was four months more at most.  It didn't take anywhere near that long, thank goodness as he was in terrible pain. He passed early Friday morning.

His wife and daughter are devastated. M has produced a significant, beautiful, strong, body of art over his career, so dealing with his estate is complicated.  Handling his funeral and / or memorial is also not straight-forward for several reasons, starting with the fact that he was a fully trained and initiated houngan in the Vodun religion.  Several of their friends are working with his wife, helping her to make the decisions and take the actions, both spiritual and practical.

At the same time over the past 6 days quite a few of the March Oriente Travelers were here to participate in the first reunion.  During these days some of them who live here, including el V, had had music gigs long scheduled.

So it's been a busy, complicated, sorrowful, and happy run of time since I posted last.

I am so grateful to have the consolations of friends, music and history to get me through these very sad times.