". . . 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

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

The Accursed Kings series by Maurice Druon

     . . . Prior to the opening of The Iron King, the first novel in the series, Iron King Philip, so named for his iron fist implementing his iron will, has dissolved the Knights Templar on trumped charges of sorcery. 

He has imprisoned and tortured as many Knights as could be caught by his forces. With the connivance of certain well-placed Archbishops and Cardinals inside and outside the Inquisition, both Church and King have appropriated the Templars' wealth, and incidentally, destroyed the records that could be found of their enormous debts to the Templars. 

At the start of the narrative proper, the Iron King gets the cooperation of the Church to burn at the stake the Knights Templar Grand Master, Jacques de Molay. As the Grand Master burns with his closest and oldest friend, he lays a curse upon the king and his line. The night the Grand Master burns, concurrently, the Queen of France and her sister are committing adultery with two young men about-court, for which they too are soon arrested, thanks to the scheming of the Iron King's daughter, Isabella (the she-wolf), the Queen of England. From the arrest of the Templars and the royal adulteresses follow all of what happens in the series of seven novels, which end with the end of the line of the Capets.

This post is evidently provoked by the inability to escape the frantic bleating of media of every kind around the coming premiere of the final season of HBO's Game of Thrones.  GRRM really did pull more inspiration from the novels of The Accursed Kings than he ever did from the Wars of the Roses.

This re-read of the the French historical fiction series revealed even more information of how much the first three volumes of ASOIAF took from the English language translation of Druon's retelling of the end of the Capetian dynasty. This dynasty, at the conclusion of the series, is replaced by the Valois (though, of course, the replacements were also related to the Capetians, just as the Capetians themselves were growths from the Merovingian and Carolingian families). 

When I say ‘inspiration,’ I don't mean only such Westros governing administrative bodies such as 'the small council,' the names of characters such as Loris, Brienne, figures that certainly are prototypes of the Clegane brothers, twins, dwarfs, etc., as well as place names, but so much else, such as 'banner' and 'bannerman'. 

'Bannermen'  is not French per se.* In French this affiliate to various lords would probably be called something more like 'moyens' the middles, as they were of middling ranked status, with lands -- but not nobility, nor peasants, some of which also small lands.

In English,'bannerman' derives from Scotland with Edward I’s conquest, coming into Norman-French speaking England, and then brought to France via his combined English and Scots forces. These campaigns play out in The Accursed Kings by the two final volumes, which is why the final volume is titled King Without A Kingdom. Here are the roots of the 100 Years War between France and England, as the Capets are replaced by the Valois.

To my historian’s mind, the most significant inspiration GRRM took for his fantasy history Game of Thrones, was The Iron Bank of Braavos. There are no banks in Lord of the Rings, thus they have seldom been part of medievalist fantasy or historical fiction until the Iron Bank of Braavos.** Occasionally there are Jews in historical fiction who provide the funds and credit by which nobility and royalty can carry on their endless wars, as in Ivanhoe, by the creator of historical fiction. However, in The Accursed Kings, the historical consortium of 13th- 14th century Lombard money lenders, credit extenders, and investors are essential to not only to the expensive military and political events (not least marriages and coronations) that take place over the course of series, but also to individual characters who make the wars. Even Gucci, the very young nephew-scion of the most important Lombard banker in France, Tolemei – a continuing, significant character in his own right -- is an ancillary character,who becomes more a featured player in the books’ events as he matures, even as he has a private life, which the consequences are, at best, bittersweet. -- and with which The Accursed Kings concludes.

Among the historical cultural elements that The Accursed Kings does include that ASOIAF doesn’t, is the place of artists and poets within this elevated society of churchmen, royals, nobles and bankers. We meet the father of the poet Boccaccio, who wants to retire from the Bank and just write poetry; Dante and his work is invoked, particularly in an affecting scene in the tent of an exception to most of the lords running French army. The army’s bogged down under a summer’s relentless rain and mud, this lord keeps his men’s spirits up by having Dante’s Inferno recited, encouraging the discussion and hoots of appreciative laughter when particularly disliked figures – whose deeds are very familiar to the men, some of whom, or their families do, have actual skin in the game -- are described suffering in hell. Did we know the Inferno  a/k/a The Divine Comedy had funny bits? These poets and writers also play a role as messengers, negotiators and information gatherers.

Inversely, partly via Sam Tarley and mageisturs, but primarily via crones’ folk tales, Game of Thrones does emphasize the importance of scholars and historians; the fabulous past is part and parcel of High Fantasy. Significantly, in this inversion of High Fantasy tropes, no one pays attention to them, or acts on what they learn, unlike Aragorn requesting information the herb athelas to heal Frodo and Eowyn, or Gandalf in the archives of Minas Tirith.

It is equally the case in The Accursed Kings that few learn anything from the past, beyond, occasionally the new king thinking over what his predecessor did for good or ill, so there are no historians or scholars as characters. What we do have is a large, fractious, rebellious faction of nobles who think everything will improve by returning to the ‘good old days of chivalry’ of Saint Louis IX in the 13th century. In those days the lords of the land weren’t obligated to follow rules decreed by a king. They behaved with impunity in their own lands and against each other. These short-sighted retrogressive nobles play an important role in bringing down the Capetian dynasty by demands that obligatory allegiance to the king’s central authority be voided. Thus the dissolution of Philippe IV’s first painful steps progressing to France as a nation state, not a state made of many individual feuding states and statelets. This too leads to the end of the Capetians.

I admire these books as perhaps the most honest historical fiction I’ve encountered that is focused solely on the figures who rule: royalty and nobles, popes and cardinals; and most of all, bankers. Druon does not glorify anyone and sticks as best he can to actually what happened. He dramatizes why the Salic Law was implemented, that the line of monarchy cannot go through the female/queen line.

 I can't figure out why the series was so successful in France as these novels are set during one of the worst eras of French descent into dysfunction, anarchy, poverty and suffering -- and in the middle we have the Black Death --made even worse, the historians tells us, through the idiocy of the Capetian kings, the Church (the era of the papacy removing to Avignon from Italy) their nobles and their rivalries. When adapted for television, all of France watched, with enthusiasm. Here in the US there would be no market for novels or television series -- or even histories themselves -- that provide a narrative of the pile-up of stupidities that make a pile-up of failures on the national and international stage. Instead there would howls of outrage accusing the creators and historians of lying and tearing down the country. 


*    Curiously, when one searches online for the French translation of 'bannerman', what one gets as examples are all from ASOIAF. 

**  Alas, then, allowing the conviction be imprinted among so many readers of this sort of fiction, who are so young they know no history, that there was no money in the European Middle Ages, just as there were no people of color in the European Middles Ages, and no women of power and agency in the European Middle Ages. This medieval historical fiction series would show them differently on all three fronts.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Americans With Guns: The Highwaymen, The Terminator, Bonnie and Clyde, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

     . . . .The Highwaymen (2019) Netflix Original. Retelling the 1930’s Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow folk ballad (faux) hero tale from the perspective of the two retired Texas Rangers who massacred them without mercy

I love that we don’t really see the killers, Bonnie and Clyde, and we never see their faces, until the very end, when they are killed in a hail of bullets. This underlines how much pov creates sympathy for even the most evil of figures.

This alone creates a discursive antithesis to Warren Beatty and Fay Dunaway's Bonnie and Clyde (1967), the one, after seeing it, I declared their deaths were necessary and not heroic. “They killed innocent people,” I said, which was indeed shown on screen in that film so famous and vaunted for style and counter-cultural narrative, and which influenced the style of women as much as the real life Bonnie Parker’s did (the beret! hair style! writing very poor poetry!). My mistake of a first husband responded, “They were just stupid people. Who cares?” showing our marriage was rushing down the drain of irreconcilable differences.

This one, featuromg wonderful Kevin Costner (who also produced and directed), and equally wonderful Woody Harelson, is sort of a present day counter-cultural narrative, taking mild pains to condemn the giddy media coverage of these un-Robin Hoods, who rob banks and kill poor and innocent people, and the even more frenzied support of the public, naming them heroes. It’s speaking to the instantaneous  with which online communities build up and take down figures 

– even to the Columbine killers in their flapping dusters under which they conceal weapons, as does The Terminator’s (1984) Kyle Reese, when trying to save Sarah Connor from Schwartzenager.

But it wants to have its condemnation of mass media glamorization of violence and have its violence too, quite like John Ford, after re-examining his decades of films of glamorizing the single righteous man with a gun, tries to do, in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) Like The Highwaymen, so does this fail, in the end., when Jimmy Stewart’s Ransom Stoddard, who condemns violence in favor of the law and court, to save his own masculinity, goes out with a gun to face Lee Marvin’s Valance, the most violent man of all, while John Wayne’s Tom Doniphon is the real secret assassin behind the wall – and the paper’s editor prefers to prints the lie of Stoddard glory rather than the truth of Donophin's anonymous kill – and Stoddard gets the girl and become a Unites States Senator on the back of the glory of his fake kill.

There’s a sly scene in which Kevin Costner’s Frank Hamer – is acquiring the armory with which he’s going to face the Barrow Gang.  He requests one lethal weapon after another from the gun seller.  The seller says, “Which one do you want?” He says, “All.”  Right out of the 1984 The Terminator*, where Arnold Shwartzenager plays the same scene, with the same terse words, originally, though the scene doesn't conclude the same way with Hamer's acquisitions. 

Things get more cruel and heartless in the future than they already are -- and let's not forget what's around the corner historically from this moment in Germany and Europe.

A great deal is made in The Highwaymen by Hamer and Maney Gault, with barely straight faces, concerning the technological advances in law enforcement since the days they rode the Mexican borders on horseback with their peace keepers – wire taps on the party phone lines! While surely most of those watching this Netflix Original film have no idea what a party line even is. So here we have a chronological meditation meta rondelay between three films: Bonnie and Clyde (1967), also set in the 1930’s, The Terminator (1984) set in the 1980’s but permeated by 2049, only 20 years in the future of the time in which we are watching (2019) The Highwaymen, still set in the 1930’s. 

The scenes of endless highway unfurling over the Texas llano under the endless sky within far distant horizons banked with blue, lavender and white cloud strata, and at the west the nearly set sun glows palely, soothe our troubled soul and sore heart.

The location scenes in Louisiana's dark woodlands are disturbing, evocative of inevitable impending bloody justice, as we drive those narrow dirt roads between the piney woods not yet lumbered out.  It's the drive to Angola Prison, always dark, always confined, whether day or night, sunshine or cloud. A long way of unbroken oppression, with only cruel confinement at the end of the road.

I enjoyed watching this film then for several reasons.  It gave me a lot to look at that I liked, starting with the primary actors, and ending with the landscape. That is America.  We cannot separate who we are from where we are, or, as can also be said, economic, political, cultural and technological, there's a lot of US history to unpack here, provided with a not so concealed wink.

Many thanks to Richard Slotkin's magnificent trilogy of histories that insightfully examine the history of the USA through its culture of violence, giving a primary role to our entertainments that celebrate the righteous solitary man with a gun as the solution to every problem: Regeneration Through Violence (1973); The Fatal Environment (1985); Gunfighter Nation (1992).


*The Terminator (1984). Sheer coincidence that it is currently streaming on Netflix so I watched it right after The Highwaymen.  I’ve never seen it before, which seems, somehow, odd. But until Buffy and dvds and streaming, I chose to stay away from most films filled from stem to stern with violence, which is called ‘action.’ For decades this kind of violence was so disturbing to me, I literally could not watch it, as I didn’t grow up on a constant viewing diet of of violence committed by people against people in gory detail – especially that done to women. And then, of course the additional trauma of the kidnapping, torture and rape of my sister.  I still find detailed violence disturbing enough that I cannot keep my eyes on the screen, often leave the room, but, you know, completist.

So, considering some of the early scenes of shotgun concealed under a duster – the good guy – it feels that maybe the Columbine shooters got the idea here, rather than The Matrix.  Or both, of course.  The internet is filled with sites featuring dusters from both films, advertised for sale, the models holding weapons.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019


     . . . . I haven't posted in several weeks.  The reason is that someone dear was lost shortly after we returned from the Postmambo Havana Nocturne trip in February.

Certain things are difficult to do; among them is engaging with much outside my immediate, face-to-face neighborhood and social-professional life.  This will probably go on for a while.

This is such a pure grief though.  There are no complications as with the deaths of parents, a child, a spouse.  We were just really good friends.  We just enjoyed each other's company.

This friend was beautiful, inside and out.  I was always delighted just to see her; her  vitality, her beautiful hair,  her wonderful face, smile and hearing her laugh, her exquisite taste in clothes.

In all the time we were friends not a single negative crossed my mind.  She loved the world and everything in it -- except, well, we all know who. and his cronies.  

Everyone loved her back.  It was an honor to be among her very very many friends.

Everyone who knew her, misses her.  

She was a light, gone out, in the increasing dark.

We will remember her.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Watching The Birth of the Detective: The Suspicions of Mr Whicher - Not Reading The Witch Elm by Tana French

     . . . . Watching: The Suspicions of Mr Whicher (2013-2014) BBC and seemingly also ITV -- it's a little confusing.  The four stand-alone episodes of the series are available on Amazon Prime.

These are based on the non-fiction book of Kate Summerscale, about the cases of this Victorian investigator, from the era that birthed the 'private inquiry agent.' (I read it, back when it was were published). Her book shows how this real life figure played a primary role in the fictional creation of the 'private inquiry agent,' who arrives then, almost in tandem with the creation of a professional police force, the Scotland Yard.

These cases inspired our early, great crime and detection fiction writers from Wilkie Collins to Conan Doyle.  These are recommended for viewers to whom this high Victorian era (1860's) mystery-crime-detection story appeals.

What this viewer most appreciates is how carefully the writers of the episodes include the mores and behaviors of the day – as depicted in novels by the sensational novelists of the period, such as Wilkie Collins. In other words they don't treat the content and the characters with the sensibilities and understandings of the present -- as far as that is possible, of course.

Though the crimes are grisley, we viewers are spared seeing them take place on screen.  Nor does one have to endure the tension of personal danger to the investigator, as in Ripper Street (which is set later), which lack is something I really appreciate as well.  We are invested in Whicher's character, though we surely don't like him or his methods in the first episode, "The Murder at Road Hill House."

As we travel with Whicher in his life after the debacle that was "The Murder at Road Hill House," both he and we get to known him better, and his character becomes, not necessarily softer, but more clearly primarily concerned with justice -- more so than he was in his earlier life.

It's satisfying to watch in all the best ways (if, like me, you like these things, of course), especially on these very cold nights.

Value added; the second episode has Olivia Coleman in it.

   . . . . READING: The Wych Elm (in the UK); The Witch Elm (In US) 2018.  Alas, the protagonist a bore. Do not care what maybe happened to him, what he maybe did, what happens to him later, and his equally non-entity family members, friends and girlfriends. The author clearly is fascinated by her protagonist and his endless but contentless ultimately ruminations, but they are not interesting.  Worst of all, nothing about the protagonists and the cops that arrive are in the least believable, unlike in her previous books. 

I had been looking forward to reading this novel a great deal for I've increasingly admired her books as they arrived.  This is a disappointment, so far below the engrossing narratives she’s previously constructed. This narrative convolutes its head up its own ass.

A Terrible Beauty (2016), the 11th installment in Tasha Alexander's series featuring the Lady Emily Ashton. So far there are 13 books featuring the inexpressibly desirable, supremely beautiful and attractive, and smartest person in the room, Lady Emily. O! don't forget Lady Emily also has the most exquisite taste in gowns and jewelry and hair styles, which she manages while reciting Homer in Greek, which has memorized, while writing deeply scholarly, groundbreaking works on Greek mythology and other ancient Greek matters.

This mystery-detection series is set in the last decade of the 19th century within in the hothouse environment of Brit peers who rule the world -- who don't actually, you know, ever work, but jaunt about for the sole opportunity to exchange the most well-bred ripostes.

I read The Adventuress ( #10, 2015), first, last year.  Never managed to finish the initial book of Lady Emily, And Only to Deceive (2005) in which she solves the mystery of her first husband's death, before I got distracted by something more compelling.

# 11 is preposterous. Plot holes and action drop-outs abound.

After a decade of Emily's adventures, marriage to dead husband's best friend, pursuit by a duke, birth of children, the dead first husband returns. Why he never showed up before is not answered in way that makes any sense beyond the author needing a plot, an author who believes if she commits the same risible slap-dash plotting in order to publish three times a year of the 1890's lady novelists, she can get away with it in the 21st century.  Or else,  Emily is so compelling to so many superior men that love of her brings even the dead back to life.

Need it be said that Tasha Alexander lives in the USA?

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Reading Books: I Can Still Do It! - Tombland by C. J. Sansom

     . . . . Tombland is the seventh installment of Tudor-era lawyer cum crime investigator, Matthew Shardlake. 

Shardlake suffers a degenerative spinal problem, something with which I can identify with intensely from 2019, even though, at least by now, in this seventh account of his perilous manueverings around the monarchy and other powerful English lords and officials, it is only 1549.  Not much has changed for the effective management of such back pain. But at least for now, unlike Shardlike, I am not a hunchback living in an era in which any deviation from the norm physically or mentally or emotionally is regarded either as a sign the person is evil and should be at best expelled from society or burned. 

Thus, as well as making enemies with the cohorts of the powerful (he's been thrown in the Tower not just once, but twice, and it is only his intelligence and the discreet support of rival powers allowed him to not only survive, but continue practicing law), Matthew also has to deal with chronic, ever increasing pain, and the fear and persecution of the foolish and just plain mean.

This is all a way of saying that Shardlake is an exceptional character, of depth and nuance, in historical fiction. He's also a pleasant fellow, loyal and kind in every plausible sort of manner, who does not stay the same throughout this series.  His attitudes and beliefs about class and wealth, and many other matters, slowly shift and broaden as the series continues.

Tombland is a brilliant historical novel, the best of the entire series so far.  It is also the longest, 800 pages, with a 50 page historical essay at the end.  But it doesn't feel saggy or draggy at all.  It is slow perhaps, but so much is necessary for both Shardlake and the reader to learn about the conditions of England in that summer of rebellion, 1549 -- which has been fairly ignored by historians, because nobody comes out of it very well*, except, perhaps, the martyred leaders of Kitt's Rebellion at Mouseland, above the city of Norwich in Norfolk.

I began reading Tombland more than two weeks ago.  The reading concluded in snatched half and three quarters of hours in Havana, while waiting around for others to get to the lobby or waiting my turn for the shower while el V luxuriated (if anyone needed to luxuriate in a hot shower, it was him -- so busy, so hard he works to present the best Postmambo experience to his Travelers as possible -- and it pays off -- all that time and work shows every minute of every day).  I finished the last pages in the Jose Martí airport outside Havana yesterday.

I highly recommend reading this -- and the entire Shardlake series to everyone who enjoys reading historical fiction. However it is unnecessary to have read the others to read Tombland.  If the reader enjoys fiction set in the Tudor era, this, and the entire series, is particularly recommended.

Next up -- not an historical, but by another author I highly admire and enjoy reading, Tana French's The Witch Elm (in the US; Wych Elm in the UK).  Nice to have this on hand now that I'm home again; it's snowing and very cold. Though, They Say tomorrow will be quite warm.


* Rather as US historians have tended to ignore the War of 1812 until quite recently as no one responsible for making and running this show comes off well, including President Madison.  And, let's face it, essentially the US lost -- D.C. and the White House were burned, and Madison fled.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Hotel Riviera la habana -- Valentine's Day!

     . . .  The flight from JFK to Jose Marti was longer than ever experienced, due to the continuing winds from Tuesday's storms.  We could feel the plane fighting for every bit of headway.  As well, as we began the approach to Cuba this became the most turbulent flight on a commercial flight I've ever experienced.

As the weather forecasts had predicted, it was overcast and coolish in Havana.  What the forecasts did not predict though, was a big rainstorm, which began a few moments after we got into the bus, about 2 PM and continued all through the night. It's still overcast today but it does look as though it is clearing.

The Hotel Riviera is located right on the Malecon; the way Mayer Lanskey had it designed, there is a view of the sea from every room, yet one cannot see the highway and the cars on it that runs along the Malecon.  The view of the plunging, surging, exploding fireworks of wave and water -- the "penetration of the sea" in Havana idiom -- is spectacular through the floor to ceiling windows of the palacial space lobby. Here are a variety of decks and patios and lounging areas, as well as a bar, and the entrances to what used to be the casino and the nightclub and cocktail lounges. All afternoon and night guests were avidly videoing the landscape.

It brought so many memories of me spending hours back in 1999 - 2000 trying to capture these scene, where waves break in a line like aerial bombing against the sea walls of the Malecon.  I walked past the Riviera at least once a day on the way to the market and only 'store' in Havana in those days.  Nor had the Riviera been restored then.  But I did attend music events and have drinks with friends here (Cubans were not allowed up into Cuban hotel rooms then, either.)

The Postmambo travelers arrive in a little while.  Two hours after they check in we will take the mob history tour of the Riviera, go on to la Salon Benny More at la Tropical, then dinner in the hotel at the restaurant L'Aiglon, and then move over to the Bar Elegante for our celebration of Valentine's Day concert by the wonderful Haydee Melendez -- who happens also to be a most elegant musician in her personal appearance as well as magnificently talented -- her father is the, by now, mythic singer - musician, Pablo Melendez.

In the meantime, wifi is hard to do.  Have to buy wifi cards from the the hotel to use in the hotel, and nothing else will work here -- which is another way the hotels get revenue of course.  But one can't use the cards in one's room -- no service -- which also mean one can only use battery power down here in the lobby -- nowhere to plug in.  Morever, a lot of sites, like my little DM friends site can't be reached from Cuba at all.  And for some reason, on this little notebook, the display of any kind of image is all wonky too.  So no posting of photos from here, it looks like.

But there ya, go.  This is Cuba.  If one came here to hang out online, one is a silly willy.  Yet -- if one is doing business, even business that is good for Cuba, it's a real pita.

Unlike last month in Oriente, tourism seems to be doing OK here in Havana, though none of the hotels are full.  I wonder if these giant dream houses built by US mafia lords and their confreres and friends ever were filled even in the halcyon days of Havana US tourism in the 1950's?  My guess is the only time every room in Havana was filled was when President Obama came here -- not even the Pope did that, surely.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Cooba 2019 Part the Second -- Packing

     . . . . I confess to never being as pleased and relaxed about packing for Cuba as I was today.  Supposedly mid 80's and sunny starting on Thursday, though tomorrow supposedly mid-high 70's with scattered showers.

However, here -- ooo la la! freezing temps, snow, sleet, freezing rain, high wind gusts, all day, and still going on, though the temp has gotten just above freezing now at dinner time.  Supposed to continue to warm all night, still with rain, but not freezing rain.  So hopefully our flight will take off as scheduled (early) tomorrow morning.

Packing all complete.  Valentine's and BD comin' right along.  This is going to be fun.

Novels which may or may not get read: C.J. Sansom's latest Shardlake novel, Tombland (2018), and The Witch Elm (US title; in the UK The Wych Elm) 2018. One of the Oriente Travelers last month was reading it on the plane on the way to Holguín, and couldn't put it down.

What a day this has been . . . .

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Survival in the Polar Vortex -- ABC Murders

     . . . . Whatever the ABC Murders is (2018; ITV > amazon prime), it is not Agatha Christie. 

It lacks charm and wit, warmth and satisfaction. The storytelling is poor. There is little detection. 

Therefore this three-episoder has nothing to do with Christie's famous Poirot novel of the same title. Worst of all, Poirot's character was given an entirely different backstory to that Christie had given him.  None of the other characters were what they were in Christie's novel either.

So, the question is, why bother calling it Poirot at all?

I ask, because, so changing up Christie's book and characters interfered with experiencing the ABC Murders and Malkovich's performance as the aging Belgian detective still living in England after seeking asylum from WWI so long ago, in any fair and objective manner.

As a viewer I'm attracted to watch this because of Agatha Christie and her character, Poirot.  Whether that is fair of me as a viewer or not, is beside the point because "Christie" and "Poirot" are how the production is advertised and presented, so thus we viewers are going to have some expectations derived from both-- none of which are met. 

This is most unfair to Malkovich, one thinks, who is giving his best to be the best Poirot he can be, but he's never Poirot as many generations of readers and watchers of the very many adaptations of his detecting have come to know him.

The John Mslkovich Poirot is so dark that he might as well be Tom Hardy's James Keziah Delaney, in BBCI's Taboo (2017).

Malkovich faced a very difficult proposition taking on the role of Poirot in the first place.  But changing up the plot, the characters and Poirot's character itself gave him a nearly insurmountable challenge to engage the viewer.  That Poirot has aged, become sad, without optimism, and again fearful of a future overrun by Germans and racism is understandable and certainly can be, and has been, done -- notably the David Suchet Poirot of The Orient Express, in which his recognition of the global anti-semitism flowing out of Germany enrages and terrifies him. 

The flag of the British Union of Fascists, known as the "Union Banner"

This aspect of this production of The ABC Murders is the best element.  This is 1933; we see posters everywhere demanding 'aliens' be expelled; casual bigotry is expressed by many of the characters; Poirot himself is harassed by a gang of kids for being a foreigner; various figures are shown wearing the flash and circle pins in support of the Brits' fascist parties.  This also addresses current conditions in Britain today.

Here, the focus is on the psychology of everyone, including Poirot, not on the plot of detecting, which is not Christie's way.  So Malkovich is reduced to playing Poirot as sad and pathetic, mourning his lost glory days of  hosting "Murder Games" in the homes of decadent aristocrats -- anyone who knows Poirot knows that the very idea of the "Murder Game" outraged him.  Poirot has always taken murder of anyone as a sin as well as a crime, that he must put as right as can be by revealing the identity of the murderer.

So yes.  Everything about this Poirot is wrong, beginning with Poirot. Evidently the entire point of the murders in this tale is to rejuvenate Poirot as a man and as a reputation -- not to balance the scales of justice that have been put out by the shedding of blood.

I would not recommend watching this unless thoroughly unacquainted with either Christie's novels or any other interpretation of Poirot on screen (and there are many). 

David Suchet as Poirot in the ITV adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express (2010) This is toward the end of the series, when Poirot's and the whole world's milieu was getting darker.  Yet, see? there is still some sun.
But of all the screen, and doubtless stage too, adaptations and portrayals of Poirot, the greatest, without question, is that of David Suchet in the long-running (1989 - 2013) British ITV  series, Agatha Christie's Poirot.  It was a brilliant series, in every way, from design to cinematography to location and casting.  There was ample blood and detection, ample grief and outrage, but there was always sunshine too.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

I Am Not An Expert But I Am A Privileged White Male, So Watch Me Bloviate Anyway Because, You Know, White Man = Expert

     . . . .Too long, don't read this rant following ☭  ☭  : but Kristof made me do it.

Imagine oneself Cuban, reading Nicholas Kristof's latest excrescence in the NY Times. The colonial, imperialist, white supremacist mindset permeates him, and he doesn't even know it. He actually thinks he's being nice and progressive about Cuba.

This is why the United States (and England too) is a lurching, dysfunctional, chaotic, violent monster of gigantic destruction to itself and everything else. 

"I'm Not An Expert (nor does he even speak Spanish) BUT Listen to ME!!!!!!!! Tell Everybody All About Cuba." Bloviates Nicolas Kristof: 

"....It’s simply a tired little country ..."
This, right at the top of his blowharding in the prestigious New York Times, reveals Kristof's profound ignorance of what is going on in Cuba -- he's never have written that if he went dancing Cubans, of any and all ages, or listened to Cubans making music, or spent time with them getting up every day to dress their kids as nicely as possible, figure out how to solve yet more shortage or invent yet another work-around, exchange tech expertise for pay, providing goods and services, doing a cattle round-up, make chocolate -- organic chocolate on organic, diversified beautiful farms, by hand, as well as raising, organically, the other two crops that naturally occur together, coffee and coconuts, as well as poultry, pigs, cattle, horses -- and, further run by a consortium of women, of all ages and colors, who love their machetes -- they give their machetes names -- and use them with great expertise -- and they don't look in the least like a cliche of what a farm woman or agriculture worker looks like.

If Kristof had any meaningful contact with Cuba beyond a service situation he would NEVER have called Cuba "a tired little country." Cubans have more energy than anybody in the USA, other than immigrants like the Haitians, and certainly a lot more than anybody currently in the White House or trying to be POTUS. 

It's not merely an ignorant observation, it's insulting, in the way one would expect from a privileged, comfortable old white guy who isn't an expert but is gonna tell people anyway -- even when the people he's telling know profoundly more about it than he does. 

"Let’s make room for nuance: Cuba impoverishes its citizens and denies them political rights, but it does a good job providing basic education and keeping people healthy. As I noted in my last column, on Cuba’s health care system, Cuba’s official infant mortality rate is lower than America’s (its real rate may or may not be).
I’m not a Cuba expert, but ... "
However, Kristof is a privileged white male in very comfortable circumstances so he's gonna tell the USA what is what about what he doesn't know anything about, and all will read  his awesome brilliance and be in awe of of his awesomeness who went to Havana that one time -- and he shall be well paid. Don't bother looking out for somebody who does know and could tell us what we might want or even need to know. And who speaks Spanish.

Moreover, Kristof proves to have never met a cliche he won't seize on without thinking about it or investigating what is behind the cliche -- one that everybody invokes who is not an expert either, the cliche that everybody includes in every repetitive same-samey piece they all write about the subject of Cuba. (Who will bet against me that when Kristof writes or talks about New Orleans, he uses the dreaded hoary 'gumbo' cliche?) 

"Plus, extra credit goes to a country that so lovingly preserves old American cars. I rode in from the airport in a pink 1954 Cadillac."
He has no idea that this pink Cadillac's body (all the rest of it was pillaged to get something else running for a little while) has rusted for decades without an engine, but is now running because the state fairly recently imported a large number of diesel fuel burning engines that those with these useless cars rushed to install in order to drive around ignorant old white guys who boast of riding in a pink Cadillac and further pollute beautiful Havana. It wasn't lovingly preserved, but created, with parts and paint the owner somehow managed to wangle recently from outside of Cuba.

People visiting their Cuban friends and family commonly bring in shock absorbers, fuel pumps and all sorts of parts even for vehicles much more recently manufactured than a 1954 pink Cadillac, such as Toyotas.  But he doesn't know that  Why?  If he'd asked, you know, he would have known. Responsible journalism, hello?

The following is the most infuriating bit, the most insulting bit. Kristof literally cannot imagine Cuba and Cubans existing in any way in the future except as in its previous relationship to the US when the US corporations and the mafia owned the whole damned island -- as a servant class to rich white old white Americans. Caregivers. Servants. Cooks, Cleaners. Gads, this is disgusting. He hasn't met any of the dynamic, innovative Cuban professionals. Just for one example of what he can't imagine is just at the end of this last year, a Hollywood production team came to Havana where they met with all sorts of agencies and people who work in television and film there. The Hollywood people were agreeably impressed with their knowledge, experience, record and creativity. But great economics white US guy can't think that there could be fine investment opportunity in film and tv production facilities in Cuba.  Nope. Cubans must clean up the vomit and shyte of tourists and elderly retired people. Who are rich, white USians.

".... Some American seniors who now winter in Florida could become snowbirds in Cuba instead, relying on its health care, low prices, great beaches and cheap labor. You can hire a home health care aide for a month in Havana for the cost of one for a day in Florida...."

Cheap labor yay! That's what we can do with Cuba!  

Additionally this will help keep immigrants out who traditionally are supposed to be doing this work since we'll be outsourcing to Cuba our rich elderly family without the voting crisis of letting in to the USA people, who aren't, you know, white -- people, who work harder than privileged white men like Kristof can begin to imagine, to improve their families' futures and become US citizens -- and voters! which is the ruling class of the USA's worst nightmare. Total win-win for us, YAY!

You know Cubans are not thrilled about returning to their historic status as servant class to clean up the incontinent messes of rich old white guys of the USA. Additionally, they are already doing this for the elderly members of their families -- who live with them, not in retirement homes, where US prosperous ilks foist off the care for their elderly upon immigrants and others they assume are too stupid to do anything else, and should be GRATEFUL for this really low-paying, really difficult and exhausting work, while facing imprisonment and deportation any old time. But he, as an old white guy of privilege, demonstrates he literally cannot think of Cubans as deserving or capable of being anything more than  'servant' and providing 'service.' 

Has he noticed how much of the island's population is not white? Who does he think made the Cuban Revolution? Who does he think the Revolution served? Does he believe they have put up with everything the Cubans have had to put up with throughout their history and struggled to overcome throughout their history in order to -- raise their kids for the opportunity of cleaning his white bottom when he's old and drooling? What does he know about the great Cuban Revolutionary leaders such as Lt. General José Antonio de la Caridad Maceo y Grajales in Cuba's history of fighting for the abolition of slavery and independence, and the position of the US in those struggles? Clue, here:

The US was NOT in favor of the abolition of slavery in Cuba -- and opposed over the 19th century to various of Cuba's struggles for independence from Spain, because independent from Spain, Cuba would abolish slavery -- so the USA intervened with its big stick.  Can't have free black people by golly. Our slaves would run away to Cuba instead of us being able to sell our overpopulation of slaves to Cuba where the sugar industry would kill them in 10 years -- very profitable for us, that, yessirree bob! 

In the meantime, while Kristof mourns that the orange nazi (and the mummies of Florida like Rubio) want to roll back the baseball players deal, he hasn't noticed that the orange nazi and his mafia have sold Cuba to Putin and his mafia. The Russians are everywhere in Cuba again, providing building materials, industrial products from elevators to tractors, while the Russian oligarchs anchor their yachts in Cuba's Caribbean ports. Orange nazi feels right at home with yachts of course (or does he get seasick?) while giving not a ripe fart for baseball. 

My gawd, everything clown Kistof did not notice, that was right in front of his face, but he didn't see, blissing out on pink Cadillacs and cheap servants. 

Saturday, January 12, 2019

     . . . . Holy Cow! 

Greetings -- not from Cooba, but a Hampton Inn in Ft. Lauderdale. 

Got in from Holguín this morning. The Postmambo Travelers continued on their various home journeys. El V and I have processed to a Hampton Inn, with airport shuttle service, laundry facilities, and just fine wifi in the room. This is a suite, though. We got a complementary upgrade on our reservation for some reason. 

El V's washing clothes, as he goes to Havana tomorrow. I'm waiting until I get home, and hoping that the laundry facilities haven't been shut down for some kind of renovation or something. Pulling all the packing back together again seems more than I can handle right now. Seriously, and I mean seriously, short of sleep. Haven't had caffeine or breakfast today yet either (it's noon). I wasn't ready for either of them, served especially for us, by the swimming pool at 6:30 AM at the beautiful soviet era Hotel Pernik. Breakfast doesn't start officially until 7 AM, but this is what we get with our Amistur Cuba guide, Jesús, and his pull . . . . 

I was online once only, for about 10 minutes, on the 5th, but that is it. 

Another adventure completed, another adventure with the most wonderful and adventurous people. This, despite, one-by-one, every single member of the group, went down to some mysterious but awful bug that lasted at least two days. The only people who didn't were Nan, a beautiful dancer from California who is 68 but looks about 50 at most, and young J (his dad M, came from Albuquerque to travel with his son and with el V -- he's a mad drummer), who, as the director of the Sarah Lawrence College Cuban Studies program, has lived here by now for three years -- and, you won't believe this! -- me! So I'll probably go down tonight or the moment I get home. 

My flight to LaGuardia is around 11 AM tomorrow; B's meeting me to help with the baggage. 

Whew! we did it. The Travelers are very pleased. This is particularly so for the woman whose life partner is now in assisted living due to Alzheimer's. For years they traveled together all over, often, for their own pleasure and because of work (they were an award-winning television advertising video team throughout the 70's, 80's and 90's).  This made her a bit weepy at the start, that she was taking a break for herself (his kids are taking care of matters while she's away), without him because he'd love it so. But after about 5 days, she was laughing, cracking jokes and, she said, feeling like herself again. She also looked about 15 years younger than when she joined us. We could see in front of our own eyes the healing power of being away from all of it for a while, including the internet.

Visions of granola and tea dance in my head!  Also, how strange, to be looking at screen again after so long away from that as well as everything else.

So glad to be going home. This trip was, against expectation, harder the previous Postmambo Oriente trip. 

One of the reasons was that somebody (excluding the brilliant bus driver, Julio, tour guide Jesús, N,  J, and me, was always sick, and unpleasantly so. Thank goodness we spent most of this trip based in the Hotel Meliá Santiago, so people could crash out in a dark, cool, comfortable room, and not have to sit on a bus with serious stomach upset and fatigue.

The second reason is that it was unexpectedly hot, even for this part of Cuba, in January. Last Postmambo Oriente trip, it rained all the time, which evidently cooled things off, despite it being later in the season -- March.  In western Cuba it has been getting down to low 60's every night, and even the 50's. It was nearly 90 everyday where were were, brilliant sunshine, beautiful nights, but the days were very hot and humid.  

The third reason was that we had more elderly Travelers -- all very fit for their age, very experienced even with nature adventure travel, spending long weeks in Mongolian yerts (the coldest thing anybody can do), living in Asia and traveling around everywhere from Russia and China, to Malaysia and Vietnam, as well as Mexico and Africa. They were game as heck. But getting sick, and the heat and the humidity did take its toll on them

I judged by previous experience, so in packing I got some of it wrong. That Oriente trip of 2017, like last year's Central Cuba trip and the 2016 western Cuba trip, were quite cool. So I put in more warm clothes, none of which I used until dressing for the last dinner at a restaurant that was open air, last night, when the temps in Holguín province fell into the 60's.

I had packed a dozen identical Ann Taylor loft white t-shirts, plus three other t-shirts. I wore them all, as well as the more dressy blouses and shirts for the evenings. All my underwear except for what I need tomorrow is dirty laundry.. I should have packed more t-shirts and underwear, while leaving out  the long sleeved shirts and the light sweater and shawls.

But I did use my flashlight -- even had it with me when we ladies needed it at a baño break to see where we were going. The flashlight passed along our line in the dark informing us of our progress toward relief . . . .

My three hand fans were indispensable.  I loaned out two of them.  The really efficient, effective one, whose stakes are made from wood, even helped one of the Travelers who came damned close to heat stroke, because of dehydration -- a side effect of his blood pressure meds in this very hot humid situation. As he's over 6 feet, him falling over backwards would have been difficult to deal with, but el V and others noticed immediately that K seemed to be passing out. Fortunately, T, one of the Travelers, a repeat Postmamboist, is a full-fledged M.D. -- OB-GYN is her specialty, but she's really good with people getting sick while traveling, knows exactly what to do in these situations, has all sorts of medications in her bag, and our guide, Jesús, is, of course, like Julio the bus driver, trained in first aid. T sent Jesús for COLD water to bring down K's body temperature by drinking, soaking a bandana to wrap around his neck, and apply to his face.

She also ordered fanning. My Cienfuegos 2018 fan was called into service for this, as the other fans present were, T said, "Very pretty fans, but they don't do much.  Constance's is the one." When I go to Havana next month with el V for the Havana Nocturne tour, I'm going to get a special one at the Casa de los abanicos (fans), with her name, the date and place where K nearly passed out painted on it. I also found two more wood stake fans from a vendor, though not quite of the quality of my Cienfuegos fan, are good.

K recovered so well after this episode though, that not only did he refuse to go to a doctor or the hospital, but danced with with wife to the music being played by the Congo Paseo Franco (this Postmambo Oriente trip was heavy on the French, i.e. San Domingue-Haiti connections and heritage, which includes Vodun). I got, I hope some sweet photos of this.  He did not parade with us and the musicians through the neighborhood streets though in the mid-afternoon sun. It also showed the Cubans that white Americans can actually operate quickly and efficiently as a team, as well as with compassion

Ah, el V's going out to bring lunch back.I don't have to move! It is cool in Fort Lauderdale in comparison to what we've been experiencing, but I have no desire to go out in the noonday sun right now.  Or, well, do anything, or go anywhere.

I'm not doing another long trip of this nature again, no matter what -- and that includes not going on the Postmambo Haiti trip in March. I could handle it physically pretty well, because everybody was treating la reina de rubia so helpfully.  But, still.  However, most of all -- I've seen as many casa templos and heard descriptions of all of them translated into English for hours and hours on end, that I never need again to see, experience and have described any of it. I've watched so much ritual, cultural heritage dancing and drumming since 1990, that I've a hit the wall on this sort of experience.  But! for the others, for which it was new, and the musicologists and musicians and dancers among us -- they couldn't get too much (and that includes el V).

Gads, was eastern Cuba ever BEAUTIFUL! There had been months of drought here back in 2017, but now all was as lushly, densely green as one thinks this part of the world is. I loved the drives. Baracoa was, again, enchanting. As part of our activities in this province we toured a cacoa farm run by 5 women -- who were so sexy, hip and hot -- and lordessa can they wield machetes! One of them saw my fascination with her blade and proudly stated (in Spanish), "I am a warrior!"  We bought LOTS of chocolate, of all kinds, literally made by hand there. This is organic, integrated diverse farming, from the chickens and swine who also eat the leavings of the organically cultivated coconut trees and fruit such as mangoes, to the coffee trees, under whose shade the cocao trees and fruit can grow -- and without which shade they cannot.  (Coconut and mangoes as such, are fruit too heavy, for as they fall, they crush the young cacao fruits, but coffee berry trees are just perfect.)

This is incredible chocolate.  Among the purchases we made were individually wrapped bonbons, with centers made of a powder of dried plantains, cinnamon, and something else I didn't quite catch, held together with coconut oil.  There is at least 4% caffeine in this chocolate.  Everybody ate a bonbon when we got back on the bus and -- woo, the chatter, so clearly there was caffeine, because lunch and coffee of any kind had been long ago that day. I got a lot of bars wrapped in foil, and some more of the carved hardwood little pots of hard coconut oil. There just isn't anything better for the skin. I've used up what I brought back from Baracoa two years ago, so happy to refresh the supply.

We had so many adventures it's going to be hard to readjust, the Travelers say, to mundane life. After all, not only did they hear a vast range of music and religion indigenous to Oriente (well, Santeria only arrived in the 1930's and 40's, but it is very powerful and still growing), not only did they participate, they also were present at the rituals surrounding the reading of 2019's Odu at the Casa de Caribe, by the regional babalawos, after la Letra del año 2019 (a/k/a Odu) was cast, to determine which forces -- orishas -- would be dominating the new year --  and the results released by the island-wide council earlier in Havana -- they were at a ceremony in which the information of the Odo was given out to all of Oriente's Santeria 'families.' Thus, there they were when the huge goat and many chickens were sacrificed --- cooked and eaten later, though not by us. We went back to the Meliá to prepare for dinner at the night's scheduled restaurant and pick up the Travelers who opted out of this event, which was, needless to say, quite acceptable.  Others opted out of the a company dinner though, in favor of sitting on the hotel's quiet courtyard patio alone and thinking about what they'd seen, and to a degree participated in. For those of us together at dinner the discussion was all about life and death, life growing out of death and death devouring life.  It was philosophical to a high degree -- plus there were quite a few vegetarians among us, and several have vegan children or grandchildren.

That was a particularly organic day to meditate on the relationships between the dead and living.  We began at the Cementerio Santa Ifigenia)  where Fidel's cremains are now interred in a modest monument. This viewing began with a description and discussion by the director of the cemetery explaining, as in cemeteries globally, space is short. So the bodies can be interred for two years, then the remains are removed, processed, so only the bones are left.  These can then remain with the martyrs of the Revolution, or be re-interred in family plots. After this we were given a brilliant presentation by one of the religious scholars and practitioner of the Palo, religion, which is all about the earth, what comes out of it, what goes into it,  the dead and how the living interact with them -- and this too included exhuming remains . . . . 

Two of the Travelers provided a heartfelt address last night at our farewell restaurant dinner, to el V, the other Travelers and the entire utterly surprising experience -- none of them really had any idea -- one cannot. They all agreed there was no way to describe the experience to their friends, though their photos, videos and recordings can help. Even, the Kid (to us), who has his Ph.D. in Cuban studies, lived in Cuba for three years, and traveled around it, was fairly gobsmacked.  His dad, M, is a maniac for Afro Latin drumming. He came from Albuquerque, to do this tour with J. There was W, a musicologist, specialist in Jamaica, from Harvard, who also plays music. As there is a lot of Jamaican derived culture and history in this part of Cuba, as well as the other stuff, he was so happy. He's also a really good musician. More than once W just got up, asked to join whomever was playing and played. He could really do it. He didn't make a fool of himself (as I've seen others do -- though never Postmambo Travelers) -- he represented Postmambo proud. And all the dancers among us -- they were able to partner with professional theater performer-dancers as in Baracoa with the brilliant Bara Rumba troup, and keep up very well. White Americans showing again who and what Postmambo is, building the brand's reputation throughout Cuba.

Such Travelers! All of them liked each other a lot. We had so many adventures it's going to be hard to readjust, the Travelers say, to mundane life, which may well be expected after seeing a goat sacrificed in front of their faces.. 

Now, have been checking the weather. At the least, we can say I'm looking at a very uncomfortable flight tomorrow due to what looks to be one major winter storm, which on our corridor will be located as I fly particularly in Virginia, Maryland and D.C., i.e between here and up there. Wish me luck!

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Waving From Cuba

     . . . . So dramatic, both intentionally, and unplanned. 

One of our elderly Travelers got dehydrated and nearly got hurt badly.  But among the'd emergency medic training our Cuban guide has, Ned's quickness in grabbing his chair as he and it were falling backwards -- after which he'd surely have hit his head badly on the concrete floor -- and that we have a physician among the Travelers -- who is also a long-time friend of the gentleman who was the patient, all was resolved. And he would not go back to the hotel.  He would not go back and sit in the a/ced bus.  When he felt hydrated and electrolyted and fanned enough by all of us ladies, he stood up, and then he danced with his wife.  He was going to hear this music that he loves.  But tonight he's staying in because they got back in their room, his wife said, "No more, today."
In the high 80's in the daytime.  The nights are magic.

Wifi is very iffy, very expensive, and besides, we are very occupied!  But Today Itook out the morning and slept for hours.  I went out with everyone this afternoon, during which K had his dehydration fainting spell.  I'm taking out tonight too.  Tomorrow, Guantanamo.

Little news is creeping in but --  Alexandria Ocasio Cortez -- You Go!

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

¡Aeroplano! Into the New Year!

     . . . . Way back in time, in isolated Baracoa de Cuba, the early 1920's, came the first airplane ever sighted there.

Baracoa is at the very tip of the island on the screen's right side, i.e. the most northeastern, just above Guantanamo. See how far from Havana it is, which is at the top of the left side of the screen, looking at Florida.  Baracoa was Cuba's first capital, but it wasn't long before the capital removed to the bay of Havana, which was far more accessible.

So, of course, one of the music groups made a song and dance about it.  This song is still being played in Baracoa, and people are still dancing el aeroplano that goes with it -- though!  it has never been recorded.  Tomorrow we get on an airplane and begin the journey that takes us back to Baracoa to hear el Aeroplano played, sung and danced yet another time.

Ay-up.  Finally, all packed, only the inevitable tweaks as we wait for the car to take us to the airport at noon tomorrow. Whew!

We took out a chunk of time for a long and early dinner.  It was so pleasant.  The first time either of us has actually relaxed in a long time. We didn't even quite relax last night, despite having a very nice time with our friends in spite of the tropical monsoon that wiped out a large number of restaurants and clubs profits, most surely.  We saw more people on the streets when were were going home about 2 AM than we saw at all on our way out at 9 PM. -- and more fireworks too.  Couldn't see any fireworks at all at midnight from E's perfectly positioned floor-to-ceiling high up apartment.  Only water running down the glass. It was like that all day until about 1:30 AM.

Of course el V can't really relax despite being packed. His big job is a'comin' right up.  Already, in fact.  He's been e-mailing the Travelers from other parts of the country who are coming in via different airlines than ours -- bad weather in a narrow, constricted band, but enough snow and wind to delay or postpone flights, so people are going to have make new arrangements to meet up with Postmambo when planned. This could mean, of course, that we don't all arrive at Holguín at once, and that will throw the timing all off for the day.  Because somebody will have to stay to meet the late-comers and get them hooked up with the rest of us.  Fun never ends for the people running these sorts of shows -- you know?  But I think it will all be OK.

I am so looking forward to being away from insanity for a while.