". . . 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, October 23, 2016

L'autumn Est Arrivé

Yesterday I wore my little fingerless woolly mitts for the first time. Carried an umbrella. It was about 45 degrees at 5:30 PM. It had been quite windy and raining off and on for the last day and a half.

Central Park
Today's bright and sunny, with a high in the low - mid 50's.  Not so windy.

We had rehearsal again.

I have more rehearsal than anyone, because every time el V does a run-through at the time convenience of any of the other readers, I'm there too.

OTO, I need more rehearsal than anyone. But no amount of rehearsal will give me stage presence. This will be obvious surely in the video that is going to be shot of the performance, which, hopefully, can be sent to interested groups and organizations who want to do this in their city.

This was a classic, perfect Sunday afternoon in late October NYC. Just lovely.

Hudson Hotel Lobby
This afternoon we went uptown, where we met with two of the other readers in one of the Hudson Hotel's spaces to do another through of Slave Coast' s script for the Symphony Space performance Friday night.  It was so pleasant in this hotel where lots of show biz parties get thrown, filled with cheerful tourists and out-of-towners enjoying a New York Sunday afternoon in October.  Both K and L have performed there at different time. We had a good run-through too.

After we broke up, el V and I wandered Central Park. Ended up back down here. Got falafel sandwiches and ate them in Washington Square Park. We haven't done anything like that in years.

During the wanderings nary a sign for either candidate was to be seen anywhere, nor lapel buttons, bumper stickers -- none.  This has never happened here in a presidential election before, methinks.

Relaxing a bit.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Outlandish Knight: The Byzantine Life of Steven Runciman by Minoo Dinshaw + The Magnificent Century

Steven Runciman is the English historian I discovered back in June - July because el V brought home for me a copy of the author's The Sicilian Vespers (1958).

Thanks to the London Review of Books I now know a great deal more of this historian than before, as it has put up online, "Herberts and Herbertinas" by Rosemary Hill,  a review of Outlandish Knight: The Byzantine Life of Steven Runciman, published by Penguin last month (September).

Looking at the photos above of the young Runciman that makes the cover of the biography, and this photo from inside, and knowing the geographical region of so much of the historian's work, one then is not in the least surprised to learn that, why, yes, Runciman was more than acquainted with Patrick Leigh Fermor.  They worked together worked together at the British Council in Athens after the second world war -- though, mostly Fermor legged it out of there, over the hills and far away.  But both men had a fascination with what came to be called the Balkans and eastern Europe, its ways and culture prior to WWII and the soviet hegemony.  However, the older Runciman, though not religious hiimself, was equally enthralled by the design, shall we call it, of the Byzantine Empire and its Greek Orthodox Christianity.  Runciman designated this the Eastern Roman Empire.

Suleiman in a portrait attributed to Titian c.1530
(b. 1494; d 1566; reign 1520 - 1566),
The information about Runciman's historical work embedded in the review of Outlandish Knight arrived at a particularly good moment for me, enthralled in turn as I am at the moment with the events and history created by the Ottoman Empire of the 16th century. This is the long era when the Istanbul sultans, particularly Suleiman I the Magnificent , who, like his predecessors, not only extracted tribute and subjection from Eastern Europe, but kept western Europe and the Mediterranean in a state of constant defensive warfare resisting further Ottoman conquests.

It was while reading Kris Downey's biography of Isabella of Castile and Spain, Isabella: Warrior Queen, that I finally realized how much her anti-Muslim and Others policies were shaped by the terror of another Muslim conquest of the Iberian Peninsula,  These fears were not the fantasies of an hysterical weak woman, but the intelligent geopolitical calculations of a ruler whose lands were specifically targeted in public declaration and actions by a belligerent, aggressive and very successful military power. This was a power that had advanced in her lifetime already into southern Italy out of the Mediterranean.

Sultan Murad III
   Suleiman the Magnificent wrote to Martin Luther's powerful, aristocratic supporters. Sultan Murad III (reigned 1574 - 1595) had a correspondence with Queen Elizabeth.  The Ottomans stressed during the 15th and 16th centuries how much more protestants had in common with Islam, which was more tolerant of religions in their dominions than with the Roman Catholic rulers' aggressive intolerance.  Is it necessary to mention the Ottomans's attempts to join forces with the protestants didn't get any traction from either the protestant leaders or their supporters (perhaps because a variety of protestants were no more tolerant than the Catholic Church?).

So interested have I become in the role that the Turks play in European history, particularly during the first great age of European global colonialism, 15th - early 8th centuries, that I've been watching with fascination Turkey's vastly popular -- though not in all Turkish quarters! -- telenovella, Muhteşem Yüzyıl -- in English titled The Magnificent Century (2011 - 2014)  Essentially this is a soap opera, definitely fictionalized re-telling of Suleiman's reign.  Suleiman is the Ottoman emperor notorious for having married a Christian European (perhaps from a raid into Hungarian Ukraine) out of his harem.  She is called Roxelana / Alexandra in Europe, Hurrem in Turkish.

Sulieman the Magnificent, around whom gravitate like small asteroids all the court and empire, including his family and harem.
 In the television series Hurrem falls so deeply in love with Suleiman she converts voluntarily to Islam in order to share with him his religious devotion.  No child of non-Muslim can be considered for the empire's throne, a bit of information that is brought up soon in the course of events, after her first nights with Suleiman, but prior to Hurrem's first pregnancy,  The fly in Hurrem's ointment is Mahidevran Sultan, Suleiman's first consort to have provided him with a son and, thus the designated heir -- as far as there could be such a thing within this Ottoman dynasty as a designated heir.  The heir was charged in those days to strangle all his brothers upon the pasas agreeing to put one of them on the throne.  Thus it was an unwritten rule that concubine who gave birth to have only one son. Nor did the emperors generally marry any of them.

Mahidevan is very much a favorite with Suleiman's mother, who is the Valide Sultan -- the queen mother. -- the legal mother of the ruling emperor.  As Suleiman drops Mahidvan from his favor and out of his bed with the arrival of Hurrem's entertaining antics, the former favorite (and the other former, lesser favorites) become more rabid and active in the expression of their hate for the usurper -- which turns Suleiman all the more against them.  Until, of course, Hurrem, acts just like them.  OOOO the DRAMA!

This is a court harem series. Almost everything is told from the harem's pov.  Even the queen mother and her daughter, Suleiman's "precious" sister Hatice, are isolated within the harem walls.  What they have, with their wealth as 'family' and favorites, is more opportunity to gather information from outside and to smuggle information from the inside to outside too. But their lives are constrained and confined to a degree that would drive a contemporary woman, no matter who is she is and believes, quite mad. Everything depends on the emperor.  When / if he dies, they're likely dead too, along with all their children.

To our eyes, spoiled as we've been for so long with peak television, the look of the series, its editing and so on, seem clumsy and small budget, even amateur.  The method is that of talking heads as we see in the BBC I, Claudius.  But the stakes are so high, and the situations so tense, that we almost don't notice that all the action is talking and shots of people moving through the endless corridors of the Topkapi Palace*, going from one insulated room or set of chambers to another.

Hurrem throws a party to get the harem to press the 'like Hurrem' button.

Appropriately these chambers are smothered in brilliant jewel-hued fabrics: silk, satin, velvet.  Gems poured from hand-to-hand glitter in their brilliant colors, the pearls glow in their caskets. All these women do is try on and take off and get made new gowns, and talk.  Occasionally, if given the permission, they throw themselves little parties with special delicacies to eat and drink (no wine, of course) and dance together to the music of other female musicians. What else can they do?  Gossip and stab each other in the back and practice the most petty of rank snobberies.

However, I for one, feel the writers have failed with that most important of these women, Hurrem. I'm through nearly 23 episodes so far of The Magnificent Century (many more to come yet, yay!) and cannot believe this Hurrem could have so fascinated the Emperor. We are told her name was given to her by him, and means something like "the Blithe One," or "She Makes me Smile," but she behaves in such an unhinged matter one doesn't see it.  Nor are her temper tantrums and flouting of the harem rules in the least bit smart -- if the real Harrem behaved like this just once she'd have disappeared from the harem damned quick.  Earlier we see her working hard to learn Turkish and maybe -- what? poetry? and writing (the emperor is a very cultured and educated fellow), which, like becoming a Muslim, would be smart.

But really, how does such an outsider survive to become -- much later -- a wife to the emperor, his only wife, without having supporters in the harem and the palace, and very powerful ones too?  We are given that the third most powerful harem overseer, another young woman, likes her, but we're not shown why.  So far, though it seems she's finally getting control of her public expressions of rage and terror, she doesn't seem to have progressed very far in this direction.  She's still not back in Suleiman's favor -- and her second child was girl. There is more than a suggestion that to some degree at least she's a witch, so say her enemies at least.

It seems the inability for television writers to imagine a truly plausible, strong and effective woman with agency isn't confined to European and American television shows.

On the other hand I find it all the more interesting that whether intentional or not, Hurrem is truly unlikeable (at least so far).  Having a, if not THE central protagonist as someone genuinely cruel and unsympathetic, this is something that no American television series would ever do.  It always broadens one's own scope of understanding to become in immersed in perceptions that aren't culturally one's own.  This applies to how television is made and what is shown: no wild sex scenes of ripping of the clothes to get naked.  Instead, poetry and beautiful fabrics and much tenderness and happiness.  Indeed, one can see the outline of the heavy trousers under her full gowns the censors certainly have Hurrem wear when in the bed with Suleiman.  Which is rather delightful, though perhaps even deliberate -- Turkey's conservatives were outraged when they thought wine was being served Suleiman in one scene -- it was yogurt the program's producers assured them, not intended to wine at all.  Blood letting is all off screen.

O did Mahidevan  go mad, truly mad, with jealousy when Suleiman gave Hurrem this emerald ring that he'd designed and made himself (jewelry making is one of his hobbies).
Note THE RING on Hurrem's finger.
I still like The Magnificent Century though -- the intrigues are believable and they are tense and they about something.  And it moves very fast. Plus I love these jewels and fabrics.  A jewel even has a role in the plot! -- AND! so does Dante's The Divine Comedy!  How can one resist a television series in which poetry, actual poetry by great poets, is so much spoken?  I think Runciman would probably have enjoyed watching The Magnificent Century himself.


*  These shots were all done within the actual museum that the Topkapi Palace now is.

Portraits of Victorian Snobbery

          . . . . . "In a Class of Their Own" is a long read look at fiction's descriptions of the middle-class's social snobbery; in the UK Guardian's Books section:

From Cranford and Pooter, the middle-class snob novel ploughed on through Orwell, Kingsley Amis – and even Margaret Drabble. But where is it now?

What is perhaps the most interesting to this reader in terms of the essay is looking back all through about 200 years of social eras of middle class snobbery aspiration when perhaps as never before the unique form of what was called the white middle class here in the U.S. is in a state of unprecedented anxiety about its place in the rapidly changing world.  If one is to believe the media this U.S. white middle class no longer is about aspiration to be recognized as belonging to a higher sphere by carefully acquiring all the correct material possessions and acquaintance while eschewing all the wrong ones, but is living in sheer terror of losing the place this demographic has taken for granted for so long.  This would probably mean losing the motor boat and at least two of the 3 - 4 other vehicles in that garage that is so huge that it is at least half the square footage of the rest of the huge house. 

This article doesn't articulate any of this, though it goes up through authors of the 20th century who are still working in the 21st, such as Margaret Drabble.

So far it seems that authors of fictional middle class snobbery here in the U.S. haven't touched upon the projection of our angry white middle class anxiety of losing place upon The Immigrant and, as always, going back to the colonial eras, the African American.  Unlike in Victorian England where the projection was put upon white people who came from some taint of agriculture and mill working connections, here in the U.S. it has gone straight to race and nationality, denial of science and rationality and refusal to believe in man-made climate change. I don't recall this in Victorian fiction, beyond, say Disraeli's political novels concerning Zionism -- and his objective was quite other than this.  In Victorian fiction the middle class aspires to a higher rank.  Those who are anxious about falling are the upper classes -- always for the sheer lack of the ready since daddy, brothers, uncles, granddads gambled it away and without entail the land would be gone too.  

Or as the author of the essay puts it:
If rather fewer class comedies get written in the early 21st century, the explanation can be put down to fracturing demographics. A social scientist recently calculated that, strictly speaking, there is no such thing as “the middle classes”, merely a dozen or so socio-economic categories with some kind of affinity to what used to be thought of as the essential tenets of bourgeois life. All this sets those novelists bent on writing amusingly about class the almost insuperable difficulty of establishing their terms, and – even more problematic, perhaps – convincing readers of the accuracy of their judgments. . . .

Unlike the Victorians, the current USian white middle class isn't terrified of who might think they deserve to be invited to one's dinner table, as so few bother with either a table or dinner, preferring to order in from Dominos, Fresh Direct, whatever. White middle class f
iction writers now worry about the right to write the Outsider -- dare they culturally appropriate?  will anyone believe their appropriation since they don't personally know any Others to indeed sit down and have dinner with at all?

Thursday, October 20, 2016

El V Speaketh, er, um, emails?

     . . . . Off to lunch - rehearsal.  It's unsettling for me, because I am the only person involved in this Symphony Space project who not only isn't a professional stage performer, but I'm also the only one who has never had the slightest aspiration to be one.  But everyone is so nice, so talented, I'm sure I'll be fine.

You haven't heard much from me lately, because I've been deep in the preparation of The American Slave Coast at Symphony Space a week from Friday. 
Oh, my gosh. We're really doing this. The speakers have begun rehearsing. There are seven of us (see below, but, in alphabetical order of surname besides me and Constance,
Kandia Crazy Horse, Jonathan Demme, Lezlie Harrison, Nona Hendryx, and Carl Hancock Rux), and the energy is so strong. 
It's going to be extraordinary. 
Music. By. Donald. Harrison.
Let me say that again. 
Music. By. Donald. Harrison. 
With a group including Detroit Brooks and Zaccai Curtis.
One performance. 
I want to have people in that theater. We need people to know about The American Slave Coast at Symphony Space. I didn't know they were gonna do this special offer, but suddenly, in a kind of flash-sale promotional move, all seats are $10 until 11 a.m. Friday (28). I tested it and it sure-enough works. 
Tell your friends, and let your media know! If you can't be with us in NYC that night, let your friends know about it anyway. Hell, buy 'em some tickets! Do it today! 
Get $10 tickets with code TEN online, by calling 212.864.5400, or at the box office window. This offer will expire on Friday, October 27th. 

* * *

Symphony Space, NYC
October 28
The American Slave Coast
American Book Award Winner
Authors Ned and Constance Sublette are joined by (in alphabetical order of surname): Kandia Crazy Horse, Jonathan Demme, Lezlie Harrison, Nona Hendryx, and Carl Hancock Rux -- masters of film, music, and the written word -- for an evening of creative exploration around the themes in the Sublettes' award-winning book, The American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave-Breeding Industry. The speaking voices are set into saxophonist / composer Donald Harrison's live improvised score, with musicians including Detroit Brooks and Zaccai Curtis. 

Friday, October 14, 2016

Hug In the Face Of One Of Our Nation's Ugliest Weeks

This has been a very bad week. All of us fortunate to have loving, supportive, decent partners and friends, need to hold each other more than usual, hold each other closer than usual, kiss each other more often than usual, tell each other what a good people we are, and how glad we are to have us in our lives.
Judging just by the street* women are deeply upset by this week, hurt and depressed, on the behalf of our daughters, sisters, mothers ourselves.  Everyone here is talking about it.  Of course we who lived long in this city have known this man (and his father before him) was the most creepy and disgusting of creatures for all his life, thanks to his always being in the news one way or another, but he's now thrown the shyte that is himself all over the world, pretending he is our country.

Beyond that though, this has been a horrible week for decent males everywhere. When I think I'm ashamed for our country, it's nothing to how el V, for instance feels.  And I'm hearing good, decent men all over the street talking about this too, though fairly quietly, almost with embarrassment.  With real sadness.  They are depressed too.

But we can help each other.  So hug and kiss and express our respect and affection for each other in every way that works.

I am so grateful for all the wonderful, decent, brilliant, honest, talented, funny people in my life -- whichever gender, whichever skin tone, whichever religion, whichever language.


*   Here, "street' means conversations participated in and overheard while buying ingredients for pasta at Raffetto's (est. 1906!), walking to the dry cleaners, checking out library materials, sitting in the Bistro for a nightcap, riding the subway to Lincoln Center Jazz** looking at greens in the Morton Williams produce section, overhearing the guys at the deli talking with the punters, etc. It doesn't mean media of any kind.  It means face-to-face real life personal contact and experience.


* Lincoln Center's Jazz Club is located in the Time Warner Building on one of the slices of pie that makes up Columbus Circle -- right across the avenue where is located one of the towers branded with the name of the king of narcissism and abuse. This was Wednesday night, and the whole place all the way to the top dead dark, except for a few lights in a few windows on the bottom three floors. No action going on there at all. Nor was there any at the branded with his name hotel down the street in my own neighborhood. This is not the same as 'his' tower, though, where women had been protesting this week.  The orange stalin has splattered many a very ugly NYC building with his name.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Meadow Lake Wind Farm - Chalmers, Indiana

     . . .  During our drive from Chicago to Columbus, IN, we drove through the Meadow Lake Wind Farm.

These identical, white, elongated, three-bladed turbines give the impression of aliens, perhaps out of the imagination of H.G. Wells.  Studded throughout field after field of perfectly identical GMO-ed corn rows of exactly the same height, with off in the distance the occasional farmstead turned resolutely from the interstate, wrapped in protective stands of trees, I swore this was a mm sf novel cover from the mid-1960's.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Chicago + Indiana

The American Slave Coast authors in Stony Island Art Bank's library, Chicago, IL, September 21, 2016.

The next day we embarked for Columbus, Indiana, which involved driving across Chicago for the third time on this trip, all three times during the noon time traffic.

So many people worked so hard and long to bring us to bring us to Columbus It took  a coalition of 5 organizations; the Liberal Arts Division of IUPUC was just one of them.  We're so grateful to everybody who gave us this incredible experience, and further then, the pleasure and privilege of spending time with them.

The Hotel Indigo was part of the coalition. They had beautiful posters adapted from Slave Coast's cover art. As Columbus is a unique center of modernist architecture --  Columbus is packed with design talent of every kind, from architecture to graphics. This poster was posted around the hotel with the whats, wheres and whens of the appearances, including the radio interview which will appear on an Indiana local, state and federally funded history program that airs weekly -- focus of course on Indiana history. The hotel's material contribution was the room and breakfasts. The other meals were provided by our coalition hosts. The hosts also picked us up at the hotel, drove us everywhere and delivered us back to the hotel. They were extraordinarily thoughtful and proactive about all this.

Another sponsor that brought us to Columbus was The African American Fund. What the Indiana AAF is and how it came to be is an interesting story of Indiana history itself. It is founded and funded in various places locally, entirely via the financial contributions of local Indiana black families, who also manage the fund's capital investment, growing it over time. The AAF in Indianapolis's capital is up to millions now. The African American Fund promotes arts and culture, education and community activism -- I'm sure I missed something.

Representatives from Columbus''s African American Fund African American families' investors were at dinner with us on Thursday night, from whom we learned a whole lot of Indiana history. If I have this right, these families are descendants from the small free black communities established early in Indiana, sometimes by Virginia planters who wished to manumit their enslaved laborers, who had bought parcels of land in the territory across the Ohio River, and settled them there.  At times it was illegal to free slaves at all; additionally, if an African American was free it was illegal to live in Virginia; the re-enslavement of freed people was rampant by myriads of whites who cared nothing at all about free papers or anything recorded in a court house.*

Bartholomew County Public Library with Henry Moore; the building itself is an I. M. Pei and Partners design.
The other sponsoring venues were View Point Books, The Columbus Peace Fund and the Bartholomew County Public Library.

It was so interesting and so heartening listening to the View Point Books's owner's satisfaction with having weathered the storm from e-books and seeing that independent bookstores and books themselves are prospering.  She says her customers always make their books orders through View Point -- and after doing e-books for a while, have come back with enthusiasm to 'real' books, between covers. They find the books easier to read, the content more memorable, and for research, so superior there is no comparison.

I wish we'd had had time to just hang out in Columbus for a while -- as just from this list of sponsors that bring in people from outside, we see how much is going on there.

At the best of times these things blur into each other when one does so many in a compressed period. But this one was particularly hard.

We drove in 10 states in 11 days, all of the states more than once, with the exception of Michigan.


I'm currently reading about this resettlement in connection with Indiana's free black communities enormous role as conductors and providers of safe houses, aid and assistance in the Underground Railroad in Fergus Bordewich's deeply informative and interesting Bound For Canaan: The Underground Railroad and the War for the Soul of America.