". . . 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

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Xalapa Siete - Hangin' with los Muertos

     . . . . Our official work is concluded, so we're trying to relax and see as much of this city and state as we can before leaving.

This is the weekend before el día de los muertos (November 1), which is in full swing festivities aleady, making traffic worse, but making every blink of the eye filled with something interesting and fun. Even so, last night, after all the long day of Slave Coast events, I fell out and slept for nearly 12 hours last night.  When last did I do that when not sick?

But awesome el V, after a 45 minute nap, went to work, reviewing essays of his NYU students, and then attended Donald Harrison Jazz Symphony, with himself and his group playing with the Xalapa Symphony Orchestra.  Then, he went to the reception afterwards.  He got in about 1:30 AM.  I never heard him, even though I'd been sleeping for hours already by then.

So much has happened, and so much continues to happen, all this, running in parallel with the city's ever intensifying Day of the Dead celebrations. 

Today is cool and a little rainy. El V and I went to a Day of the Dead tamale festival, where I found cool regalos for mis amigas, including lots of items made out of chocolate (which grows here, btw) and are formed into images that roll with el dia de los muertos. Since I get back Monday, I will be able to give them out on Halloween, most appropriately.  There were many groups of dancers and bands from all over, performing, one after another, including some splendid flamanco, one of my favorite forms of dance - music.  This is going on everywhere!  Actually, it feels like the week of Mardi Gras in New Orleans.  Donald thinks so, and he ought to know.


El V bought local artisan cervezas.  He also ate several different tamales -- and then we went to lunch with Donald and the guys.

Tonight there's a very large Day of the Dead parade, that passes right by our Hotel Clara Luna, so I have a spectacular view of it from the second floor window overlooking the street. 

Tomorrow we are going to meet with an historian and anthropologist, whose study is the African cultures in the state of Veracruz.  She is the aunt of one of the tremendously talented volunteer organizers who has been herding all the gatos who are the talent of the festival. (Like everyone else doing the actual work, she hasn't slept in days, so I feel a real wimp-fool for my 12 hours fall out last night. El V is particularly excited as Dr. Sagrario Cruz-Carretero is very famous at the CUNY Grad Center among our anthro friends there.  He says, "How envious they will be when we tell them!"

I have uploaded yesterday's and today's photos, but I'm too tired right now to post any of them. But they are colorful!

Ooo, I am hearing the squeals, yells and screams from the people in the street already as the parade begins!  And now I hear the bands!

Xalapa Seis -- Post Slave Coast Performance

     . . . . Considering the sheer talent and the number of dedicated professionals who have been working since late last winter - early spring on the live American Slave Coast performance with Donald Harrison and musicians, it does seem surprising that last night at the State Theater "Gral. Ignacio de la Llave" was a success.

In any case, everyone involved is happy, pleased and satisfied as to how the centerpiece came off and was received.

Two of our new friends, the Ph.D. candidates who guided us through the Museo de Antropología de Xalapa, made two observations that particularly struck me:

1) "After learning all this about los negroes in the United states, I think I am even glad that it was the Spanish who conquered us and not the British";

2) "This is where all this jazz, these Blues, all this music that we are celebrating here in Xalapa has come from -- tragedy.  We had no idea of any of this."

Now, interviews.  Then the academic presentation.  

Woo -- this altitude is really kicking me.  I feel exhausted all the time, no matter how early I get to sleep and how many hours spent sleeping.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Xalapa Cinco -- Rehearsal, All Time, Slave Coast Performance

     . . . . So many rehearsals!  But none of them with the music.  But last night that happened, and it is good.  Alas, one of the actresses seems to be getting sick with a respiratory thing.  This truly, truly matters as she's the one who sings "My Old Kentucky Home." Pobricita.  She's worked so hard to get the song down right -- it hurts me on her behalf that this might go wrong for her.  Plus, she has another big performance tomorrow for another event as part of the festival.

Tech rehearsal at 2 PM.  I don't need to be there for that, as I'm audience tonight, pure and simple.  El V, however, is directing as go-between for the musicians and the actors, as the musicians don't speak Spanish, so he will be helping them know when the music windows arrive.  He is also running the slide show accompaniment to the delivered text.  He's put Spanish commentary with them, to help the audience further understand the significances of what it is hearing.  So he's got a lot to do.

Performance at 7 PM.  Yah, I admit to being excited to see the performance of Slave Coast.  I never did in New York, as I was on stage.

So far though, it's still impossible to believe that our adaptation for live performance from The American Slave Coast -- which totally dominated our lives for the five years of writing and nearly two years of touring --  is really being performed, live, on stage, with Donald Harrison and his musicians, and these wonderful actors, here! in Mexico! in Xalapa! something we've been thinking about for nearly a year now, and never able to actually conceptualize because we could have no idea of either location or the people involved until we ourselves were on the ground.  Now the time for it is nearly here, and every indication we've received is this is going to be a wonderful performance.

It's turned a lot cooler here.  We're both going to need sweaters, so while they are rehearsing, I will go shopping.

BTW, we can hear roosters in the morning.  I could live easily in Xalapa.   It has everything I need, including bookstores and libraries, food shopping is easy, cooking would be fun, the people are wonderful, my Spanish would get really good, and it is very beautiful.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Xalapa Cuatro + Reading On Wednesday

     . . . . Yesterday was a four-hour text rehearsal of "The American Slave Coast: A Reading of History With Music, as it is billed hereThis morning we did another four hours.  We'll finally get to have a rehearsal with the musicians, beginning at six this evening.  So that will go, who knows how long.

We're waiting at the moment to have lunch delivered to us in the hotel room because at four PM we have to do a "Conversation" at the university, with Donald Harrison and someone else I do not know, on the musical history connections among Veracruz, Cuba and New Orleans.  We're still working on the slides that go with the Slave Coast theatrical presentation tomorrow night, and trying to prepare for the 4 PM event.  We also have another one, specifically on the history of Slave Coast on Friday.

Navigating between Spanish and English, the Spanish translation and our English version, all of us -- the Director, the actors and el V and me -- attempting to get the words just right, etc., has left me feeling as though my head is filled with heavy rocks, very many very heavy rocks.  Among other trip and fall spots is that our Spanish tends toward the Cuban, and there are locutions and words and pronunciations we are used to that simply don't exist in the Spanish here among the Veracruz intellectual, artistic and university educated -- and vice versa.  Then there are the trip and falls that have to do with English into Spanish and Spanish into English.  It's been a cooperative effort, everyone from the original translator of our text, to the director and the actors and now us, to make it as fresh, lively and accurate as possible.

Everyone is giving at least 110% to our work. And even more. C, the actress who does the "Letter From Virginia", the heartbreaking, accidentally preserved letter to the infamous slave trader, R.C. Ballard, has memorized it.  She's presenting this complicated text as any actress would expect to.  In truth, it is an incredible role for an actress.  (When we did it at Symphony Space in New York a year ago, the readers were musicians, not actors -- and me who is no performer of any kind.) 

Virginia Boyd was light-skinned slave used by the slave trader and his cronies, passed around among them, literally as a sex slave, and by whom she had children.  Something happened -- we don't know what -- and she, who had had a relatively physically decent life, was no pregnant, which was causing trouble for some big white fella, and she's been sent away from the upper south, is now in a Texas slave pen waiting for auction.  She writing, begging to be spared this fate of being sold away with her children where she knows nobody at all -- and to what? a Texas cotton field?  Because she's now past her first beauty's bloom . . .  We don't know what happened.  It's only by an accident of history that this letter exists for us to read, for her name, Virginia Boyd, to be preserved, and for us to speculate about her.

It's incredibly painful to read.  The actress delivers the content in her native Spanish, and all of the terror, anger, incomprehension -- all of it comes through.  My Spanish isn't good enough to follow the words literally, but the actress's skills are so good that I can follow the feelings.  As mentioned -- this is one hell of a juicy opportunity for a professional actress -- which, of course, we'd never thought of previously -- so yah, she wasn't going to waste that opportunity.  Still, its one hell of a thing to see and hear.

     . . . . Not much reading this last week -- we arrived in Mexico last Wednesday!  It was late, and even later when we got into our hotel -- which had lost power, which had made it impossible for the cab driver bringing us from the airport to find it.  That was our first adventure . . . .

The only book I brought with me is Diana Gabaldon's Voyager, which is where the Starz third season now is -- also the volume after which I stopped reading the series.  The caricatures of non-euro people and the preposterous religion and history that takes over -- the author's ignorance of same, is why.  How the television series will handle this -- I hope better than the author did!  But the earlier sections of Voyager -- 1059 pages long, why yes that is correct, the novel is one thousand and fifty-nine pages -- are perfect get-out-of-where-one's-head/back-is escapism.

ETA:  Returned from the 4 PM conversation at 6 PM.  I am missing the music rehearsal of Slave Coast, because my spine went splah with pain in the chairs provided.  Need to sit stretched out now, with feet up and recover, to get through tomorrow's very long day's work and then the performance.

It also turned cold here today -- down into the 40's tonight and as the Conversation was semi-outdoors, despite my jacket, I got chilled.  Nevertheless, I did my best to follow along in the discussions of the 'negros' and their music in the Caribbean and here, in Veracruz and New Orleans in the 18th century -- which is the era in which the principals of Voyager arrive in this part of the world, leaving Scotland behind forever, maybe.

However, in this original time travel romance, it is impossible not to notice, that as long as Claire stays in her own time, Jamie's life reaches equilibrium.  The very moment she arrives back in the 18th century, it's rapine, murder and chaos, and ooops, on the run again!


Fats Domino has walked to heaven.  1928 - 2017.

We learned of this just prior to leaving for the Conversation.

Our guys, playing the Slave Coast music, are all New Orleans musicians who all knew him well.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Xalapa Tres

     . . . . The artists for the jazz festival started coming in last night.  But too many had horrible journeys here, due to Houston shutting down the airport and canceling flights yesterday due to intense rain.  The guys coming from New Orleans began at 3:30 AM, and didn't get into their beds until 2 AM today.

I began learning all this at lunch, which began sometime after three PM.  And soon I'll have to get ready for tonight's inaugural dinner and party.  I have no appetite . . . .

Because of the theater performance of the translated Slave Coast text with Donald Harrison and his group doing the music, I am in with those classified by the festival as "artist."  So far it seems I am the only woman!  Anyway, I was the only woman sitting at lunch.  (In Xalapa I am not only taller than everyone else, I am the only blonde I've seen.)


As mentioned this part of Mexico feels more like Spain than some other places.  Yesterday, duh! ya, figured out why, duh!

Veracruz is where Hernán Cortés de Monroy y Pizarro Altamirano, Marquis of the Valley of Oaxaca, set up the first Spanish shop in New Spain - Mexico.  He'd already helped do so for Cuba back in 1519, but he and the Cuban governor didn't get along, so into the Gulf of Mexico and to the mainland he sailed, despite the Cuban governor telling him to stay put.

Rio Huitzilapan (Hummingbird River) down a bit from Cortés's compound.

Horses are honored here, at the spot where they were landed to conquer the Aztec Empire for Spain.

Ceiba trees and their roots are everywhere in Cortés's palace compound ruins.

Coral from the Gulf was used with the basalt and mortar to make the walls of Cortés's compound, as well as the walls of fortification at San Juan de Ulúa.
Perhaps this is the oldest church on the mainland, built originally almost 500 years ago, part of Cortés's compound.  Nothing original remains, but this church in Villa Rica de la Vera Cruz still has congregants (little girls in their Sunday dresses were everywhere around it yesterday) and holds services.

It was in la Villa Rica de la Vera Cruz where Hernán Cortés first landed his armaments and men via the small barcos from his ships anchored in the Veracruz bay, up the Rio Huitzilapan.  We saw it!  and the ruins of his personal palace compound.

The prison at San Juan de Ulúa, reached by a bridge called the Bridge of Sighs, just like the bridge in Venice that prisoners walked to their incarceration, from which very few ever emerged.  Note the contemporary port machinery and technology everywhere.

The official administrative and military center was at what became the port of Veracruz -- begun 498 years ago at San Juan de Ulúa, a small island in the Gulf there.  We toured that fortress as well, which compound is enormous -- and now entirely surrounded by the present day port facilities (petroleum and petroleum products from the fields here, as well as many many other goods manufactured in this state including automobiles) and contemporary Mexico's naval yards and other military facilities. It's so extensive and complex that it is impossible to show it in an entire spread with any kind of camera.  Keep in mind, it was from this fortress that the Spanish beat the butts of Hawkins and Drake in the 1568  Battle of San Juan de Ulúa -- much to their shock and surprise.

So this is why the state of Veracruz feels so intensely Spanish-Spanish -- there's even Arabic language elements in signage and naming of places and things and people here. This is where the conquistadores came first to the southern hemisphere mainland, which soon they'd claim all of for Spain.  This is part of the great colonial territory that made the Spanish Empire an empire.  So many of the men who did this had little prospect of advancement, riches and prestige back in Spain, particularly since the conclusion of the Reconquista -- so to the New World they came, searching for fame and particularly fortune.  And it is the Caribbean and Mexico where they first found both.  Cortés died happy and rich, at home, in Spain, with a Spanish wife and children -- while historians continue to debate what happened to Malinche, his Azteca translator-concubine and the son he had by her, in his palace compound by the Hummingbird River.

As the festival begins now, maybe the sightseeing is over.

La Lucha!

     . . . .  Vaquero now has his own freestyle Mexican wrestling mask, so he too can become a superpowered wild man any time he wishes.

This happens every Sunday night in Xalapa, to the pounding of Rock, techno and other energetic forms of music.  It's a kind of martial arts ballet-acrobatic thing, intensely energetic and theatrical. It's a family affair, with mothers as enthusiastic about verbally abusing and killing the opponent they don't like as their little boys -- who are in heaven, wearing their own masks, of course, whether painted or pulled on.  A little later, little girls joined in then antics in the ring before and between bouts. Lots of cerveza is sold and drunk.

By the way, the number of emporiums in Xalapa selling comix, old and new, and that particularly advertise the availability of superhero books, is very high.

el Luchador Vaquero

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Xalapa Dos-Dos

We have returned from the Veracruz - Cortés expedition -- at the height of un bruto of heat and sun -- to find a beautiful blue and black winged butterfly perched on the mirror above the bathroom sink.  Butterflies of all kinds have been around us all day.  

   . . . . One particular part of yesterday's visit to  El Museo de Antropología de Xalapa have remained with me, recollecting with el V afterward, in my dreams last night, and talking about it with Patricá and her mother today. It has to do with women.

With a single exception that is one of the Colossal Great Heads, there is nothing representing women, the female side of life -- anything to do with them at all, in any of the epochs covered until we get to the last section of the chronology, which is the era of the Azteca Empire and then that of the collision of the Azteca and the Conquistadores at the beginning of the 16th century.

Our young woman guide said, "Wait, when we get there it will be good because this culture admired women."

In fact there was an entire gallery dedicated to female goddesses, and, then, of course, even children, those who died with their mothers during childbirth.  Among them is Tlazolteotl, the goddess of filth / dirt / lust. 


She is the one to whom people come to be cleansed of their crimes and bad deeds.  She is also then, of course, a goddess of the dead, and a translator between the duality of below and above.  I remarked, "Yah, of course, here, just like all over the world, men make a mess, and then expect a woman to clean it up and fix it for them.  Both of the two younger women jumped up and down, clapping and laughing, and going, "O yes, that's right, we're always having to do it."

The two males respectfully did not mansplain or interrupt.  Good guys they are!

When I brought this up with el V later, he responded, "Yah.  This is global by now, women knowing and noticing and its making a difference.  I hope. For s.ome of us men, anyway. I hope."

Today, in the car, to and from Veracruz, both Patricá and her mother, as a matter of course, spoke of women having the rights to be more than they have been allowed to be for so long.  One can see how much / how well! her mother has reared her lovely daughter.  It is so good to witness.

Once again I am struck so hard by the incredible being that a latina or latinx woman is, whether she's Puerto Rican, Cuban, or Mexican or Brasilian.  She's strong, educated, energetic, she gets things done, she is so brave.  She's also feminine in a way that I can never be, naturally and elegantly, and never worries about it either.

I am so fortunate that I am able to keep meeting women like this.  O yah, they sing and dance in a way I envy terribly!

     . . . . One other other thing from the museo comes back to me now.  I had noticed that there are shoe stores of every kind everywhere -- so many of them, and so large.  I saw it in Veracruz today too.  Beautiful shoes, boots, sandals, sneakers -- whatever one could want.  The male guide yesterday pointed out the shoes on the feet of so many of the representations we were viewing. 

Olmec Ball Player circa 1500 B.C.

 He said with pride, "We were making and wearing real shoes -- not moccasins or sandals -- 2000 years ago.  Are the number of shoe stores today connected with this, one wonders? 

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Xalapa Dos

     . . . . We have returned from five hours in the Xalapa - Veracruz Museo de AntropologíaWe had not only one, but two, private guides, one of whom speaks some English -- this is what she is studying at university -- and the other a Ph.D. student in the cultures of this part of Mexico.  They were splendid.   Patriciá was with us as well. Among other things, having these three people taking us through these eras of pre-Columbian and Spanish Mexico meant Ned and I were treated to many unofficial legends and lore that they have received from their own parents and grandparents -- these three were each a descendant of one of these indigenous cultures.

Our little group of five were totally fluent in Spanish with the exception of myself. Yet, sometimes it took all five of us, including me, to come up with the correct word in Spanish and English to express a meaning, particularly of everyday objects and practices. We enjoyed ourselves immensely.  I'm sure they did enjoy themselves as much as we did, because it was five hours and nobody was in the least obligated to be there for five hours.

One of the Olmec Great Heads which  date from at least before 900 BC and are a distinctive feature of the Olmec civilization of ancient Mesoamerica.  There are 17 of them; this museum has 9.  This one is known both as #1 (numbered in order of their recovery) and as it was the first one found, The King.  The stone is basalt, which comes from a long distance away from the region where the heads have been dug out. It weighs many tons.

The flat nose is a reflection of the jaguar's nose - face, which animal is of multiple significances of intensity including divinity, and which flows through all these cultures throughout the millennia
The museum itself is one of the most beautiful I've ever been in. It's built over a site that was an indigenous village when Cortés arrived, with burial sites, the pyramid, etc. of one of the subject groups of the Azteca. The architectural design deliberately suggests one of these edifices. There are those who claim to feel the power that still remains not only in the contents of the building, but what is under the ground. The museum is so elegantly and intelligently arranged that we go from the earliest eras up through the arrival of the Spanish in chronological order, and are able this way to see the continuations of the cultures across the millennia.

It was a miracle that my back was able to do this.  Fortunately, having private guides who were enjoying themselves, there were no objections to stopping so we could all sit and rest our feet and other parts, while the guides continued giving us stories, histories, legends and instruction.  That was how I managed.  But o do I hurt now!

Patricá, el V and I had lunch in a northern African Mediterranean restaurant afterwards.  Even el V was dragging his tail hard after this marvelous day.  We came back to our neighborhood.

Calle des Diamantes
El V picked up his suit and then we went through the calle des diamantes to look at the jewelry in this long outdoor market.  This being Saturday, all was packed.  But generally the streets and brick and mortar stores are always filled with real people, really interacting with each other and many material objects from roasting corn to be made into masa, and then into tacos! tortillas! and so many other things that are good to eat! to reading newspapers and discussing the contents (as can be imagined, the crisis de Espana and Catalonia is much in people's minds).

What is the most wonderful about being here is the presence of things, from flower markets, husking corn, people talking with each other, playing board games, card games, so many activities, recreational as well as work, that take place in real space and time -- not as pixels.  People have wifi -- many, many public wifi areas (so different from the USA) -- at home, at work, etc.  They have smart phones.  But they are not consumed by them -- at least so far.  They are not living in the internet online-order-and-deliver culture.  The sheer pleasure of stores, filled with attractive goods, good that are necessary to a smoothly running household, adequately staffed by interested, professional people -- the street as economic driver and social, political and cultural space!

Calle Enriqui, the cathedral.  One of its two towers was destroyed by lightening early in the 19th century -- twice.  so there remains only one tower, the people of Xalapa taking it as a sign to leave well enough alone.  Above the cathedral, in a men's shop two doors down from a Sears (!), el V found his suit.  Some distance up from the cathedral is our Hotel Clare Luna.
I have been missing this so much in the post digital age that is NYC and our neighborhood.  

Our neighborhood is packed with pedestrians and traffic, but this density is meaningless, for most of them neither live there nor work there -- they don't even live in the country.  Oddly, here, I revel in the density of pedestrian traffic, because these are the people who live and work there, and it has meaning.

We have at least been able to carve out neighborhood for us long-time residents along with St. Anthony's and some of the long time businesses such as the Bistro, but generally, it's just -- nada.  Tourists and those who extract their money and that's that.  No culture, so social life, no civil life.  I just hate it. 

In Xalapa, meaning still seems to exist among the younger generations as well. It goes on every day, all day, late into the night.  The amount of night life here, even beyond the cantinas, taco places, restaurants -- high end, low end -- theaters, movies, music -- is tremendous.  By the way, bookstores everywhere!  People sitting and waiting, like Patricá when we are in a meeting, reads a real book.  (I too read a real book while sitting around waiting.)

We saw it in Mexico City, the few hours we had between getting into the hotel and having dinner, and going to bed.  In the restaurant where we had our dinner, the young hipsters (it was one of those hipster heaven nabes), we were by far the oldest people there.  The other tables were people discussing politics and literature, playing -- monopoly! -- playing cards, playing games that I had no idea what they were, singing and occasionally getting up to dance. 

Like people in Xalapa and all over Mexico do, we take taxis all the time.  The drivers insert themselves into the conversation as a matter of course.  They like to talk. They seem all to speak English, as they seem to have been either born in the USA or lived there for a long time.  They all seemed to work more than one job in the US, had their own businesses and so on.  But all that entrepreneurial energy, that produced taxes for the public good and paid into our social security has gone back to Mexico, where their contributions and spirit may well transform their country into a global powerhouse, while we, with our mean ugly exclusive spirit goes broke while the obscenely wealthy appropriate whatever is left.  Nor is it only Mexicans that the USA is doing this to.  We are cutting our own gdded throats.

Tonight, we're supposed to be taken out by one of the people who has brought us to this festival, to visit an old school pulquería - cantina.  Popular street culture, el V wants, where he can hear Mexican music.  So far -- blues (the international hipster choice), jazz, etc., but no local Mexican music has been heard by him.  

Tomorrow is going to be another long day, as we drive to Veracruz, tour the castle fortress and look at various slave ship markets and other historical locations. 

Friday, October 20, 2017


     . . . . I've finally gotten it straight, probably because we are on the ground hereWe are in the state of Veracruz, in its capital, Xalapa.  This is not the port city of Veracruz, which is on the Gulf Coast, about an hour and a half away by car.  Xalapa also functions as kind of the equivalent of the Xalapa county seat: the muncipality government, which isn't the same as 'municiple'.

It is also the university town -- 20,000 students enrolled in Veracruz.  So government and students are its chief economy (and agriculture!) -- very like Austin, TX.  It also has three connected lakes, that to unknowing eyes appear to be a river, as does Austin.

But this is very Spanish, as the non-indigenous settlement began in 1519 with the arrival of Hernán Cortés, most definitely not Tex-Mex.  The city twists and winds, goes up, and goes down along steep grades.  Only the most dedicated here bicycle.

We came from Mexico City yesterday, via the Ardos bus line's Platinum (Platino) bus service.  The steps up to the coach, like the coach floor itself, is of polished wood.  There is enormous leg room.  The seats are double or single. The seats recline.  The footrests are adjustable from high to low.  The wifi is free, if one signs in with fb, linked in or twitter.  The movies, etc. are also free, and one does not need to sign in with anything.  One can charge all ones devices right there as well.  A lunch is provided.  The coach was filled up, but it felt otherwise, there is so much room.  Excellent, since the trip was 4 1/2 hours, of which most of it felt as though attempt to escape Mexico City.

I read Diana Gabaldon's Voyager, but mostly looked out the window.  The state of Veracruz is endlessly varied: volcanic mountains rising abruptly from the plains and valleys, forests, farming of all kinds from corn (lots of corn) to produce and fruit.  Lots of horses, cattle and even sheep.  The mountains are very high. It was like flying, one's ears were constantly stopping up and unplugging.
We were met at the station by Patriciá (how she pronounces it), a student who first studied architecture, graduated and started law school, and now is in the arts.  She decided she wanted art, not law, not architecture.  She's smart and nice, and our faciliator.

We're staying in the lovely and well-located Clara Luna Hotel, which has been refurbished and renovated to hark back to its heyday -- Mexico, the Caribbean's and South American's heyday, the 1930's and 1940's.  This was the musicians' hotel back then, so there is a lot of that sort of memorabilia but its integrated into the decor and furnishings, not something to look at.  Out room is huge and the bed is very comfortable.  This is good as we need to sleep a lot because we are still quite high above sea level, and our sea level systems are not used to this, particularly with all the going long stretches down steep grades and up steep grades.

The food is as wonderful as expected.

Luis Mario Moncada
And, now the most important thing.  We have been to a rehearsal of The American Slave Coast with the director, Luis Mario Moncada, who is Mexico's most respected adapter of English into Spanish language productions, as well as her most famous director.  His theater group is the oldest in modern Mexico, founded back in the 19th century.  He's on the faculty here, and the theater group's home is here, when not on tour.

Part of this morning's university's route to the rehearsal.
It is wonderful what they have done with Slave Coast.  We couldn't be more pleased and TASC couldn't be better served.  The actress who reads the letter from enslaved Virginia Boyd to the slave trader who is sending her and her pregnancy to Texas to be sold does it (in Spanish) with grace, pathos and just tears the heart out of one's body.

Everyone is so nice to us!  It's embarrassing as we're aware at all times of how intensely mean, nasty and contemptuously the USA is treating Mexico and Mexicans.  Paul Krugman gave a lecture in Mexico City the night we arrived (that was only Wednesday, two days ago!), which, hugely attended, got written up in all the media.  The gist, that all the newspapers (real newspapers and books are everywhere visible in Mexico!) stressed, of what Krugman said was -- very roughly translated:

The system of the US was designed by men who assumed that it would only be in the charge of sane men.  If someone was elected who turned out to be mad or a criminal, he would be impeached.  Thus the system would survive.  However, the system cannot survive a madman when all the powers of wealth and politics are being served by the madman.

After the rehearsal, and then lunch (4:30 PM, was lunch) Ned and I went back to what is one of the main shopping districts.  He bought and Italian suit for less than $300 in US money.  This morning we got the news a check is waiting for us back in the US, the last installment of our share of the profit for investing in the items from Morocco that DH brought back last year.  So a suit, that is altered in the shop for trouser length, etc. for less than $300 -- and gorgeous – El V looks so good in it! -- seems about right.   

El V would never have gotten it though, if I wasn't with him.  He picked out trousers first, that I thought were not of the quality he should be getting.  The young sales person was terrific, he kept bringing jackets.  I’d say the jacket, though very nice, its fabric didn’t harmonize with the fabric of the pants.  In the end we got a suit!  About damned time!

I'm skipping the music tonight.  Lunch was so late, I doubt I'll be hungry for dinner, which comes after the music, which will be around 10 PM, but maybe I'll join them.  This is all so Spanish -- and  different from Cuba, Puerto Rico, the DR, or the French Caribbean or even New Mexico.  But it isn't Spanish either, not quite -- it's Mexican, and one can see and feel it, though the differences are subtle and I haven't been here long enough to understand in any kind of detail.

I'm fortunate and privileged to have this experience, even as difficult as the last few days of getting ready and traveling have been.  For people with our infirmities mixed into the TSA regs and the airlines' determination to make it as ugly for the average person as possible, and then the wreckage of urban sprawl and traffic to get to and out of the airports, it is increasingly difficult but we're always treated so well when we arrive, and we learn and experience so much.

I'm still running at least 24 hours behind, in attempting to process and remember everything since arriving in Mexico.  It's a lot -- for one thing, it just suffered a terrible earthquake, and I don't forget that.  Here in Xalapa, they had weeks and weeks of rain and flooding -- then a hurricane.

This end of summer has been awful for so many.  Hopefully things finally may settle some for a while -- at least weather-wise . . . .

Friday, October 13, 2017

Bill Clinton Reviews Ron Chernow's Biography of Ulysses S. Grant

     . . .  I sent the link to Bill Clinton 's review of Ron Chernow's new biography, Grant, to el V. 

For the reviews in this post I am providing url instead of a links, as these reviews are behind The NY Times paywall: 

El V's response was dismissive: "It's like Clinton's seeing these ideas of Grant for the first time."

To which I responded, "Clinton is a southerner. When he was growing up, the mainstream, and even scholarly academia hadn't begun to admit and confront that our received history of the Civil War was a falsified, revisionist one. It's even more recently that scholarly academics have begun to view the 20th century accounts of Grant as man, general and POTUS as part of the received revisionist Glorious Lost Cause history, and actively correct it. So yah, it could well be that Clinton is seeing this information of the real Grant for the first time." 

El Vaquero thought that made sense and wondered why it hadn't occurred to him while reading B-linton's piece as it did to me.

Over the years I have read many works about Grant as biography, as general, as president, as writer, etc. This includes the books written by his family. And books about and by his closest associates -- friends, family, politicians, soldiers. Still, I am looking forward a great deal to Chernow's Grant, despite having not time to get to it right now.  As it's nearly 1000 pages long, it's too big to take along to Mexico, to where we go in a few days for the live Slave Coast performance, academic conference etc.  I don't want an e-version since I need the cites and reference pages, as well as the index. Then there are the more than a few reviews that sniff Chernow's book has little or nothing original to say about Grant. But Chernow's an effective word slinger and a conscientious connector of researched historic dots.

Additionally, one does doubt these the reviewers actually have read the whole thing, any more than most of the reviewers of Hillary's book read all her book either (which I have, btw -- it's part of the first draft of this phase of US history, thus essential).

Janet Maslin's New York Times review even claims that Grant is much livelier than Chernow's Hamilton,

which she complains was "a tough slog." I read Hamilton (2005) back in 2010, and then listened to the audio edition some years later. It seemed to me a quite a felicitous read - listen experience. Like Bill Clinton's review of Grant, Maslin's feels as though she doesn't understand and is unfamiliar with this nineteenth century US history. In the tradition of romperman she pronounces as one encountering this matter for the first time, and therefore believes no one else knows anything about these matters either -- which surely can't be the case for Masilin?  Not only does she call the book an attempt at "a make over for Grant," she says it's "startling" to learn that Grant's victory in the War of the Rebellion didn't end southern white supremacy and hatred! It's an odd tone, particularly for a NY Times reviewer to take on a book about what is so central to our national history -- particularly as the NY Times was part of the recent five year, daily, re-examination of the Civil War on the occasion of its sesquicentennial. One suspects that these reviewers now look at another Big US History work, particularly one that deals with the subject matter that makes the US War of Rebellion and that of slavery and white supremacy, and just -- groan, at the very idea of having another one to review, and so barely skimmed it -- as it's clear, after reading it myself, that most reviewers also at best skimmed Hillary's What Happened.

Surely this large, detailed biography of Grant will teach me something I don't already know.  In any case, there are many positives to have all this factual and honest information about Grant in a single work by an author that people are ready to believe in, even without the massive hit of the Broadway show of Hamllton made of his bio of that fellow. (Not that they have a lot to do with each other, of course, but  it is what we hoped to do with our subjects in Slave Coast.

The thing is that Grant continues to be vilified with lies constantly. Even in the comments to the reviews of Chernow's book, the trolls howl about Grant owning a slave plantation and loads of slaves and hating black people, being a butcher and a drunk, a terrible general, particularly when compared with that saint, Robert E. Lee. It was refreshing indeed to hear Chernow laugh about that in the WNYC interview with him earlier this week.  He said, "Compare for instance, the number of armies that Grant destroyed with those that Lee did. Lee never took out a single army."

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Reading Women Wealth and Art -- and Reading Women, Poverty and Catastrophe

     . . . . I have finished reading Donna M. Lucey's (2017) Sargent's Women: Four Lives Behind the Canvas.  

One of the four figures profiled in Sargent's Women is Elizabeth Winthrop Chanler. Elizabeth was one of the siblings in the tragic Chanler family, among whose possessions is the New York fiefdom of Rokeby, as the Chanlers were among the heirs to the unfathomably vast Astor family fortune. As Archie Chanler was Elizabeth older brother, she also figures largely in a biography I read last month, Lucey's Archie and Amélie: Love and Madness in the Gilded Age (2005). 

     . . . .Amélie Rives (Chanler) of Virginia, a member of the southern aristocracy born in the decade after the abolition of slavery, was a manic pixie dream girl before Zelda Fitzgerald's time. One of the great propagandists for the revised history of the War of the Rebellion, she found her métier to fame, and  thus, ultimately fortune in marriage to an Astor heir, by writing scandalous-for-the-time sexual fiction.  Good grief, on one page the author describes a man breathlessly kissing his inamorata's knee! 

Worse! the inamorata likes it! Adding to her ever lengthening tail of scandal Amélie painted herself.

She reproduced her self-portrait as a post card which she sowed broadcast across the lands!

Sargant never painted Amélie, though he did paint, as mentioned initially, Amélie's sworn enemy, her husband's sister Elizabeth.

     . . . .The first of Sargent's four women Lucey presents to us is Elsie Palmer, the oldest daughter of US railroad magnate, General (one the side of the Union) William Jackson Palmer.  Elsie ultimately married L.H. Meyers, author of the 1930's trilogy, The Root and the Flower, a philosophical-mystical-historical-fantasy set in the Mughal India of Emperor Akbar (where Meyers  never set foot).  I've been reading this for months, becoming too impatient to ever continue beyond a few pages every time I open the huge volume. Myers, ultimately finding this world far too unsatisfying in comparison with how it should be, killed himself.

As we can see from her subjects, Donna Lucey has a fondness for the more colorful figures out of the Gilded Age's obscene plutocracy. Being plutocracy heirs, the sorts of women Sargent's portraits have immortalized, his subjects don't generally merit book-length biographies, thus Lucey's decision to do four of them in a single work.  For example two of Sargent's women, Elsie Palmer and Elizabeth Winthrop Chanler, are remembered only for being one of the Great Artist's portraits, and the relationships with the men who made the money -- or, in Elsie's case, her author-husband who married her father's money.

For Lucia Fairchild Fuller, the one of them, who from early on, was actually poor, due to her father's bad business decisions which lost him his wealth, and her richer siblings' meanness, Lucey makes a convincing case that she should be better remembered than she is. This seems an odd decision on Lucey's part, as Sargent didn't paint Lucia, but her sister, Sally Fairchild, one of the greatest beauties of her day. However, Sally not only did not accomplish anything, she never even married a famous / rich fellow, despite many proposals early on. So, around the portrait of Sally, Lucey constructs the truly interesting story of the unpainted sister, Lucia Fairchild, who was a successful artist in her own right. Lucey made the right decision -- it is a fascinating story, that ends in untimely death, due to Lucia's overwork supporting a family of feckless husband and loving children.  But there is also a great deal of joy and fun in her life too, which the author describes in telling detail.

Isabella Stewart Gardner's home, now the Gardener Museum, from the outside, 

Inside the Gardner Museum
As well, the other exception to non-accomplishment among these four women is Isabella "Belle" Stewart Gardner, the woman who gave us the justifiably famed Gardner Museum in Boston. What a story!  What a character!  I had no idea. Over the years, due to the location of the Gardner Museum, I had a presumed idea in mind of who Isabella Stewart Gardner had to be: earnest, learned, proper, civic-minded as so many of the women we meet in the Boston of Louisa May Alcott. On the contrary, Isabella Stewart Gardner was a personage for whom "banned in Boston" might have been coined to describe her.  Banned in Boston but this flamboyant, vital woman, with exquisite taste and a brilliant eye for great art, wasn't slightly discommoded, and hardly noticed -- no matter though, Boston noticed her.  Perhaps that's why the author, in her illustration to Sargent's Women, included two "Belle" two portraits by Sargent -- he painted her twice!

It is impossible to unpick these women from their age, meaning the power and wealth of the men who were their fathers, brothers and husbands.  None of them would be remembered today without that wealth.  The wealth was staggering, almost beyond imagining, if some of them, such as J.P. Morgan and Gardner hadn't left behind the tangible results of some of what they spent that wealth on.  Ultimately, this knowledge and the descriptions of this milieu and these people left me rather more than uncomfortable, despite that some of them have left us museums and the objects in them. At what price to thousands and thousands and thousands?  And the staggeringly plutocratic oligarchies of today aren't even doing that. 

Perhaps I understand the suicide of L. H. Myers, poor Elsie Palmer's husband, better than I thought.  He turned communist, by the way, before he killed himself.

     . . . . From these portraits of a self-enclosed world of indescribable wealth, luxury and indulgence lived securely away from the era's indescribable poverty I turned to Omar El Akkad's terrible dystopia of environmental failure, constant war and terrorism, American War: A Novel (2017).  It is the story of the making of a terrorist in the third US Civil War between Red and Blue.  Part why this future USA is suffering constant warfare and terrorism, refugee and relocation camps, punishment camps like Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib, is because it is in the interest of the other nations to keep the USA occupied with itself.  They send huge container ships filled with supplies to keep the Red rebels eating enough  to reproduce. They employ coteries of people who hunt likely recruites for a range of terrorist actions.  The refugee camps and prisons are among their most effective tools in the creation of such terrorists.  Massacres help too.

This making of terrorists, and what it is like to live this way, without occupation and future, in the ugly squalor of the degraded environment and Climate Crash,  is what the author is most concerned with -- because this is how the US has been making terrorists for generations. The author's text doesn't soft pedal this in the least.

Beyond that, since it is still the North vs South, oddly the author never mentions the history of slavery, white supremacy, just old hatred with a new flag.  He does say that the new hatred is deeply rooted in the old history -- which is described as the days of glory, chivalry and magnolias.  I'm still mulling whether or not this is successful. In the new hatred the south seems to have replaced racism with the Red nation's determination to keep on the fossil fuel teat vs the north and the rest of the world having moved far beyond that power source long ago.  It just seems -- stupid.  OTOH, keeping the old war alive as we have since 1865 due to outraged white supremacy and defeated slaveocracy is certainly stupid.  As we see every single day now, there are no limits to moronic hatred, belief and behavior.