". . . 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, July 21, 2021

We Take Refuge Where And When We Can

     . . . . Not been a good month here despite el V's lovely birthday, two superb Postmambo Events, and, additionally, the ophthalmologist monitoring the eye with the damaged optic nerve -- though what's going on can be signs of incipient glaucoma -- found actual improvement from the last check-up.  Maybe it's the new lenses?  Another positive thing is the spectacular greenery and the variety of greens, due to the heat and the moisture. Related to that positive are the flowers, particularly in the community garden that's been allowed to grow as it wants pretty much, without being cut back or off.  The range of vivid blossoms erupting out of the head tall greens is balm to the soul. That's purely personal though. Beyond the purely personal, things are very far away from good.

It's unnecessary for me to provide the details as to why both Haiti and Cuba are tragedies of political history, and our personal histories, that need not have happened, as surely by now all have heard of them and formed opinions, if there is among all and sundry enough interest to even bother forming an opinion -- or learning facts. Climate change feeds into both Haiti's and Cuba's disasters as well as political forces forcing both nations to go without medical supplies and food -- which forces merge into catastrophe for both the island nations. For Cuba certainly, there is no light at the end of the tunnel that begins and ends in Miami. Haiti too, as we've been told that's from where the conspiracy was hatched.

Weather They Sayers announced today our city has the most dangerous air quality of any city on the planet, due to the western US wildfires' smoke blowing right into us. One wishes to wear a good mask if one needs to go outdoors for this reason now too. Rain fell for a little while, so all that particulate from the West and Northwest can be flushed into our gardens, sewers, into the East and Hudson Rivers, the harbor and the ocean.  Like pandemics, climate catastrophe never stays in one place. No man is an island, what affects thee, affects me, and so on and so forth.

Yet despite the experts of many nations begging governments to impose mask mandates in public spaces and limit gatherings, like our own stupid mayor, the politicians and governments everywhere refuse to mandate masking and distance in public spaces now, because THE ECONOMY -- and future office seeking. So -- here we are again, spiking like crazy, including right here, when barely 2 weeks ago, our own zip code and so many others in the city and state were essentially at zero for positive tests, new infections, hospitalizations and deaths. All those anti-vaxxers, enemies of the people, surely are pleased with themselves all over again, as they bring down what's left of a health system. 

Again, with COVID, extreme weather, bikers, skateboarders, stupid tourists, guns/crime/mad/desperate people, mosquitos showing up infected with the Nile Virus, etc. etc. etc., being outdoors means anything but relaxation and refreshment, even at night. In many ways, particularly at night. But for the out-of-control, whether from racist hatred or years of being homeless or the conviction of utter privilege that no laws or regulations apply to ME shoving my Porsche at 90 MPH through the crowded streets and killing people so what? day and night make no difference.

     . . . . Spouses, Lovers, Friends, one way and another, these purely personal relationships are the greatest refuge from the horrors overwhelming our present cursed "interesting times."   About once a week, el V, B and I dine with, and catch-up with, 2 or 3 friends -- all of us vaccinated.  We've been to visit another historian in his Rhode Island beach shack, making us a mini history conference.  At the beginning of August, we will visit one of our terrific Postmambo friends in his beautiful, large old historic house upstate -- with a pool, massive yard and huge screened in annex, where we will have Thanksgiving in August, the Thanksgiving we'd planned for last November, but prudently called off due to Covid spiking, which it continued to do until the blessed vaccines showed up. But we are vaccinated, so we are keeping to the plan made last year to do our cancelled holiday celebration feast with friends this summer. Still, as originally planned, this will be a small gathering of 4 people, perhaps 5, depending on another's work schedule.

     . . . . History provides refuge and escape. One does speculate others too are looking for refuge in the past, thus so very many time-travel series showing up lately -- none of which I have the least inclination to look at even the first episodes.  How fortunate, one further speculates, that it is not possible to subject the present or the past to the pressures of future colonialism for the sake of the yet unborn's survival. The future would have every right to do so, considering how ours and every preceding generation has abused Earth. But alas, we cannot go back in time and save ourselves, since we didn't already do it. Beside, those who benefit would be, as usual the very rich and protected, not the future sort of thee and me -- while the already mentioned 0.01% make massive profit out of our lack of salvation.  Until, perhaps they too, despite anal dildo shaped escape space craft, are crushed by lack of oxygen and water.

Some of these latter sorts are getting spooked by Delta, getting the idea that the economy can tank from it.  This is the only way of course we will ever get a federal mandate anywhere in the world for masking and vaccination.  One does fear it's way too late now.

We continue our own plundering of the Dark Ages with Wickham's The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages 400 – 1000. Wickham's thesis of the real changes and transformations of the West in the 5th century was the changes in the signatures of the wealthy and powerful. Free time, leisure, was the signature of wealth and power. Much of that was spent in the luxury of the country villas, where they cultivated the arts and learning, particularly the literary arts, as well as government and administration.  By the end of the 5th C, the signature of the wealthy and powerful were the manly martial arts.  The ruling class no longer affected togas as sartorial signatures of their status, but dressed like Roman army commanders.  However, even more so, the ruling class needed as much land as they could wheedle, conquer or steal. And steal away they did, which went on for centuries, as we know.

     . . . . Television has provided some good historical escape.

Straight-up historical - period scripted drama created in the present:  El Cid, 11th C, Spain and Andalus, season 2; No Sudden Move, 1950's Detroit, scripted now; The Rising Hawk, 13th C, refugeed tribes in the Carpathians invaded by the Blue Horde, scipted now; Borsalino, which was looked at here last time, is another splendid example, scripted at the end of the 1960's, located in 1930's

Women in the past re-created in the present: Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries (the 1920s, Melborne, scripted in the second decade of the 21st century); Ms Fisher's Modern Murder Mysteries (sequel series scripted in the second decade of the 20th C, set in  1960's Melborne when niece inherits Aunt Fisher's possession and calling) Both of these were eras in which women claimed freedom and rights Horatio had not yet dreamed of. 

The present that is now the past: Bergerac, first season of 9, begins in 1981, on bi-lingual island of Jersey, featuring the young John Nettles who grew up to become Midsomer Murders's Barnaby, scripted then; House of Cards (the original, British version -- forget Kevin Spacey -- scripted then); The Midnight Garden of  Good and Evil, set in the late 1970's, semi-fictional, scripted then, and oops can't forget Spacey coz he's the driver. These three share the commonality of period: late 1970's and the first years of the '80's.

     . . . . Fiction has provided two works of historic escape that eschew cloying froth: Katherine (the Lady Swynford, Duke of Lancaster's mistress, eventually his wife, whose children ultimately ancestored many royal figures, while living in the England of Edward II and Richard and the Bubonic Plagues) by Anya Seton; The Noble Outlaw: Crowner John Mystery Series, Book 11 by Bernard Knight. This is a  series in which it seems to be always cold, always snowing.  "Crowner" in 12th century Essex, is our contemporary "coroner"; author's day job was as coroner.

Monday, July 5, 2021

Books, There Are Many!

     . . . .  Spending the holiday weekend trying to catch up. It only took until 1 AM from arriving at the Miami airport when They Said get there for the 2:35 PM flight, until into the next day to get home.  At one point the plane even turned around on the runway and went back to the gate and all the passengers deplaned again, and sat in the terminal for hours.  A long, masked day.  But at least Miami Airport had food places and good coffee.   So now we're trying to get ready for Thursday's Zoom Postmambo Meet-up, which is, el V's birthday, and the following Thursday's Postmambo Movie Night, as well as other things.

~~~~~~~~ In the Meantime -- About Money and a Librarian!

     . . . . By chance this spring I've been listening to several books of financial history. which inevitably becomes the history of political and mercantile corruption and crime, financial busts, bubbles, panics and depressions, corruption, wars. Among these histories is Ron Chernow's (1990) The House of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Finance.  Needless to say, a great deal has changed in the perspectives of the history of banking and the finance and 'investment' industries that devoured the banking business since the passing of another 30+ decades. This is equally true for the much later books such Liaquat Ahamed (2009) Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World.

But even in Ahamad's book, the reader learns, if only peripherally, about Bella da Costa Greene, the Pierpont Morgans's private librarian for their great collections here at the library and museum Pierpont built at Madison Avenue.  

Learning of Bella da Costa Greene, who was born into a black activist family as Jim Crow tighened its noose of the US, and to have her career -- as woman yet! -- had to pass for white, of course this signaled an excellent entry point for an historical fiction for somebody to write (not me).  Evidently others thought a fiction featuring this fascinating figure was something to do too, and did it.

Here in The Washington Post (paywalled) we have an interview with the co-authors of The Personal Librarian, Heather Terrell and Victoria Christopher Murray.

~~~~~~~~  Reading Histories:

    . . . . Chris Wickham's (2009) The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages 400 – 1000. This book’s first section covers the same ground, though with a different perspective in some areas, as the also read-aloud, Peter Brown's (1971) The World of Late Antiquity. The perspectives are very different generally, since Wickham’s work is firmly within contemporary data based, statistical, demographic, archaeological, linguistic, etc. work that has changed historiography so much in the last half century. I also relatively recently, i.e. this year, learned a great deal of the late Roman Empire in Douglas Boin's (2020) Alaric the Goth: An Outsider's History of the Fall of the Roman Empire

These histories fit well into June's discussion on Bret Devereaux's blog "Collection" -- The Queen's Latin: Or Who Were the Romans Part I, and so far, Part II Though he does seem (so far) to ignore that Alaric, despite how Romanized in all ways that he was, was refused citizenship, and even advancement beyond a certain level, in the army -- quite like what George Washington with the Brits in the French and Indian Wars. 

What is clear, past, and present, is the two opposing arguments continue about the Roman West vs. East.  Continuity / transition vs. Sharp change / fall? 

Both of these depend on one's perspective as to Western vs. Eastern Empire, Latin Empire vs. Greek Empire -- the same fiber, weave and cloth, or different from the beginning?

I've been reading continuously the newer "Roman" histories for the 'general' reader over the the last few years, such as Adrian Galsworthy's (2016) Pax Romana: War, Peace and Conquest in the Roman World, and James O'Donnell's (2009) The Ruin of the Roman Empire: A New History.*

However, my reading in Roman history is fertile preparation ground for my real recreational historical interest,**  the transition from late antiquity to the middle ages -- Goths! Vandals! Visigoths! Ostrogoths! and mine real favorite, the Merovingians (along with, later, past the scope of this book, the Mongols and Turks)! Franks! Norse! --  which Wickham's book determines to cover in detail. One does have to consider this is 600 years, and the book's less than 700 pages, which might mean a page per year? It doesn't really work out that way, thank goodness, but still, this is Big History, of which, ah-hem,  I'm in favor. And certainly anything Wickham misses here, he's covered in his other works.

The one thing we know certainly is the 6th century was a terrible time into which to be born. One signal that informs us of this: we have less written documentary evidence for the 6th than just about any other century of "Europe" except the 4th. This would explain then, too. why the Western Church possessed more land in "Europe" in the 6th C than it has ever since. But in the last decades we've fortunately been able to learn some of what is not in the tiny written record of documentary history, from historical archaeology.

I'm still waiting for the history of Merovingian Gaul, and Visigothic Spain.

~~~~~~~~~ Reading Fiction

     . . . . It took a long time this year for a novel I wanted to read to show up one way and another.  Fortunately for me I have acquired the final three novels in Andrea Camilleri's Inspector Montalbano series set in the regional of the fictional Sicilian city of Vigatta -- The Sicilian Method (2020) – third to final Montalbano.  The Cook of the Halcyon, and Riccardino are the last two titles, both published in the US in 2021. the Author died in 2019.

Mr. Camilleri prepared years ago for the end of the Montalbano series.

“I finished him off five years ago,” he said in 2012. “That’s to say, the final novel in the series of Montalbano is already written and deposited at the publishing house. When I get fed up with him or am not able to write any more, I’ll tell the publisher: Publish that book.”

Also, the latest Martin Walker’s  a Bruno Chief of Police series set in past and present Provence, The Coldest Case. I've been looking forward to this since finishing up all the previous Bruno novels by the end of last summer.

~~~~~~~~~~Ranking First Half 2021 Reading

     . . . . Now that half of 2021 has passed, I can speak definitely as to which books were my most enjoyable, most informative reading, for the first half of this year:

Robert Irwin's (2018) Ibn Khaldun: An Intellectual Biography;

James Grant's (2019) Bagehot: The Life and Times of the Greatest Victorian;

Marie Favereau's (2021) The Horde: How the Mongols Changed the World;

And already, the history noted above, Chris Wickham's (2009) Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages 400 - 1000 qualifies.


* Oddly, as much as I respect and appreciate Mary Beard's work, I find reading her books a chore. Not her fault, but mine.

** Just in case: my professional specialization is the history of the colonial Americans, and the history of the United States, via the lenses of the African Slave Trade and slavery in the Americas, and specifically the slave system of the United States.

Friday, July 2, 2021

2021: Half Empty? Still Half Full? How Did It Get To Be July?

      . . . . Return from Miami scheduled tomorrow, just ahead of Hurricane Elsa, in time for Pasta and Jazz Saturday at home.  Miami is, um, shall we say, terrified, having to admit it being ground between Condo Collapse and Climate Collapse, which latter involves both rising sea levels and rising numbers of tropical storms and hurricanes. Surfside's beach front condo catastrophe seems quite in the cards for so many, and not only in Miami-Dade. People in Canada, due to their own massive salt soaks due to highways, streets, sidewalks and roofs, with their own massive condo population, and now astounding high temperatures, are pretty terrified too.

In the meantime:

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

     . . . . Though at one time I watched many French New Wave films, the French gangster noir was a subset mostly missing, perhaps because my mentors weren't interested in it themselves?  So I just watched for the first time Borsalino and Co. (1974),  featuring Alain Delon and produced by Alain Delon, on Amazon Prime. This is the 1974 sequel to the 1970 Borsalino, which co-starred Jean Paul Belmondo and Delain. Amazon provides subtitles or one can watch a dubbed into English version. As the time line is 1930’s Marseille, from the perspective of 2021, this is doubly a period film. As with most period screen work prior to very recently, and even now,  see women’s shoes! --  the women’s hair is anachronistic – still following that teased, sprayed variations on the Bardot big hair flip of the swingin’ 60’s. Otherwise, the details, whether the vehicles -- which includes horse's harness -- and particularly the men's suits, are period accurate. Men's suits, to die for, for sure -- hey the characters are French and Italian, so of course.  The women mostly don't wear much, but what they do wear would fit right into what is unworn mostly in contemporary fifty years after Borsalino and Co., in today's "Gentleman's Clubs." 

We begin in a cemetery, in silence, followed by a long, silent take of the hearse advancing out of the cemetery, front-on toward the viewer, infinitesimally slowly, during the credits roll.  First 5 + minutes, nobody speaks. People are merely watching, attending the action, as are we, the viewers. Yet, we quickly learn, that in the tradition of ancient connection between southern Italy and southern Gaul/France, the antagonists-protagonists are Mafia gangsters, who have the paid cooperation of the French police and politicians.

The plot emerges out of collusion of the Mafia w/ the contemporary fascist-nazi international movements, and their proponents in local and national governance, law enforcement and finance – German, Austrian, Italian, Spanish, and yes, in France's and the UK's too  -- who use them to get guns and muscle, financed by the gangsters' free rein with bootleg and smuggled booze, and the manufacture and distribution of heroin. Volpone, the bad Mafia Big, displays autographed photos of Mussolini, never specifically focused upon by the camera eye, but part of scenic decor. Volpone's sneers that Siffredi's style, taking revenge, is out-of-date and over for their kind; we gangsters are now part of the establishment, and taking over the whole world in tandem with the politics of the fascist international. 

When Siffredi gets his mojo kicking in again after his hero's arc reversal, he leaves Marseille for Genoa, to get the money to recruit for vengeance. Nothing during the Genoese chapter of Siffredi's life is shown or told as to how he and his no-back-story to explain his boy's bottomless loyalty, obtain the money and mojo to take “Borsalino and Co.” to France again, and work out that out-of-date revenge. But surely we the viewers know it wasn't done politely or legally, and surely there are bodies piled up.

Cinematic and history's style, period, tone, culture, meld elegantly. We see throughout what Peckinpah, Scorsese, Coppola -- particularly Scorsese -- took note of in their close studies of the French New Wave, particularly with the set dressing, mise-en-scĂ©ne in scenic structure. Demonstrated on the screen we see what the French directors learned from US directors of the gangster and western films. At one point, ever so suave Seffredi, not yet broken by the bad bad guy, shoots with a revolver in one hand and double barreled shot gun in the other, bodies falling over balconies, down stairs, blasted into wall, piled up in an anonymous heap of nobodies who matter only to illustrate how competent the Siffredi character is with guns. In a reflection of the silent credit roll of the opening, in the opening sequence to Our Hero's arc of redemption of his Marseille fall, is a long sequence which is a train speeding through the night, car after car, brightly lit inside, so we outside in the dark see into every compartment, even the details of passengers reading, eating, talking, sleeping, until the car in which Our Boys are interested appears. This long sequence is simple, elegant, hypnotic, so much longer on screen than anything we will see today, except overt, graphic scenes of violence. But, never fear, this section concludes with an act of brutality that not even Tarantino has out-done (who was nine when this film was made).

The film concludes on a luxury liner, with Siffredi, his boys (and one girl) going to America in 1937. Where "We surely will find  and make some very good friends." Which leaves me with my 2021 sensibility resenting that I've had to root for just-as-bad guy protagonists vs. their bad-bad guy antagonists, that the dominance of the screen has me cheering on bad guys. All of them are black Borsalinos.* Nevertheless, I was entirely engaged with the film's artistic, historic and political vision.

* In case: Borsalino.