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

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

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

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Falling Out of 2018

     . . . .Gads, this is exactly what living a month of Sundays was coined for. The weather, the holidays and real focus on going away to where we will drop out of time and US politics almost entirely -- complete temporal dislocation.

NY's Eve and NY's Day get-togethers with friends (many of them Postmambo Travelers now!) take out a lot of the prep time between after Yule and January 2nd's departure, so the day after Christmas I started getting as much done before New Year's Day as possible. This includes getting birthday gifts for our dear friends who happen to have been born on New Year's Eve, and often have received a short shrift on their day, as well gifts for the Cuban familia.

This is the last time I pack for these extended-play trips in Cuba. After this only short trips to Cuba.
I will be clamboring around Castillo de San Pedro del Morro again, for the -- how many times now?  Six?  I can't remember.  But we'll also be doing things I haven't done before too.  That's how these trips stay fresh. Always something new for us all.

But this final extended journey is going to be a lot easier. -- think, I hope. But then, almost anything would easier than 2018's January Central Cuba trip.  But we're spending most nights in the same hotel, the Santiago Meliá, where I've stayed before -- it's a very nice hotel.The other two nights will be in Baracoa. This means far less unpacking and packing and unpacking, and humping the luggage from bus to rooms and back down again, while going through the check-in / check-out process. This makes everything hugely better, because it also means we don't have to spend as much time traveling either.

The people going on this one look to be very interesting. And some of them are relatives of long-time friends of ours. It's going to be strange though, w/o Steve and some others who have come on every Postmambo long trip I've been on.  Well, back when they began, that first one, Steve wasn't the dear friend that he (quickly) became, along with several others.  But I'm sure going to miss him, and Eliza and her wonderful daughter, Mai, and others too.

Yesterday I pulled together the meds and toiletries. There are so many little jobs that take an enormous amount of organization and time, and somehow demand being on one's feet and bending just a little bit -- hell on The Back if one has a Back like mine.  I worked for three hours doing the sorts of tasks such pouring mouth wash into TSA acceptable sized bottles. Ya, we need a lot of mouth wash between the two of us, and el V's staying for two more weeks when I go home, as he begins immediately teaching an NYU course in Havana after Oriente. Mouthwash is an excellent disinfectant for one's toothbrush if it accidentally gets tap water on it (I won't even brush my teeth with tap water in most countries now), and an anti-itch remedy for insect bites. Then, I bent over to get something that had fallen on the floor -- SCREAM! Back had gone out. That finished yesterday. All I was good for was to search out books to download to the travel computer's hard drive, and making lists for what else I must be sure not to forget. 

Today, it's sox and underwear and t-shirts.

Tuesday jeans and foot gear, and the dressy stuff. We have meetings with the Santiago arts organizations to discuss the theatrical version of The American Slave Coast, so I need to dress in something that isn't jeans and a t-shirt, I suppose. Not so easy to figure out at this point as it's in the 80's and very humid in Santiago, and the a/c will be freezing inside.  Also, pack for serious rain (if one doesn't it will pour and if one does, hopefully it won't rain at all).  Hot and humid, cold and clammy, and always humid, so 60 degrees is colder than sixty degrees here.  Not easy, even though I've done this many times by now.  What makes this all so difficult is that if one needs something that one doesn't have one can't buy it. This applies equally to things such as sox and umbrellas, aspirin and tampax.

Damned cold again here -- though if the Weather Critters are correct, the day I come is part of a string of days when the temperatures stay below freezing day and night. I can imagine that very well, having already experienced a string of that, though it wasn't technically winter yet.

But I CANNOT imagine 88° and bright sunshine!

I stand here, listening to Without Precedent: Chief Justice John Marshall and His Times(2018) by Joel R. Paul (highly recommended), bagged in an oversize wool sweater, wool sox and thick boots, thinking about putting on mitts or holding my hands under warm water, staring at t-shirts and other thin, short-sleeved tops, and just -- What? What in the world is 88 degrees??????

Ah! Excellent -- the heat's coming up!

Saturday, December 22, 2018

After Solstice, We Move, To Yule

     . . . . What a dramatic sky we have today. The wind is hard, cold and mean. The sun breaks between the big, glowering cobalt clouds with the subtlety of a descending police stick. 

They Say the rain returns tomorrow, so today's for dashing about, gathering the ingredients for our contributions to the Christmas Eve feast.

Or, perhaps, They Say, hopefully, tomorrow night, snow? 

Now to keep el V from snitching the pecans, nipping at the bourbon, two things he, a pure-born southern boy, loves inordinately but never partakes of -- except when somebody provides pecan pie, which will happen at this time of the year. Also in a marvelous yam dish.  And (no, not pecans), in eggnog.

・.✩・。✧ ゚ .。* : ★ ゜・゚ *:・゚・.✧ ・.✩・

Such wonderful books appearing. 

So far, my favorites are The Lady Queen: The Notorious Reign of Joanna I, Queen of Naples, Jerusalem and Sicily (2009) by Nancy Goldstone ((other of her works in popular history and biography of medieval women in power I've enjoyed very much too -- though I haven't read them all)); The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War (2018) by Joanne B. Freeman; and The Watchers: A Secret history of the Reign of Elizabeth I (2012) by Stephen Alford. 

In fiction, I continue to read Maurice Druon's Accursed Kings series, published between 1955 and 1977. I'm now in the last three in the series: The She-Wolf of France (the she-wolf being Isabella, sister of King of France, wife of feckless Edward II, lover of Roger Mortimer, mother of effective Edward III); The Lily and the Lion; and The King Without a Kingdom.

These are essentially in the same period as The Lady Queen -- that of the Vatican's s recess from Italy to Avignon (though in France, not of the French crown per se, as Provence is still a an independent kingdom -- and Joanna is the Countess of Provence among her multiple titles and possessions), the endless schemes among the great European families and crowns to wrest the lordship of southern Italy to themselves, and yes, Constantinople too,  the 100 Years War and the Black Death, the end of France's Capetian dynasty and floundering of the first Valois rulers -- which will bring, eventually, Jean d'Arc as France's savior and martyr, in the 15th century.  I'm still reading The King Without a Country, who is John / Jean II Valois, taken prisoner by the English throne (and not for the last time will a King of France be personally imprisoned; François I spent time imprisoned in Spain after a humiliating war loss). 

The Lady Queen is providing me answers to all sorts of historical questions I've been having, about Church's removal to Avignon from Italy, and other questions I didn't know to ask. 

I had no idea how important the kingdom of Hungary was.  For one thing, an immense source of gold and silver was discovered in its lands, making it the wealthiest European country by far. In the 14th century then, all of Europe's gold supply came from Hungary's territory, and one third of the global supply came from there. It took Spanish conquest of the southern New World continent to change that.

So ya, the ruling family of Hungary were certain the Pope should be ceding the power to rule southern Italy to them. And if they couldn't get it by marriage or inheritance, or the Pope's decree (the kingdom in southern Italy belonged to the Pope, due to fealty to the Pope in return for money, men, etc.,) they'd get it by murder.  It was their right.  By the way, one of the major figures in the early part of the book is the Queen of Naples -- is familiarly by now named -- Sancia: see the Druon series . . . .

Nor had I any idea of the brilliance of wealth and culture that was the 14th century Kingdom of Naples. This is the court that inspires Boccaccio in many of his works, not only The Decameron.  Queen Joanna herself is depicted in many of his works.

It's as though, at least when it comes to Europe, the 14th century tends to get lost when we study history. This seems to be, again, as I keep discovering, Europe is pulled east, economically and politically and even religiously, due to the Holy Roman Empire and Venice. And the eastern orientation, indeed, even the Holy Roman Empire, is often at best given brief mention from historians writing in English.  So Hungary, though overlooked by English writing historians, is vastly important  -- as the trade with Constantinople, the Ottomans and further east, and control of this trade, were primary for everyone in Mediterranean Europe, east and west (though the northern sphere had developed its own sphere of economic importance, but not yet -- not quite yet -- cultural and artistic importance). 

Also the 14th century tends to get lost due to the focus on the Black Death, and did it or did it not, destroy feudalism and serfdom? In that debate, it's as though the only nations that matter are England, France and, to a lesser degree, Spain (Spain had another century until the completion of the Reconquista).

I'm reading two of the three of the series's most recent volumes somehow, at the same time: the 7th installment, A Chorus of Innocents (2015), having already read due to book availability vagaries, the 8th one, A Clash of Spheres (2014) earlier, and the 9th, A Suspicion of Silver (2018).  The first book in the Carey series, A Famine of Horses, came out in 1994.

An additionally interesting thing about this series as how so many of the people at the top of the political orders of the last three books have come to resemble in their infantilism and cruelty someone we've all had taking up space in our heads, unwanted, for the last three years. But none of them are ignorant of everything, not like we've been experiencing at the top, for years now. I'm seeing this sort of thing with the villains in almost all the fiction I've read this year that was published in 2018.

As Sir Robert Carey really existed and did all the things he does in the books named for him, and as the cardinals, popes and many of the other characters in the Druon series also lived and did what they did, these series are deeply engaging and satisfying historical fiction.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Longest Nights, Joyous Nights - Solstice of Winter

     . . . .  The longest night of the year seems to have started yesterday afternoon, when the first rain began.

We've had heavy, heavy rain since late yesterday, though, thankfully, intermittently.  We had very high winds, though they too were intermittent in the City.  Lots of flooding, though not where we are.  But what this means is that I couldn't tell this was the longest night of the year.  It never got light to speak off, due to the winter storm, all day.  And now it is night again. Well, it was honestly night so early I didn't even notice, with rising to putting on electric light, and having it on all day.  However, unseasonably, the temperatures rose to just shy of 60°.  So el V went out and about from around noon on. As it turned out, the NYC subways continued to run and did not flood out.

Anyway, the FedEx package that was to be delivered today, with the visas of so many of us going to Oriente on the 2nd, arrived. The FedEx guy was wet, but triumphant.

I am really hoping the weather cooperates at 4AM January 2nd, unlike this past March, when a blizzard shut down JFK and we weren't able to go anywhere the day we were supposed to fly out.  Today the local airports were shut down . . . .

In the meantime, it's been dark for a very long time.  Ay-up.  The shortest day of the year. And all things are, hopefully, pointing to Christmas and New Year's with friends,  and thenm travel, with old friends and new ones!

Light, light, Solstice light, Christmas lights, New Year lights, 

Caribbean light, are my immediate future. 

AH -- I am hearing planes overhead, for the first time in a day and a half!

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

St. Valentine's Day Massacre In Mob Era Havana

     . . . .  Come to Cuba! Feb. 14-18, 2019. An unforgettable experience tracing the footsteps of the Mob in Havana. Postmambo Studies, Inc., the leader in Cuban music travel, presents ...

Havana Nocturne: A Mob Tour: Feb. 14-18, 2019

This one is quite different from other Postmambo Studies tours.  Among the differences is that it's short, as we see from the dates.  We get to stay in Havana, meaning we don't have to pack and move everyday.  And there is free time to explore on one's own.  Nor is it as music-heavy.  But -- this is Cuba.  There is music, wonderful music.

It's really different (and shorter -- did I mention shorter?) than the long one one through Eastern (Caribbean) Cuba which I embark January 2.

We will be hanging out at such places as where the Luciano Havana Mob Conference (including Frank Sinatra), was held, the presidential suite of the Hotel nacional, the fabled Tropicana -- yah, it's still there and has never stopped having performances, tour the Meyer Lansky hotels, etc.

Remember the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, the event that sets off the events of the still splendid BillyWilder 1959 film Some Like It Hot, with Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemon?  Yah. 1959, which by the end, was the end of Lansky's and the mob's rule of Havana too.  Pretty darned cool, yah?

Terrific way to spend Valentine's Day, 2019, particular as the weather critters are mumbling about Polar Vortex blizzards over here then . . . .

Monday, December 10, 2018

Killing Eve: Villainous Villain Villanelle Is Not Orphan Black's Helena BBC / BBC America 2018

     . . . . Killing Eve was a US - British critics' favorite 2018 television series - perhaps even more favorite than Body Guard, centering Robb Stark Richard Madden, which is all about a guy.

Commonly these are the words used by the critics to describe Killing Eve:

Stylish, Snappy, Sharp, Snazzy, Sophisticated, Sexy, Smart.

Also: Light-hearted, Urbane, Cosmopolitan, Entertaining.  

 Myself, I would add Short (Thank Goodness!).  Preposterous (O! so Preposterous -- see: Short, Thank Goodness!). 

Killing Eve has been billed as the #MeToo Moment thriller, original, different, centering women. 

But it seems to me that it owes most to the very old (by now) Kill Bill, Vols. 1 & 2, 2003 and 2004, in which there are several extremely gruesome set piece fights to the grisley, ghastly finish. In Vol. 1 these take place between Uma Thurman's The Bride's character, and two different Asian killers, and an African American killer.  

Uma Thurman's Bride fights Gogo Yubari as O-Ren Ishii aka Cottonmouth, in Kill Bill Vol. I; totally male-gazey.
The killer antagonists here are played by Lucy Liu and Chiaki Kuriyama, and by Vivica Fox as the African American mom in suburban home complete with small daughter.

Uma Thurman, Kill Bill, Vol. I

Jodie Comer, Villanelle, Killing Eve.

The difference between these and Killing Eve is the reversal that the antagonist is the blonde Uma Thurman look-alike, Jodie Comer's Villanelle, and it is the Asian Sandra Oh's Eve, who is the protagonist. 

Helena, Orphan Black 2013-2017 -- if  you have not yet watched the 5 seasons of Orphan Black, do it now! played as are all the female clones by Tatiana Maslany; definitely not male-gazey.

It also seems that another big influence has been another BBC America series, the truly brilliant and original, most definitely not male-gazey, Orphan Black. Villanelle is another super beautiful feral Russian young woman, super trained to be another super assassin-killer without basic human emotions, except what captures her attention. In Orphan Black's Helena, it is is her clone family 'seestras'; in Killing Eve it is Villanelle's obsession with Eve Polastri. The 'Russian-inflected' English both Helena and Villanelle speak provides a smoke screen, which conceals from the no-where near as intelligent and talented beholder, their feral, joyeous ammorality in wreaking death. 

the French detective of The Tunnel; 3 seasons 2013-2018; not male-gazey, or hardly at all.
French detective, Elise Wasssman, played by Clémence Poésey, in The Tunnel; not male-gazey, or hardly at all.

This might also be owed something from the more recent fixation of other hyper violent television series like the BBC's 3-season The Tunnel (2013-2018) to center other female hyper intelligent and effective characters who are asperger-direct, socially dysfunctional, incapable of concealing or veiling their wants and desires, speaking their opinions of one and all to their faces.

Daryl Hannah as Priscilla in Blade Runner (1982), doing what she does so well; definitely male-gazey.

There also might be a bit in Villanelle too, of Daryl Hannah's Replicant character, Priscilla, from the first Blade Runner film. 

These characters all speak their minds without polite or politic directness, which, of course, women are never supposed to do. Thus viewers' delight, presumably. 

My own sense of Killing Eve is that the sum of its parts amounts to very little. It's only these two women, Secret Service Eve, and assassin-for-hire run by Russians, Villanelle, the series is interested in. We are not even sure by the end if Villanelle ultimately works for the Russian government, a Russian mafia family or our criminal global consortium of big business and government. Nobody seems to be concerned about that. It's Eve's and Villanelle's hunt for each other is the plot. The other characters matter only as far as they aid, abet or interfere with the hunt. 

However, it is effortless entertainment-distraction (see: Amoral,  Light-hearted), without the on-screen Kill Bills' wallow in gore. The worst stuff is all, thank goodness, performed off screen. There's really no nudity or overt sex either, i.e. lack of male-gaze priorities, though there are a variety of male characters . 

There will be will be a season 2 of Killing Eve.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Buckle Up to Swash -- ¡Altriste esta aqui!

     . . . .  Las aventuras del capitán Alatriste, the series of novels by Arturo Pérez-Reverte, featuring this great Spanish swordsman, soldier and adventurer of the 17th century, has been a recurring topic

The first title in the English translation was published in the UK and the US back in1996; the latest one was released here in the US in 2011.

Back in 2006 a Spanish language film, Alatriste, was made, with Viggo Mortensen as capitán Alatriste, but, we lamented, it was never released in the US. 

However! Now! available! streaming on amazon prime, subtitled in English, the description says, is the 2016 Spanish television Alatriste series!

I haven't watched yet, having for a change a cornucopia of watching riches -- though, not unusually, not much watching time.  However, as el V heads out again soon, watching this will fill in gaps left by his absence. 

This is going to be splendid because nobody does European medieval and renaissance era sword fights like the Spanish.  This includes brilliant battle sequences with swords from horseback.  They never forgot how this sort of thing is done.

Spanish television does Spanish historicals extraordinarily well,* maybe better than other Europes' historical tv / films. Spanish swashbuckle is just about equal, even, in the French swash's ballon element,** which is so indigenously French. 

Unlike the French though, (at least going by Dumas) the Spanish swash additionally contains tragic awareness, the knowledge of the darkness in which all things inevitably end, the darkness that eats from the inside, which is what distinguishes Spanish swash from that of the other European swashes.


* Which one sees in concentrated form in the Spanish television series El ministerio del tiempo, which I admire and enjoy so much too. Whether art and literature, history and politics, all the details are just right -- and are always included. Nothing in the episodes happens in situational or transactional tv vacuum, but fully in the milieu of its time, whether in the past or the present.

** definition:

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Outlaw King: Robert the Bruce vs. Edward I and II

     . . . . Outlaw King -- Friday's Big Deluge concluded about the time the presentation concluded (Netflix Original, went up Friday, as well as opening in some theaters in some cities).

Battles and fighting, lots of it.  Gorgeous location photography.  Politics and the rest of it, in terms of the Bruce and Scotland's independence as a kingdom, little. More than one veteran of GOT in the cast.  I wouldn't have wanted to spend 18 dollars in a theater for this, though it was just fine to look at (not a whole lot of CGI, and that very tactful and slick).  Not enough of anything else.  Give me The Last Kingdom!  That's how I like it!

OTOH, it was perfect for yet another gloomy, cold, windy and wet night that penned me indoors.

The horses though, the horses.  I really hope none were hurt in the course of making this -- their injuries and killing and going down in the battles looked awfully real. (I didn't see the usual disclaimer one sees in these films that any animals were harmed in the course of the making of the film.)

I appreciated showing how battles so often are won by so much more than fighting skills, but particularly by cunning and 

knowledge of the territory -- as The Music Man tells us. It was appreciated surely on many fronts that the Scots were shown not wearing kilts, as indeed, would be the case at the the end of the 13th, start of the 14th centuries.

In terms of historical detail and event it was so superior to Braveheart that they're not in the same category.  However, the Bruce and Prince Edward / King Edward II never slugged it out personally in the Battle of Loudoun Hill in 1307. Nor was that the final battle of the struggle to regain Scotland's independence from the English throne -- years more of fighting were to come.  No was it the Bruce's wife put in a suspended cage as punishment for her refusal to repudiate the Bruce, but it was his sisters? I don't know that much about this history.

OTOH, knowing Bruce's Big Antagonist is Edward II, one didn't need to worry much about the ultimate fate of the Bruce, which was quite a relief in these days, when wants content to watch that allows a certain escape from the present wreckage wantonly committed by rancid toads without any education, intelligence or concept of social and civil life -- and responsibility of the ruling class to create and maintain space for family, community and environmental safety.

Though Bruce was given absolution for the murder of John Comyn, his rival for leadership and kingship, by the Scots bishops, the pope excommunicated him for the murder.

As the Bruce, Chris Pine did do admirably what he was able to do.  Maybe it's just his innate character, but there was a sweetness and generosity, along with the steel, that came through, which would indeed draw men to follow him (whether or not the historical Bruce had those qualities, I have no idea).  Yet Pine had to give us those thoughts all by ourselves.  Because, first of all, the film is actually very thin stuff, of posturing male competitions and mud, not of character, not theme, and not about any ideas, whether political or social.  The closest to characterization we get is being told Bruce a is good and honorable fellow who is The Best Fighter, and Prince Edward is -- well, he's not. 

There wasn't much opportunity for Pine to act. But he was an excellent choice for the role because without Pine's capacity to draw our eyes, and most of all, the landscape vistas themselves to draw the eyes, beyond guys hacking at each other, there's little to nothing there.

It would have been exciting to see the film investigate just what indeed causes a broad base of classes to follow one particular person at a particular time, to point of being willing to die. That the production didn't even try for that is why movies are almost always deeply disappointing.  If it had done that I'd have been interested enough to watch it again.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Post Midterms Angst, Entertainment, Weather and Cuba

     . . . . I'm ready to be penned in for the rest of the day and night by cold windy rainstorm. More regional flooding, yet again. At least we aren't suffering those terrible wildfires that Northern California is suffering. 

Today the Netflix Original, Outlaw King, went up for streaming.  It's also opening in some theaters in some cities too. This is an action adventure featuring Robert the Bruce, who is played by Chris Pine.

Also I have the latest Saxon Tales volume (#11) from Bernard Cornwell, The War of the Wolf, and, Margaret George's second historical novel of Nero, The Splendor Before the Dark. Fortuitously, they both came in today from my library Holds list.  

Also fortuitously I was able to get there around noon, before the storm kicked in, though it did keep raining off and on during the hours I was out and about doing errands, breaking in the atmosphere for the hard deluge conditions.

     . . . . El V called me this morning, saying that all is going very well -- once everybody got into Cuba.  They came from all over the USA, so there were 11 different flights, which came in at all different times of the day.  As it was, el V was at the airport from 11 AM to 8 PM last night, on his feet mostly. Letting the Travelers book their own flights instead of having everyone meet in Florida, spend the night, and be grouped booked into Jose Martí airport is less expensive for the Travelers but really hard on him and the Postmambo team.

Por ejemplo: At the last minute the elderly woman who gets around in a power chair got bumped from her flight, and put on a later one. At that point there was no way to communicate with Postmambo about it.  It was such a scramble once Postmambo learned about what had happened with J, to get back to the airport and meet her. Also they had to bring a bus just for her since the chair is too large for a taxi. But they made it, and she got comped a 4-star room in a Spanish-built, operated and owned Havana hotel, with a working elevator (bought from Russia, of course, since we know who is blockading US firms from doing business in Cuba). 

They had E's birthday party last night, complete with the most elaborate and delicious and huge bd cake. El V said, "E brought 6 people to the Rumbazo, the Rumbazo gives her a birthday cake." Anyway, they're all gathered, all sorted into their various habitacións, and already deep within what may well be for some the most spectacular experience of their lives. Whew! 

This Rumbazo is ambitious for sure.

Beyond that, the Rumbazo Festival production of Postmambo, is extremely popular in Havana with everyone. For the first time many of these musicians are getting national exposure. They are on the radio in Havana! They are performing in the finest theater venues in Havana! They are on national television for the first time in their lives and the careers of their groups, many established first a hundred years ago. The Cuban bought out the theaters within 3 hours that the tickets went on sale. El V and his Postmambo colleagues on the ground in Havana are very very very happy.  So are all the rumberos!

And there is going to be a film.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Friday, November 2, 2018

Falling To Winter: Politika, Health Care, Voting, Haiti

     . . . . Among my current reads is Steve Kornacki's The Red and the Blue: The 1990's and the Birth of Political Tribalism (2018), i.e. the politics of attack confrontation of everything all the time. Why yes, this was the strategy devised by the power hungry, boundlessly ambitious Newt Gingrich. 

It's interesting, infuriating and depressing to go back to these political eras that I've lived through, because we can't just start with Newt and Clinton. Reagan and Nixon and LBJ are in there too. It was with the coming of Reagan I immediately understood the backlash against all the streams of culture and political activism that had given me a life filled with interest and possibility that was never open to my mother. 

It was with the coming of Reagan I first understood that I had the immense great fortune to have born in that window of time in which women could have sex, even be pregnant, without stigma -- in fact a window in time which had never ever existed before in the history of the world, in which a woman could explore her sexual desires, wants, needs and pleasures without the anxiety of the nearly inevitable consequential pregnancy and / or arrest and poverty. It was obvious to me immediately that Reagan's Ilks, if not the man himself, had declared war on woman's reproductive rights = freedom and autonomy. 

Everyone with whom I talked about this laughed in my face. We had Roe v. Wade! We had contraception! Nothing could change now! I was a tin-foiled conspiracy propagating depressing denier of reality. Many of them never even bothered to vote. They didn't think politics mattered and they paid no attention to them as boring and creating depressing thoughts, and offending other people -- and themselves.

Since those days all these same female friends have come around to seeing what I saw then, and they keep sending me e-mails and texts to vote, to donate to candidates, to march, to demonstrate, to send protest messages to an infinite list of politicians in 'elected' or appointed office. They continually inform me of what I was pointing out back in 1982. 

     . . . .Voting is essential -- as it always has been. But it has become far more difficult than it used to be, just like getting medical appointments, or even finding a doctor and hospital within a reasonable distance from where one lives and / or works. In many places, like doctors, dentists, hospitals and supermarkets, voting sites have shut down and disappeared -- or have been repressed, purged, and downright denied. It can mean a whole day to go to where one should be registered to vote, vote, and come back again. If one has a job the employer will not like that, even if one has a job that affords a person access to transportation reliable enough to get the voting site and back again. 

In the very old days when I was a kid, election days were big deals in my rural community. In our part of the country, elections for county, state and federal seats meant driving to the county seat, which took at least an hour.  One dressed for 'going to town' instead of in one's daily work clothes. It was exciting because the voters were not only fulfilling their civic duty (and that voting was a civic duty, and the consequences of elections affected people personally, was something we were brought up with, like Jesus and getting good grades), but this was also an opportunity to socialize and shop. It was like a holiday but it wasn't a holiday. It was especially buzzy on rainy election days because one wouldn't be able to work outside anyway, so the men just stayed with their drinking buddies. So here it is, cold rain, and my dad gets to hang out in the afternoon having beers with friends in the bar. My mom is visiting with various church ladies (she was one herself), relatives and other friends, making more contacts in the county and state organizations to which she belonged, which led her at times to be elected herself president and secretary and treasurer of these organizations -- all giving standing in the community. 

All that seemed to stop in the 1970's, when so many institutions that were the bedrock centers of community life in these rural communities were closed, moved away, centralized, for greater efficiency and greater profit cost cutting.

During my mother's long dying in 1995-1996, more than once every week, they had to drive two hours to the hospital which treated her cancer. The county seat's own hospital had closed not too long after I was born there. The spanking new, brilliantly equipped facility, operated by the Roman Church, whose nurses and technicians predominately were nuns (though not all -- a friend's mom worked there), had opened across the river in the twin city. 

There was too, a smaller, modern hospital in the small town close to our farm.  But both the big brilliant hospital across the river from the county seat, and this smaller one providing close-by service to the community, had long been closed. Medical need meant leaving the county. This made treatment days for my mom even more difficult. 

These movements of service denial to the general public in less densely populated areas rolled big in the 1970's. They were pretty well consolidated by the 1990's. 

And now women in so many places in this nation can't find medical care at all anywhere remotely convenient to where they live. And even more women can't afford medical care at all either, much less insurance. Safe, reliable affordable contraception, pre-natal and post natal care -- how are they to get that?  At this moment of typing the rate of infant mortality and maternal mortality in the USA ranks shockingly high

I've been thinking about all this constantly while reading The Red and the Blue. Yah, I've been paying attention to them all along. And voting. I'll be voting Tuesday too. 

By far, very, very far, the best costume I saw in the context of the annual Village Halloween Parade was the African American gentleman impeccably dressed as President Lincoln, complete with authentic looking stovepipe hat and beard, who merely carried a sign that said, "#BlackLivesMatter -- Vote -- Abraham Lincoln."  Honestly? I teared up.

It's shockingly humid here today, the day el V returns from spending Halloween, le fet Gede and Day of the Dead in a week long celebration in Haiti.  The fet brought el V to talk at the national Cultural and Arts Center about the relationships between Haiti and New Orleans, and it brought a passel of New Orleans musicians (most of them long-time friends of el V too), including the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, to perform, to teach, and to collaborate with Haitian groups and musicians.  There was a reception and dinner at the residency of the US Haitian ambassador (a woman, appointed by Obama, who actually knows her job!).  Pres Hall led them all throughout residency in a second line. All week long, all week long ... such a wonderful time was had by all.

But el V's flight home has been delayed for an hour (the flight he took into Haiti -- to Cap Hatian, not to Port-au-Prince from whence he returns) was delayed for a whole day; he had to spend the night in Miami. So in comparison this isn't so bad. 

He'll be going back in March, leading a Postmambo Haitian Music seminar. It is going to be an incredibly beautiful trip.

And then there's here, and today.

What is interesting today, gloomy and threatening as it is, is that literally, within hours, from Day of the Dead to today, the greatest percentage of the trees in our neighborhood turned from glowing green, to glowing gold and scarlet.

The leaves will be gone by Thanksgiving, leaving the trees'graceful, lacy skeletons bare.

Winter's coming. But no white knights will be, to save us.  We shall have to save our nation and ourselves, ourselves. We must take back the vote!

Monday, October 22, 2018

The Life and Times of Elizabeth I > Coney Catchers

     . . . .  Coney catching is still in play, even if looking for rubes and marks on city streets isn't called that any longer.

A presentable young white man stopped me on the sidewalk Friday and asked if I spoke English. He said he couldn't tell by looking if "the people around here spoke English or not, and it seemed that hardly anybody did." Which that, right there, made my hackles raise. Why is his problem for pete's sake? Because all around us on the sidewalk were people conversing in English.

Blahblahblah, he needs to get back home to Ashville, NC, where he lives. He shows me his driver's license on top of a wad of bills that is the money to buy his ticket home. The driver's license could be him, who knows. He is $6 short of the money he needs to buy a ticket on the China Town bus that will take him to Ashville, and could I help him out, please. He's "so embarrassed and humiliated to be asking but has no choice."

I know nothing about the China Town bus except that it takes people to the casinos, the buses are poorly maintained and the drivers poorly trained and often over tired -- accidents happen a lot. Maybe it goes to Ashville, I don't know. I do know Ashville a little though. I've been there. I've spent some nights there in a very nice B&B during our southern journeys. He doesn't sound Ashville to my ears. 

What I'm hearing my head is Elizabethan writer and dramatist, Robert Greene, who wrote the Cony Catching Pamphlets. They purport to describe how these London thieves and con men -- the coney catchers (various spellings; it's the 1500's) -- work on the ignorant and trusting from out of town to separate them from their money and other goods -- sometimes even their lives. 

Maybe, the guy was for real? Maybe he wasn't. In case he was for real I gave him a dollar, not the 6 he asked for. He wasn't quite able to conceal his resentment that I didn't give him $6.  I said, "I will be asked for money by at least 5 more people today before I go home and they'll all be visibly far worse off than you appear to be." He disappeared just like that.

As of today I'm still hearing coney catcher in my head about him.

Partly this is because about 8 days ago I had read the 4th installment in P.F. Chisholm's Sir Robert Carey historical mysteries, A Plague of Angels (1998).  

This one takes place in London. One of the characters is the young William Shakespeare, during the years the theaters are closed due to plague.  He's not yet Shakespeare, and almost as wet as the young Endeavour Morse -- though he will surprise the reader by the end, as well as Sir Carey, in more than one area. After all, he is still  Shakespeare, whether young, unknown and not that experienced.

This portrait of young Shakespeare, in the missing years, so to speak, which are also plague years in which the theaters are closed, is unlike any fictional Shakespeare by other novelists.  He’s working for Sir Carey’s father as a footman and for Kit Marlow (a nasty piece of work is Marlow) as a spy – i.e. spying on Carey’s father (his father is Queen Elizabeth's nephew and cousin, though he was illegitimate, via her sister from Henry VIII) for Vice Chamberlain, Thomas Heneage (who, like Hundson himself and Sir Robert and Shakespeare, are all real historical figures). The slim novel is very well paced, though stuffed with so much mystery, suspense, action and character in so few pages, all tied neatly together, and most satisfactorily. And, especially, this Shakespeare, and the reason for the Dark Lady sonnet with the wires out of her head – brilliant!  The angels? Counterfeit Queen’s money, gold coins, and they are the roll and role of plot. 

Robert Greene is also a character in Plague of Angels, so thus his Pamphlets were much in my mind, as well as Carey's Scots servants getting taken in by cony-catchers. These days among literary scholars the primary reason we are acquainted with Robert Greene at all is because of his Groats-Worth of Witte, bought with a million of Repentance, and that because it is thought to contain an attack on Shakespeare (among others; Greene was not a popular figure among his contemporaries.

Because of Chisholm's Sir Robert Carey series, I seem to have begun a project of watching -- re-watching in many cases, such as rewatching the episodes of the Tudors that include Elizabeth the child and gangly girl.  -- television series and films that feature Queen Elizabeth I.  Over the weekend I saw the 2005 British miniseries Elizabeth I -- not BBC (2 parts) in which Elizabeth is played by Helen Mirren.  She does as splendid a job with it as one would expect.  The series begins about half way through her reign and concludes with her strong intimation of coming death. Next up Cate Blanchette's two Elizabeths, followed by the 1971 Elizabeth R series in which Glenda Jackson plays her. 

 The one I'm looking for, and which seems hard to find is the 2005 four-part miniseries from BBC in a partnership, Elizabeth I: The Virgin Queen. This one includes Tom Hardy in the cast.  This one was shown on PBS Masterpiece in the US.

So is it that at a certain stage in her career, a woman of a certain stature in her career as an actor, feels she must play Elizabeth?  Or is it that others feel she must play Elizabeth?  There are others I'd like to see too.  

Here's a website with a list of Elizabeth-Tudor movies.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Gilded Age: Reads That Go With the Watching

     . . . . Edith Wharton’s The Buccaneers and Age of Innocence are cited frequently by British Anne De Courcey in her The Husband Hunters: American Heiresses Who Married Into the British Aristocracy (2017). 

It is De Courcey's careful conversion of the obscene amounts spent by the women of this class to further their social rivalries and social climbing that is most revealing of the age. Though she doesn't dwell on this at all, this money was extracted by pillage and rapacious oppression of the laboring classes, who much of the time, due to the boom and bust US economic system, frequently were so poor they starved and froze to death on the streets outside these women's blunderbuss palaces, aimed at least as much toward the poor as at her rivals. The author's discovery that it was often the Gilded Age mothers who drove their daughters to marry into Europe's aristocracy is merely an appendage of the mothers' rivalry and climbing. Often these marriages were against what the daughters themselves may have wanted --  if, that is, they'd even been allowed in their rearing to consider themselves as a separate person at all, rather than yet another means of her mother's will.

The social world of this era was a pure matriarchy. Thus De Courcey also cites US economist Thorsten Veblen's The Theory of the Leisure Class, (1899) as to why this was so.  There wasn't much in this book that I or any historian of 19th century US, or its literature, particularly after the War of the Rebellion, wouldn't be familiar with, but it is an entertaining read, and the photos De Courcey chose are excellent.

     . . . . However, this book, along with the films mentioned in the previous entry,  further widens and deepens the history of New York City's Gilded Age eras, along with the books discussed  earlier this week by their authors at the CUNY Graduate Center:

Suspect Freedoms: The Racial and Sexual Politics of Cubanidad 
in New York 1823 – 1957 by Nancy Raquel Mirabal, 

and, Sugar, Cigars & Revolution: The Making of Cuban New York by Lisandro Pérez – both from NYU press. 

Both authors are Cubans though they've been in the US since childhood. Lisander's an academic sociologist and Nancy's an academic historian. Lisander's and Nancy's book cover the same years, much of the same issues of Cuban independence, revolution and abolition of slavery, but they do it with different focuses.

Lisander's research is primarily on the wealthy, for whom independence at times mattered, but, like the wealthy English colonists of North America,  true revolution, i.e. real change in the structures and system, and certainly abolition, were not their agenda. Nancy focuses on the poor and the Afro Cubans, and other essential parts of the Cuban revolutionary and independence clubs and movements, such as the labor movement. This contributed no little to the exciting evening of their co-presentation as they discussed and amplified each other's contributions to the subject of Cubans in New York City.

Their research into NYC and US history is massive and meticulous. But somehow they both missed the NY investment in the ship building and cargoes of the Africans brought to Cuba after the abolition of the African slave trade. Thus those very wealthy slave owning Cubans who were in New York also made connection between themselves and the wealthy Southern slave owners such as the governor of Mississippi, who wished to annex Cuba as a state, to which then, the African slave trade not allowed to the US, as protection for their slave breeding industry, they in turn could turn into a market for their overpopulation of slaves.

During the q&a an attendee asked them from where the Cuban slaves came from. In their responses about the 19th century, which only then did agricultural slavery become important in Cuba, neither mentioned the US false flag sales to many slave ships of many nationalities. As part of the Treaty of Ghent (War of 1812), one of the provisions was that the Brits, who were the ones to abolish the African slave trade, were not allowed to stop and inspect US shipping. So, naturally, the US wealthy classes from all along the coast, and New York and Boston particularly, invested heavily in building those slave ships and their cargoes. 

The wealthy Cuban power elite met these US investors fairly often in New York before the Waa, surely. They did plot with Southerners who planned to filibuster Cuba -- as we describe in Slave Coast, -- and surely they invested in the slave ships too (According to the royalty checks, Slave Coast continues to sell, and by the reviews posted on amazilla, is continues to be read!). 

But the authors weren't looking for this kind of information. Though they obviously know a great deal about Cuban slavery's history, that's not one of the subjects of their books, which they both worked on for years. Lisandro worked on this book for 13, and Nancy has worked on hers for over 20 years. 

Also they both cite the accounts of the obscenely wealthy Cuban daughters at Saratoga (quoting, of course, Edith Wharton) as evidence of how much this class of Cubans penetrated the highest social levels of NY. But that's not exactly right. The highest class, the truly old social class of Knickerbockers, the truly exclusive society, went to Newport. They'd not be seen dead in Saratoga, NY, or Long Branch, New Jersey, where the excluded coarse 'new' plutocrats and their families, like Jay Gould -- and that coarse little man, President Grant -- vacationed in summer. -- bringing their own stock tickers, telegraph machines, and later their own telephone lines, to keep track of the markets.

One of the purposes of Newport indeed, almost created by Mrs. Astor's social arbiter, Samuel Ward McCallister, was to keep those dark Cubans and others beyond the pale of marriage away from their sons and daughters, and themselves. Both Edith Wharton and Anne De Courcey speak to this in their writing. The only acceptable marrying out of their elite of the elite sets for Astors, Schermerhorns, Schuylers, Van Rensselaers was European aristocracy, preferably British aristocracy. A title always trumped wealth and background, opened every door of inclusion.  (It was permitted for the lesser families of their set to intermarry with the most powerful and elite of the Southern slaveocracy, however.)

As we too know personally these locations and these landscapes and histories of Cuba, of NYC, of the South, this event was particularly charged with pleasure in the work of these two splendid works of history.

This fall I've enjoyed the way P.F. Chisholm has put so many historical figures in her Sir Robert Carey novels, he himself also having lived and written books about his adventures. I could see doing that too with the Gilded Age. The heroic President Grant could be included -- countering the meanness with which he's been treated in fiction by Henry Adams, for instance.  That would be fun.

It was a lovely night of thought and hanging out -- after I took  a half THC20:1.  I’d forgotten not only to put on my jewelry, but had forgotten to take vitamins and pain meds, before leaving the apartment after lunch. By 7 PM I really needed that tablet, one of which el V happened to have with him. We ended up having dinner in the grad center area, at a classic Irish pub, with classic Irish pub food and classic undocumented young, pretty Irish wait girls. I suddenly peaked from the tab about the time our plates arrived. For about ten minutes there was absolutely no pain of any kind. physical or emotional, just this enormous sense of release and well being. I'd never taken one of those tabs -- and here I had taken a whole one! 

OK. Now I know how this works. Definitely taking some these with me on the January bus trip in Eastern Cuba.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Colette (2018)

     . . . . Keira Knightly as the title figure and Dominic West as Willy, with other recognizable Brit television actors in secondary and supporting roles.

Colette's an old-fashioned period piece Hollywood big movie featuring two internationally recognizable faces, playing recognizable celebrity faces of the time, expensive, slick and glossy.

    Emphasis on celebrity. The author and her husband, and the infamous Claudine books (1900 - 1904) she ghost wrote and Willy took the credit for (and all the very significant profits, which he threw away profligately on race horses, the gambling tables, wine, women and song), were indeed all the rage when they came out. Yet these celebrity sequences seem more like now than then, yah?

As usual with historical drama, it's rather too clean and flat in panorama, mise-en-scène and close-up to be convincing (no broken down horses pulling public hacks, no manure in the streets, no bad teeth).  As Colette and Willy are writers, and writing is not a dramatic moving, action act, we have lots of tasteful noisy sex instead.

This viewer found the all-British cast and production hilarious, as everyone speaks in posh Brit English, but, when they write, we’re shown French pouring out of the nib, voiced-over in the posh English. 

Further hilarity ensues due to Dominic West as Willy, who is best known for playing Usian Baltimore detective cad-to-women, McNulty, on The Wire, and lately, for at least 4 seasons, the Usian novelist cad-to-women, Noah Soloway, on The Affair. Another point of hilarity is the current Poldark’s Demelza’s actor, Eleanor Tomlinson, playing bisexual sex scenes, in one of the worst so-called Southern accents evah – she’s supposed to be from New Orleans. Brit actors always murder Southern accents, seemingly not even understanding that there are very many different Southern ways of speaking. (Personal unpopular opinion -- Tomlinson's Demelza annoys the heck outta me. So far there's been no indication that Tomilinson can act, whether in period Agatha Christie's Ordeal By Innocence (2018), or on Poldark or in Colette.)

Points in favor of the flick: if not provocative of thought, it's gorgeous to look at; Knightly impresses with her non-body double or stand-in lengthy action scenes that involve a variety out of the standard repertoire of theatrical skills, from miming to dancing; Knightly is more convincing -- despite not being believable for a second as a 17-year-old - as a fin de siècle, Gilded Age figure than she was as the Georgian era title character, in The Duchess.

    ....(Colette eventually goes on the stage after leaving Willy, traveling music halls and theater throughout France, many of them ramshackle and many a gig that doesn't pay much more than for wine and cheese. This is part of her biography, but the film makes it look far less grueling and impoverished than Colette's own testimony, and those of others, inform us.)

    .... (Knightly was as wrongly cast for that one as Winona Ryder was in Scorsese's Age of Innocence, her Gilded Age flick -- though Michelle Pfeiffer was perfect as the USian Polish Countess-by-marriage -- Knightly even looks like Winona Ryder in this. Her body type did not conform in any way to the fashions as they were, nor did her body language, just as Ryder's did not.)


Michelle Pfeiffer, Daniel Day Lewis, Age of Innocence (1993)

Colette’s life in truth was messy, unlike this adult coloring book of luxe La Belle Époque France movie, which is splashed as “true feminist story!” Nor was Colette particularly feminist.  So much of her fiction, despite the bisexual frissons, was about women victimized by, sighing, dying for love – love of a male cad.


... (Her Chéri novels were a refreshing exception to that, as it is the young lover infatuated with an aging, retired courtesan is the one who dies for his love. The 2009 film, Chéri, centering one of my favorite to watch actors, Michelle Pfeiffer as Lea, the exquisite, retired courtesan from the days of les grandes horizontals, whom Chéri cannot grow beyond, is exquisite in all the right ways, faithful in tone and attitude to the novels.)

MIchelle Pfeiffer as Lea, Chéri, 2008

It was a holiday yesterday, but still the theater held a respectable number of audience members.  The variety of the audience was interesting: lesbian couples of various age cohorts; young hetero couples (one of whose male half kept getting up and coming back, disturbing everybody in lumbering oafish style for extended periods of time going and coming -- even clanging metal -- what? ); and a surprising number of young male-male couples, though these I had no way of knowing whether they were gay or not, and single young fellows.

The conversation in the line for the ladies room after the showing was disheartening due to the enormous amount of misinformation being bandied about as fact about Colette and her work.  I seem to have been the only one there possessing solid grounding in her life and the period she lived in, and the only person who had actually read her work.

A last point of hilarity: in the ladies room line, it was being repeated from the closing epilogue text verbatim, that "Colette was the most important woman writer in France. She changed fiction forever."  

This book, this edition, is still on my shelves.

This book is still on my shelves too.  I re-read it again, just last year.

I kept hearing Simone de Beauvoir's outrage. I recalled her gleeful, merciless dissection of Colette's helpless, hapless feminine dependency on having the love of a man, of being in love, in order to have meaning, significance and identity,  especially in The Second Sex (1949). This, though in many ways, hilariously, hers and Colette's novels have much more in common in this area than Beauvoir herself realized: so much doomed love, clothes making the woman, intellectual and creative and sexual rivalries as they contain. The difference though, is that Beauvoir’s stand-in in her autobiographical novel, She Came To Stay (1943), Françoise, literally, with her own hands, kills off her rival for Pierre’s devotion.  Perhaps Beauvoir believed Colette earned her condemnation by being too femininely weak to do the same . . . .  Actually, She Came to Stay is period novel I'd love to see turned into a film.