". . . 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, August 19, 2018

The Battles of Saratoga and Rip Van Winkle

     . . . . At the Saratoga battlefields Friday, we were surrounded by birds, butterflies and bees, as well as the multiple varieties of wild flowers I didn't know, milkweed, Queen Anne's Lace as well as lots of chamomile flowers -- the air was delightfully sodden with chamomile scent.

Neilson Farm, where Major General Benedict Arnold had his headquarters during Freeman's Farm battle, first battle of Saratoga, September 17, 1777.  Farmer Neilson was a Patriot.  Farmer Freeman was a Loyalist.  Freeman's farm was entirely destroyed by the British Army. Farmer Neilson brought enforcements from Schyulerville for the American army.

As at the pivotal War of the Rebellion Gettysburg battle site, at this pivotal battle site of the War of Independence, we were surrounded by contemporary farmland and -- vast tracks of trees and swathes of grass and dense woods, which one knew were filled with deer, deer who were populated with ticks.

There are still uprooted trees and broken trees everywhere from the terrible storm this last spring. Park service employees, or at least hired help with chain saws, were working in various parts. They sent up so much sawdust / chaff that people with allergies and other respiratory sensitivities had to stay far from where they were working.  So we missed some overlook sites of significant events of the two battles and the surrender.

Bemis Heights.  The American's cannon were able to shoot down at Burgoyne's forces holed up in a mess of gullies, ravines, and woods, where it was very hard to maneuver.  Way over, past that ridge of  woods, was the Hudson River, which the Americans controlled.
The battle of Freeman's Farm was September 19th, 1777, which Burgoyne barely won, with a greater loss of men than the Americans.  The battle of Bemis Heights was October 7, 1777, which Burgoyne definitively lost. The surrender by General Burgoyne came, finally, ten fuming days later, on October 17th, 1777.  General Burgoyne negotiated with Gates to turn the signing of a surrender into the signing of a "convention."  (How could he, a British lord, lose and surrender to hicks?) So we have the "Convention of Saratoga."  General Gates allowed Burgoyne to keep his sword, and the mostly Hessian army was awarded the honors of war -- doubtless the cause of yet another heated exchange between him and Arnold.

Both Colonel Morgan. who had served in Arnold's abortive campaign to take Quebec, and Colonel Andrzej Tadeusz Bonawentura Kościuszko played important roles in this pivotal historical event. 

Kościuszko Bridge across the Mohawk River

We, meaning our dear friend, Ben, Ned and me, cheered wildly when we crossed the  Kościuszko Bridge, on our way to the GWB -- i.e. the George Washington Bridge, which always tells us we're nearly home -- well, nearly home, depending on the traffic.  We happened to make great time Saturday -- no traffic.

At the battlefield park, we often we chose not to walk to overlooks of various sites of the battles because, despite the grass have been mowed short, it was still grass and we kept thinking of ticks, even though there were no overhanging tree branches -- but the grass was surrounded by trees. 

Despite the great damage wreaked by the spring storms up there, with the high heat, the high humidity, the rain -- it's become jungle-like. Things are beginning to look more like what the Dutch must have seen when they arrived in the 17th century, one imagines. 

Our Saratoga experiences were far from our everyday lives and environment. Monsoon Friday night -- Host's pool had to be out-pumped as it was overflowing from the amount of rain (more than one deluge) and then again starting about 7 PM. There are so many large windows in his wonderful house, that Saturday morning when we got up to go home, with the mist, the lowering skies, intermittent mizzle, and the condensation on the pane glass -- we felt we had been put in a massive, comfortable, mysterious aquarium. There was a world outside but we were imprisoned, thus shielded from it. Internet remained wonky at best, which it often is up there, particularly with as much thunder and lightning as went on Friday night. Somehow, nobody thought to turn on a tv or a radio. There are televisions in Host's house and state-of-the-art video / streaming hookup to them though there are no radios.

Host says he's forgotten about the televisions. They were used constantly while, over a very long year, his beloved, still mourned, wife died of a terrible cancer. During that year she watched repetitiously a certain cycle of BBC series. Once they reached the end of the final season, they'd start over immediately from the first episode of the first season. He hasn't bothered with television since her funeral.

As we drove home yesterday through the encroaching dense tree verges, under low clouds and rising mist we felt out of time, speeding silently among the strange and unknown. "Where are we?" Our lives seemed very far away and long ago. We were just -- here. We couldn't believe how short the time by clock was that we actually had been gone. In fact, almost immediately we arrived in his driveway, Host lost his watch. Had we been enchanted, we wondered as we drove south, back to New York City. 

Catskills, Adirondacks, they are really all one. Maybe we caught a whiff of what inspired Washington Irving to pen “Rip Van Winkle.”

It didn't hurt anything either that several sign-ups for Postmambo events came in while in Saratoga, and more after we arrived back home. -- events which also take the participants entirely out of their lives and where time stops, except for the rhythms measured by the drums.  Our Host has been on these with us.  He is going on two more -- to Haiti and to Havana. El V played Host Vodun muisc and showed videos recorded during his prospecting journey back in July.

Within 15 seconds of we having left his driveway, Our Host's watch reappeared.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Grant's Cottage

     . . . . The historic site where President Grant lived for the last six weeks of his life is located on McGregor's Mountain, in Wilcox, outside of Saratoga Springs.

The area in which the Cottage is located was, in that era, a very expensive resort for the Gilded Age rich, who arrived via a private bridge railway from Saratoga Springs. The resort was lit at night by that new-fangled electric light. Powered by generators, the lights went off then, at ten PM, because the generated noise kept people from sleeping.  The resort was just a short walking distance from the Cottage.

In agony from the  throat and tongue cancer that was Grant's death sentence, he completed his Personal Memoirs of the Mexican American War and the War of the Rebellion there. He was dead less than week after finishing. 

Half of the contents in the huge jar of his cocaine solution, with re-crystalized by now cocaine on the bottom, remains in the cottage.  All the furnishings, including the paintings and photos on the walls, are original to what Julia and the patron to who provided the Cottage put up there in 1885, when his doctors urged them to leave hot dirty NYC for the cooler, damper air of the Adirondacks.  All that summer Grant, with the same inexplicable, calm courage with which he defeated the CSA, battled to stay alive long enough to complete the Memoirs, which Mark Twain assured him would support his wife and family handsomely for the rest of their lives.  Recall, Grant had not only gone broke, but deeply in debt when his son's financial company, turned out to be his lying partner Ferdinand Ward's Ponzi scheme, financed entirely by President Grant's name. 

After his death, Grant's doctor said that his patient could never have lived so long if he had also imbibed the morphine prescribed for such agony. But he didn't because it would fuzz out his mind, sap his will, on his determined drive to finish the book.

This is the famous photo of Grant, finishing the Memoirs, in his chair on the corner of the veranda, outside his office, where most of the work, particularly the editing work by Mark Twain, took place.

I cannot believe I have stood there.

I knew all this but seeing the place was deeply affecting.  For years I've poured over the photographs of Grant and his family on the veranda of the Cottage.  Grant wrote a great deal on one of the corner's of the veranda.  There are photos of him in the chair there, the chair that still exists.  There are hand-written pages by him on view, and so many other items involved with the composition of the Memoirs.  Material bits and pieces of the celebrated do not hold much intrinsic interest for me, but these things, o they did!

And at the end, we viewed the bed where he died.  Above the headboard hung and still hangs his personal portrait of President Lincoln.

I choked up. Shed tears.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Yes It Has Been A Long Time Since Posting; Sun Tzh and The Art of War + Saratoga

     . . . . I have not posted since the penultimate day of July.  My goodness time does fly when busy with the present, including friends with medical emergencies, and planning the future, of which there is a lot of planning as so much travel is involved, from New Orleans and Texas, to the Caribbean, to Europe -- and lordessa save us, Abu Dahbi.

I have been reading some very interesting books, though, such as this Penguin edition of The Art of War: The Essential Translation of the Classic Book of Life (2009) by Sun=Tzu; Introduction by John Minford; Edited by John Minford; Translated by John Minford.

This edition was chosen because of the Introduction provides historical context and because the editor/translator has included extensive Commentary on the chapters by a variety of Chinese scholars and generals past and present.

These are the chapters of the bare text:

Chapter 1: Making of Plans 
Chapter 2: Waging of War 
Chapter 3: Strategic Offensive 
Chapter 4: Forms and Dispositions 
Chapter 5: Potential Energy 
Chapter 6: Empty and Full 
Chapter 7: The Fray 
Chapter 8: The Nine Changes 
Chapter 9: On the March 
Chapter 10: Forms of Terrain 
Chapter 11: The Nine Kinds of Ground 
Chapter 12: Attack by Fire 
Chapter 13: Espionage 

Last night I watched the Battle of Crecy episode from the television adaptation (2012) of the 14th century historical fiction doorstop, World Without End, by Ken Follett (no one loves rape and humiliation and degradation of women as much as he, not even GRRM).

I kept checking off the aspects of King Edward's plans for Crecy against Sun Tzh's instruction. It included everything Sun Tzu admonishes, about, including when to do or not to do a forced march. I was quite impressed. But then one sees how much all successful historical generals such Caesar, Napoleon and Grant follow his guidelines too, whether they did so consciously or not. The most important aspect evidently is speed of action, because Sun Tzu brings it up often, in more than one section of his advice.  One has noticed that most successful commanders before mechanized warfare and air warfare has rapid movement in common.

I could not help but compare and contrast Grant and Lee with Sun Tzu instructions -- and how Lee in so many ways did not adhere to the Sun Tzu exhortations, while Grant always did. 

Clausewitz had read Sun Tzu it is said. So might have Grant, though he never mentions it. Napoleon is widely thought to have carried the books with him everywhere. The first western translation of The Art of War was 1782, by a Jesuit priest, into French.

Why, since I have read Clausewitz, why had I not read The Art of War? It's so short too, quite unlike Clausewitz. But then, Clausewitz, though seemingly permeated with Sun-Tzu, is also Enlightenment in his approaches (which tends to really make him mostly out-of-date, experts say, for 19th and 20th century warfare -- what about 21st C warfare?), whereas, as mentioned, Sun-Tzh, who may well be the same sort of composite figure as Homer, is for the ages. Though warfare by plane, drone and intercontinental missiles changes everything, doesn't it? 

The Art of War, though so short, may actually be even more dense than Clausewitz, since so much is couched in metaphor that we (well, at least me) of our place and age are not able to quickly and easily penetrate and grasp. 

But I do recall how Grant is / was universally praised for the brevity and clarity of his battlefield plans and orders.

Now I'm thinking of The Art of War in terms of the battles of Saratoga, since as of tomorrow we're on a jaunt with a friend to visit a Postmambo Traveler amigo who lives there.  My two objectives for our mini vacay is to visit the ground where Benedict Arnold pulled the Continental Congress and the as yet unborn nation's chestnuts out of the British military fire, was dreadfully injured, but allowed the French to come in who really pulled the US chestnuts out of the fire -- and then that nasty piece of work, General Gates, stole all the credit for himself, when he earned none -- sulking the whole time in his tent. 

After that I'm going to take the tour of the cottage where Grant finished his Memoirs of the Mexican American War and the War of the Rebellion, one of the greatest works of military history, as great as Julius Caesar's War Commentaries on his Gallic Wars, and one of the United States great works of literature.

I'll probably look at some horses too, and who knows what else? There's no dearth of things to do and see in Saratoga.