". . . 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

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Book News - Martin Luther King Day Observation - Etceteras

     . . . . It's been busy around here, among the various projects, including the preparations for Saturday, and preparations for the March visit to eastern Cuba with 25 + Travelers.  With each Traveler coming with us that I meet, the more excited for this trip I get.

The weather here has been all over the place, down in the deep freeze back up to balmy, snow and rain, overcast and bright. To make it more interesting, this week our building's furnace quit and we're still without either heat or hot water.

But books and news about them keep on coming.

A few days ago this news was in the Washington Post book section.Sales for all forms of adult fiction declined in 2016 with the single exception of comics graphic "novels." Adult coloring books remain huge sellers, and adult non-fiction sales increased again for the third year in a row.  The demand for audio versions of books continues.

Dear friends' book shelf!
In the meantime, the 70th review of Slave Coast has gone up on amazilla.  We've got several repeat dates for radio and pod cast interviews about Slave Coast next month, Black History Month.  It also looks like the live performance of Slave Coast with Donald Harrison directing the music beds is going to happen this fall as part of the Veracruz annual Jazz festival.  Other venues are trying to find dates and financial support to bring this to their communities.  Other institutions have requested we / Slave Coast participate, be a part of various programs coming up such as workshops and so on.  Also the trade paperback edition of Slave Coast debuts in April!

We've started working on the presentation to PBS for Slave Coast. Argh. How in the world will we raise the money??????

For Martin Luther King's birthday we did a Skype conference with DR, the producer for the Slave Coast on tv project (IF this happens, which is a huge if -- all that money that needs to be raised!).

DR's in France, on his farm in the mountains above Nice, living in a 350 year old stone farm house.* This is how they stay snug and cozy all winter -- when winter begins they crank the heat as high as possible to make the stones of the walls and floor hot. Then they turn down the heat to 'warm.' And the house stays warm all winter. His broccoli and and other vegetables continue to produce all winter.  I wish I was there.  I've been working on the script and various other aspects of the Slave Coast project for DR to present to various people. He reminds me that it would be nicer, i.e. WARMER, working there than here.

Today's drizzle and drear keeps on keeping on. I wish the heat would come back before the end of the day.

Yes, I wish, but I'm not hoping.


*  I remain thrilled any time we Skype, being able to see his home and him in real time, despite all this distance between the coast of France and the east coast of the US.  At the same time I can't help but think of how this isn't possible when one of us is in Cuba and the other is here -- and Cuba is only 90 miles south of Miami.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Ripper Street -- Season 4 Finale -- No Spoilers

     . . . . I was wrong. Despite how much I'd heard, to the contrary there is a season 5 for Ripper Street. (I'd stopped paying attention having other concerns than television series throughout last summer and fall.) However, after watching the final episode of season 4 last night I'm not entirely convinced this is a good idea. But season 5 exists and that is that!

Detective Reid and his daughter, Matilda, who have been parted most of the girl's life.  She was raised mostly in captivity and on fairy tales ....
The season 4  finale opens with Reid's nineteen-year-old daughter, Matilda, reading Dracula and concludes with a Wolf Man ripping out the jugular of another human being.  Blood and meat, who is animal and who is human? What is fantasy, what is real?  As for families, what chance do they have with mothers dead, children dying, orphaned, given away, lost, and those who do not even know who their parents are?  Not to mention children who kill their parents . . . .  All four of our primaries, Reid, Drake, Jackson, Susan, crash and burn against marriage, commitment, family and parenting. All of them make the choices that mean failure and they know it.

The American, for some reason called Long Susan, love of Captain Jackson's life.  This woman is not to be trusted, even to die her own death ....
Unlike Ripper Street's previous seasons that concluded the final episode with solutions and ends tied, this one concluded with "To Be Continued . . . ." as our primaries slip into the darkness at the edge of ... town?  Well, the darkness at the edge of everything, the darkness under everything that is Ripper Street's universe. Into the sewers they flee. Our primaries fought the good fight against the darkness.  In the end, one way and another, each of them surrenders. After the events of this season it appears there is no future ahead for any of them, only their pasts, rising up to finish them off.  So, the struggle, why?

This was frustrating, as so much was packed into this season and particularly in the finale -- murders, breathtaking escapes, convoluted robberies, corruption, old, cold cases, young girls, crazy women, newspapers -- I couldn't follow all the various strands, which somehow were supposed to come together by bringing together the four primaries, Detective Inspector Edmund Reid (now just Detective), Detective Sgt. Bennett Drake (now Dectective Inspector) and the Americans, Captain Homer Jackson his lover, Miss Susan, i.e. Caitlin Swift.   Except that -- won't say more due to spoilage. The number of lies, betrayals and concealments, disguises and, yes, murders, in each of their pasts, some committed in company, and some not, racked up among all of them doesn't bode well for their common future, one would think.

However -- it has to be a good thing that this series, which has been so literate, well composed, finely acted, and cliche-free plots gets to do a real wrap-up, not just stop (as was done with Marco Polo, for instance, to be replaced the thoroughly stupid Medici, evidently).  I  did catching on to the character of Deputy Commissioner Dove almost immediately, i.e. way too soon,  because as an audience member I've been conditioned to these sorts of character reveals from many a cop series.

But mostly we must wonder -- what happens to Connor in season 5?  Yet another child left behind, again and again.

Deborah Goren, a Jewish refugee from Ukraine, who is director of an orphanage.  She is a kind, compassionate, generous, and generally a better human being than the milieu in which she's come to harbot.

Rachel Costello, an investigative journalist.
It was a pleasure to finally see Ripper Street in its season r find other ways for women to function in the storylines beyond being whores, insane, dead or dying.

Ripper Street remains a rare period series in which the grit and muck, the conflicted, complex characters, never great or noble, will show, sometimes in spite of themselves, these flames of decency and nobility that are thoroughly convincing. Nor does it flinch from showing this heart of capitalism run unregulated in which the poor are not only despised, but actively hated, blamed entirely for their situation, and in which doctors and others not only preach their extermination for 'the good of the race" do their best to carry out their creed.  That there are so many mad in this London, most of them starving and scrambling, is not a surprise. Subjects of unrelenting hatred do go mad.

These decades late in the 19th century have sometimes been called Age of Innocence -- presumably before WWI wiped out that innocence of unquestioned class systems in which those at the top lived lives of unrelenting ease. No.  No.  Rather, these decades are the Age of Horror, and Ripper Street shows us why.

In fact, the imperial luxe of London seldom ever showed itself in the series, other than the mendacious fronts of the brothels Long Susan managed, or the music hall.  The focus stays unwaveringly upon the working classes, the discarded soldiers, the activists -- women mostly -- who work to improve the lot of the poor -- or to exploit them hypocritically -- mostly men -- the newspapers, the police, the immigrants and all the others struggling to survive one more day in the center of Britain's global empire that sucks the life from all.

Seasons 1 - 5 stream on amazilla prime and will come to BBC later this year.

Seasons 1 - 3 stream on netflix.

Season 5 is definitely They All Say the final, the very last season of Ripper Street.  It's an attitude and time that won't roll well into 1900 and beyond, They Say.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

The Snow! The Wind! Laundry! Ripper Street! Cuban Jazz!

     . . . . The snow began snittering sometime before dawn, and by now is full snart.  

Which was fine, until the wind kicked in.  So this must be why the weather sites for all our bit of New York are red with Winter Storm!  Storm warning in effect until 11 PM.  However, alas this snow front is passing all the rest of the state by, as it hugs the coast.  New England will probably get a lot, but western and upstate New York, probably nothing.  Not good for our drought conditions which are state wide. We've also been receiving a fair amount of rain in our little bit, but other parts not.  Which doesn't help us either, as our water supplies are further north.

So, an enforced snow day here.  Whatever shall we do? Play hot music from hot climates to help feel warm.

Himself?  He's all comfy and happy, back in bed, reading a book by a friend which deals primarily with the Dominican Republic's independence process -- from both Spain and Haiti, and eventually the U.S. too.  At one point, though, during the first administration of Grant, the small power elite did beg the U.S. to take them as its own.  It also at one point declared itself a part of Spain again -- without bothering to inform Spain.  Which really didn't want it.  Nobody wanted the DR.  Except Haiti.  And thereby hang many miserable tales which are ongoing.

Me, I'm a climbing the laundry mountain, which keeps me from spending the entire day sitting down, as I must run up and down the stairs to the basement where the machines are.  Also, Himself can help.  :)

We went out before it got dark to to pick up a few things from Gourmet Garage, which was an adventure between the wind and the restaurants on the block ignoring the City's laws about shoveling and salting the sidewalks, and the ice, ice, ice under the snow. We could have managed dinner without going out, but to be honest, I wanted to go out.

It's been so long since I've experienced a real snow here, it's as though it's all brand new.

     . . . . This time last year we were in Cuba.  Which, if a hurricane and a Russian manipulated election hadn't gotten in the way, is where I was supposed to be today.  

Coffee plantation, southeast Cuba; I visited this one the first time back in -- 2001?
By the way, our March trip to eastern Cuba is filling right up. Some of the Travelers are repeats from the January trip, that's what splendid, intrepid, serious Travelers they are!  The others coming sound equally cool, and some of them we have known for a long time too.  So it's going to be a terrific experience, to which I'm already looking forward.  I'm looking forward particularly today, to being in Oriente's Caribbean climate!

     . . . . Tonight I'll probably watch the second half of the fourth and last season of Ripper Street (2016). This fourth season, after the abrupt cancelation of the show by BBC, after it got rescued by amazilla, is even darker than the previous seasons. I've really liked this series for all kinds of reasons, with the exception that the writers couldn't figure out what to do with primary female characters except to make them duplicitous whores or insane, and preferably both. This is a short season, only 7 episodes.

The time for Ripper Street to go has probably come anyway.  It's good to have it go out on a standard even higher than its previous seasons achieved. The actors are all so good, they've been having other jobs all along.

Ah, here we are in Ripper Street's comfort zone -- no women around!
Matthew Macfadyen, who plays Detective Inspector Edmund Reed, even showed up in the first episode of the first season of The Last Kingdom, while Jerome Flynn, who plays Det. Sgt. Bennet Drake, is everyone's favorite Got character, Bronn . The actors's talent is much of the pleasure of this series. I loved them as ensemble, but the characters' story lines have been diverging from  the ensemble aspect anyway, as with Detective Reid having left the force at the end of last season.  The manipulations to get him back on the force this season were not quite what anyone could call plausible, particularly as the roles are reversed with Drake now being Reid's superior.


P.S.  Love it -- a report from Havana Jazz Fest by amigo, Larry Blumenfeld:

"Cuba is the Missing Link in Jazz History."  Is it ever!  Read it here.

Perhaps it's time to begin the Saturday night ritual, which has been by-passed in the last holiday weeks -- pasta and jazz!

I have the technology for both (and the ingredients).

Friday, January 6, 2017

A New Dumas! The Red Sphinx

     . . . . I'm soon to begin a new Dumas, The Red Sphinx!  New, at least in English.

Dirda writes about the Red Sphinx in the Washington Post:
Originally called “The Comte de Moret,” “The Red Sphinx” first appeared during 1865 in Les Nouvelles, but it was never quite completed after the magazine folded. For this handsome new edition — the work’s first translator since a wretched 19th-century version — Lawrence Ellsworth appends a related novella titled “The Dove,” which brings the adventures of the Comte de Moret and his beloved Isabelle de Lautrec to a dramatic, nick-of-time close. 
Yet the Red Sphinx himself, as the historian Michelet dubbed Cardinal Richelieu, wholly dominates the book’s 800-plus pages. The action begins in December 1628, shortly after the French victory at La Rochelle chronicled in “The Three Musketeers.” A mysterious cloaked hunchback tries to hire a down-on-his luck swordsman named Latil to murder the Comte de Moret. That young man, the illegitimate son of the late Henri IV, has just arrived in Paris from Italy, bearing secret letters for Marie de Medici, Anne of Austria and Gaston, the duc d’Orleans, respectively the queen mother, the queen and King Louis XIII’s brother (and would-be successor). When Latil refuses to be an assassin, a quarrel develops, the hunchback’s three companions join the fray and the swordsman is left for dead.
 . . . . In the final third of this continually enjoyable novel, the action moves to the battlefield, as the armies of France enter Italy. Here several guerrilla operations behind the lines should thrill even fans of Bernard Cornwell. Here, too, Richelieu encounters a young papal officer named Mazarino Mazarini, who will eventually become a French citizen and ultimately Richelieu’s successor, Cardinal Mazarin. 
     . . . . I so admire Dumas as an historical novelist and his methodology for creating historical fiction. He knew his history and researched constantly. He really knew what he was doing, by which I mean he consciously constructed a set of tools by which he thought the sort of historical fiction he was writing -- which he and the father of historical fiction, Sir Walter Scott -- called Romance -- and matter-of-factly employed them day in and day out.  Despite his love for Romance fiction, he didn't regard writing as an activity of Romance, but one of a job that provided an excellent living.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Heavy Horsepower - Martin Clunes

     . . . . Heavy Horsepower (2013) is a

Martin Clunes (principal of the long-running Brit television series, Doc Martin)  one-off narrative documentary kicked off by the need for his adolescent Clydesdales (two-year olds, Bruce and Ronnie)  to begin their training to do what they're bred to do -- work.  We begin with some scenes of his own lovely farm in Devon where his "boys" live, then their transport to Hoof Camp, to begin their training.

Harvesting shrimp
From there Clunes goes traveling to Europe and the U.S. to check out the work currently performed by these various heavy breeds of horsepower.  These horse professions include providing transport and pulling power for an all-organic winery *, working in public timber lands pulling out culls and dead trees, pulling heavy trawling nets in the water to gather shellfish, providing all the power for all the work on an Amish farm in Indiana, which is done with huge, expensive, polluting machines everywhere else.  And that's part of the point, isn't it?

I learned a great deal from this seemingly casual, off-the cuff delivery and locations, things about working horses that I never knew, including foot reins, employed by mounted drummers in the Queen's Guard.

An Amish 12-hitch team pulling a bottom plow.
The best bit for me though was the Amish Schmucker family's farm in Indiana.  We stopped at one of their highway outlets back in September to have a lunch.  At their farm we get to see two teams of four mares each, pulling a plow -- 8 horses in all, followed by yet another two-teamed plow.  The skills of both horses and those who drive them are always on display throughout the program, but never more than here -- except perhaps with the logging team, and their very delicate dancing -- while in harness, seemingly all on their own -- over various endlessly long trunks of felled timber to position themselves to pull them out of the woods.

In between Clunes takes us back to his "boys" Hoof Camp to check in on their progress.  By the end of the program they are ready to begin their work to keep his own farm operating on organic principles.

This was a complete joy to watch.


*  The horse was a French breed, trained in France, thus the commands had to be given in French. This is the kind of thing I just love about horses and dogs -- they know their languages as much as humans do.  Other horses help teach the new horse who doesn't know the language too.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Looking This Year At Some of What I Read Last Year

     . . . . Cold light rain falling over the City

on this last day of two four-day weekends in a row.  I am feeling satisfied and content.

I'm struck by how different this day is from the one a year ago, when we flew from Miami, to Havana. So last year's January 2nd and this year's January 2nd have this in common, that they both are days that were spent primarily in airports, and thus feel as though they didn't really happen, located out of any normal space and time

     . . . . Today I'm working on my annual contribution to Da List's Best Reads of 2016, which comes to the subscribers as a pdf.  As well as el V's and my choices in this ever-longer e-publication, Da List's subscribers are all invited to invite up to three titles themselves.  I so much enjoy seeing what people most enjoyed reading over the previous year.

Due to the January and March Cuba trips, last year's pdf didn't get out until April.  That isn't going to happen this year.

The pleasure of keeping a fairly detailed Reading and Watching Journal for each month of the year (el V keeps track of what we listen to) is the ability then to go through it at the end of the year and seeing what occupied my mind over the last 12 months. It's more difficult though, to choose which books to recommend unreservedly for others to read. Recommendation doesn't necessarily mean I agree with, or even sometimes like, everything said in the work, but nevertheless solid enough to be worth dealing with.

This morning I pulled out the 2016 Journal the text I've generated about these books over the year to use as a very rough first draft -- a starting place only, not anything to consider as an essay.

     . . . . I've divided the books I'll cover into three sections. 

United States History, the first section, is divided into four parts, with the two Grant biographies showing him as the common denominator among the three parts.

United States History 

Civil War
Fergus Bordewich, Bound for Canaan: The Underground Railroad and the War for the Soul of America (20015).
Christopher Dickey, Our Man in Charleston: Britain's Secret Agent in the Civil War (2015)
Josephy T. Glatthaar, General Lee’s Army: From Victory to Collapse (2015)

Radicals, Impeachment and Reconstruction 
Hans Louis Trefousse, Thaddeus Stevens: Nineteenth Century Egalitarian (1997)
Fawn M. Brodie, Thaddeus Stevens, Scourge of the South (1959)

General and Commander-in-Chief, Grant, the Age’s the Great Denominator 
Jean Edward Smith, Grant (2001)
Ronald C. White, American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant (2016)

Capitalism: Bigots, Eugenicists, Plutocrats, Plunderers and Thieves
Eric Jay Dolin, Fur, Fortune and Empire: The Epic History of the Fur Trade in America (2010).
H.W. Brand, Colossus: The Triumph of Capitalism 1865 – 1900 (2010)

The two following sections are:

Other Times, Other Places
Thomas Ackroyd, Venice: The Pure City (2009)
Derek Wilson, Charlemagne (2006)
Steven Runciman, Sicilian Vespers (1958)
Simon Sebag Montefiore, Romanovs 1613 – 1918 (2016)

The Consolation of Nature 
Peter Wohlleben, The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate; Discoveries from a Secret World  (2016, in U.S.)

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Strength and Joy in 2017

     . . . . We had a long New Year's Eve, delicious, enjoyable and energizing.

The activities of the children of our friends are the cause of feeling chipper and energized this morning.  Or rather this afternoon -- I got enough sleep too, as we've only recently arisen.  I am not ashamed because everything during this long night that brought in the New Year was both positive and lovely.

     . . . . People are going to fight back.  In fact they have been for quite some time. We aren't paying enough attention.  And the media isn't paying attention at all, even as it wrings its collective hands and wails mea culpa mea maxima culpa and woes is us -- it doesn't change at all except to intensify its naval gazing and complacent self-serving that serves neither itself nor anything else.

     . . . . The revolution will not be online, that junkyard of lies*, commercials, and hate. It won't be on television, the opioid of the eyeballs.  It won't be in podcasts, those audio and incestuous masturbations  It will be in real space, with real people. This is what the Young are up to on so many fronts.  Doing things. Bless 'em!

For a single example -- our old friends' son and his friends, and his girlfriend,  who have recently graduated.

Yes, he's got all the support necessary for a young person just finished with school could have, including his parents' home to live in and all the resources of his parents' friends, which not very many people, particularly the young radicals with their optimism and energy, have -- which makes coming to NYC and other cities like this almost impossible. But this is going on in other places than NYC as well -- this is a very large country.  His girlfriend is working in public health and doing a residency for experience in Australia. She's got the support from her family and family friends that many others don't have as well.

However they are doing things that have to do with the public good and community.

M, like some others, is putting his talents to work in theater. However, theater in this context does not mean the thin content of posing and emoting and singing for personal stardom as in dinner theater, musical theater.

May 1849 Uprising Dresden. Richard Wagner, at the time Royal Saxon Court Conductor, was a passionate participant -- at that time.  Later, not so much.

What it is, is yet another renewal of a very old public, political use of theater, going back at least to the 1700's, of the theater as a form of protest, information and revolution, a center for action. I have been seeing this happening here -- or so it has felt to me who knows nothing of theater really, let us not forget -- for the last few years, and certainly since Occupy Autumn.

In contrast, the theater consists of real bodies in real space, working ensemble, which includes writers, actors, directors, staff, audience and community. In the 20th century, think the Czech Velvet Revolution and Václav Havel, the Open Theatre Festival in Wrocław (what are the progressive young doing in Poland today, one wonders) in the days of the end of the soviet. The theater movements throughout the 20th century in South America in the last century.  Think of the German states in the middle 1700's in Europe, in which both Schiller and Goethe participated. Think of the plays and musical performances that incited riots in the 1840's -60's, helping create the Belgian revolution and the revolutions in France.

     . . . .Repeat: the revolution ain't gonna happen online.

The "digital revolution" has proven to be the overt enemy of democracy, information and freedom. Instead it's the preferred art form of those who support violence, bigotry, coercion, repression and oppression, -- when it isn't being a sewer of pressures to conform to idiocy, buy garbage and attack any dissent to destruction of the planet to women's rights to be authentically human. Other than the great convenience to primary document research -- and even that has severe limitations -- the internet has become an abattoir of hate and destruction.

The Young of our friends are committing to more than this, including radical health care that includes mental health care -- one of our friends' sons is autistic.  He and his girlfriend have opened a mental health community clinic staffed with other recently credentialed certified autistic friends for more severely affected people on the autistic spectrum. What these kids are doing goes on and on.

In this country, finally, music, the arts, and authentic critical discourse are going to be recognized as vital to a healthy society in a way that they've not been in a long time.  Expect to see an explosion of great work.

Yes -- hope! and energy!


*  Just stop already with this fake news bs,  Call this ooze of pus for what it is -- LIES.