". . . 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

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Netflix Originals: Longmire Final Season + Godless Mini Series

     . . . . I had been looking forward to the 6th, final season of Longmire. Foolishly, I expected that this season would correct the errors into which the series had fallen further with each season since the second one. Instead, in many ways, it was a disappointing mess.

Sheriff Longmire and Henry Standing Bear, the really good relationship in this series: with authentic conflicts and constant loyalty that the viewer can believe in.

The actors did their best, but the writers seemed to be phoning it in.  So many lost opportunities to have a stellar finish, but they went for merely finishing.  However, in the first episode as Walt Longmire pulls his life-long friend Henry Standing Bear from the jaws of death, while not dying of either thirst or snakebite himself, and driving them both to the hospital we have been shown definitively that both these men who undergo tremendous physical abuse in every season, that they and they alone are truly the strongest men in the universe, the realest of real men that the fictional television West still produces now just as it did in the past.

The fall of Longmire began around season 3.  This is due to the writers turning Absaroka County Sheriff's Department's female detective, Victoria (Vic) Moretti, from Philly into the weak pole of the series. They never could figure out – or just didn’t notice – or, worst of all, thought this might grow the series’s viewership among white guys under forty? -- that they didn’t know what to do with her beyond the most cliched usage of female characters reaching back to the beginning of television. This is such a pity, as Vic Moretti, her character, how she behaved in her job as consumate professional, was someone any police force anywhere would want: strong, dependable, so cool under pressure that she didn't take stupid chances, she was a primary draw and foil for her boss, making what by season season two had become a terrific ensemble cast of interesting characters.

But for reasons only the writers know, they abruptly dropped that Vic for a different one. In exchange for the original Vic we got one who suddenly unbuttoned her shirt two buttons too far, a Vic who pranced about jiggling. They even turned her into honeypot and pole dancer. There's a prolonged scene in this final season where she's supposedly learning to ride a horse. She is shown, under the cooking blaze of southwestern high altitude summer sun, in the middle of the day wearing a clingy, thin,sleeveless, t-shirt, open to her breast bone, trotting -- jiggle jiggle jiggling. Beyond that she is damsel in distress who Walt repeatedly rescues and worries about, one who is kidnapped, raped, tortured, shot,  -- when she began so smart and so strong and competent.   She also gets pregnant, which ultimately means nothing to the story arc, other than she gets shot and loses the baby, which keeps Walt all worked up (we never even learn who the father is) -- that's the only point of having her be pregnant. The only other thing dreamed up for her was the so tired lusting yearning for Walt, her boss, the sheriff of fictional Absaroka County, Wyoming, who is at least 30 years older than she, whose daughter, Cade, is the same age as Vic.  I came to dislike seeing Vic at all.

Matthias, Cheyenne Tribal Police, another character we get to know and admire, along with the development of the relationship between him and Standing Bear.  If the writes could do this with the men, why couldn't they do it with the female characters?

And get this in the writers' cheap failure with female characters!  In the final episode of the final season, Walter persuades his daughter, who has not a bit of prior experience with law enforcement, who has never showed any interest in law enforcement, who is a practicing lawyer, to run for sheriff of Absoroka County in his place. Now he can conscience-free live with Vic and his finally acquired personal cell phone happily ever after in the idyllic log cabin at the foot of the mountains. Such a shame. It had everything to be much better than this: acting talent, location and photography. Only the writers failed.

     . . . I haven't encountered any of the books in the series from which the television Longmire has been adapted.  I have no idea even if any of the characters beyond Walt Longmire are in them. I’m sure if he were still with us, my dad would have had these novels.  He led the way in our household, which was all about Westerns when we kids were all growing up. I read all his books and magazines too, so I’m not ignorant of how Westerns work!  And I’m thinking of Dad, and those days, today, of course, it being Thanksgiving.


Godless (2017) Netflix Original, complete seven-episode mini-series.

I hope Michelle Dockery and the other women (many women characters! which bodes well right there) get treated better by the Godless writers than Longmire’s Katee Sackhoff's Vic Moretti did, and better than the barely named female FBI agent (Jane! her name is generic girl Jane!) played by Elizabeth Olson in Wind River.

I only began to watch Godless yesterday, and so far don't know what to think of it, other than it is beautiful and includes every trope of a classic Western, from the stagecoach, the train, the mine, the ranches, the bad guys(eviLe outlaws, and eastern cheating business guys), the horses (one way we know one of the good guys is a real good guy, is that he's also a horse whisperer, able to tame mustangs by talk and gesture, and never ever abides the mistreatment of a horse), Native Americans, the plucky widow, the whore no longer a whore -- you name it, it's there, even the tropes of High Noon and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.  One might think that the cinematographers and director analyzed for years every scene in Days of Heaven.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Wind River (2017) + Longmire

     . . . . Wind River (2017) premiered at Sundance, as a Sundance Film Festival pick, where it achieved a theatrical release deal. Ironically, this from a Weinstein company, from which the film severed ties in October. It also picked up several awards and nominations, including for Canne Film Festival. 

     . . . . Death in winter, on a Wyoming res At the center, is a  professional hunter, employed by Fish and Wildlife, who is divorced from a native woman, evidently due to the mysterious death of their daughter, which has happened prior to the opening.  He finds another dead young woman while hunting a mother mountain lion and her young, who have taken to killing livestock.  Her death is the film’s opening, a prolonged death running barefoot in the snow, breathing freezing air. The examiner determines she has been been violently assaulted sexually and otherwise either multiple times or by multiple assailants. But the death cannot be listed as homicide since it was breathing freezing air that burst her lungs, and which ultimately killed her.

That's the whole story, which is provided to the viewer in the first 5 minutes, followed by some soft-focus, lingering and detailed scenes that are pure gun and ammo porn.  However we know what's his name -- people's names in this film do not matter -- is the good guy because he gives his kid a gun safety lesson, and makes his own ammo.

All that's left for the rest of the film to occupy itself is who done the rape - murder.  The surface is a more than satisfying viewing experience, but there's little beneath, and what is, does come through as glib, to put it kindly. However, one does feel that the production, writing and filming honchos are so familiar and at ease with the locations and the matters of these places and their residents that they didn't realize that this is how it would come across to other viewers. It might be intentional though, as so many think its this is best thing they've watched all year.

It’s shot with that signature graceful, authoritive surface that tells the audience  they are about to experience a solid entertainment, in the old-school sense of that word applied to Hollywood films. Nothing that will truly disturb them will be on offer, either in action, character or story. Whether or not there is violence, all will end as it should, and the viewer is going to enjoy going on the ride.  Which itself some viewers may well find disturbing as at the end, with two fathers, one native, one white, sitting together grieving the loss of their native daughters, exchanging wise-cracks, a title card states that “missing persons statistics are kept for every demographic except Native American women, whose numbers remain unknown.”

Wind River projects the same quiet confidence and authority that is the signature of the on-screen presence these days of Robert Redford and Jane Fonda, and which no one possessed so completely as Paul Newman, from whom, presumably Redford learned a great deal. Newman could say more by standing, sitting or watching than most actors could in 20 minutes of on screen action.

As well, Redford has had much experience shooting in snow-covered mountains in his own star turns in movies such as Downhill Racer, Jeremiah Johnson, The Electric Horseman and The Horse Whisperer among others in his long, distinguished career as actor, director, producer.  These snow-covered mountains are virtually the backyard of Sundance, Utah’s first citizen, Robert Redford -- which is where Wind River premiered and was picked up by Weinstein productions, if I understand the film's history correctly.

BTW, the lovely Longmire television series, its final season up on netflix today. It's set in a fictional Wyoming that is really New Mexico; one of its chief recurring character's actor is also in Wind River. Longmire is possessed of the same gloss and authority, but less confidence, stumbles sometimes, and frequently is disturbing in terms of character, action and story line, i.e. a less comfy viewing.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Dream Eagles 11/17/17

     . . . . I was in the process of walking across the

University of Wisconsin Student Center, far back in the day.
 campus of the University of New Mexico, which was really the University of Wisconsin,

North Dakota barn, pasture and slough.
but really was the vast backyard of our farm.

I was on my way to the library, which was really NYC's midtown research library, which was really the

Bobst Library and Washington Square Park.

NYU Bobst Library situated on Washington Square Park, where I was having a class meeting  in my graduate writing program.

There was a brilliant sky marquee in that only-in-New Mexico saturated blue purity, and in it were birds, birds, birds, particularly raptors, and particularly very large eagles. Dream me wondered if eagles were the the source of humanity's dream of dragons? 

As I walked, the campus, off to my left, ended in a large body of water -- a lake or a bay. It too was filled with birds, particularly Canadian geese. 

Twice I watched eagles make a successful hunt on these geese, from the initiation of their hunt, circling high above -- but they were so large I could see the feathers of their throats and wings, to the targeting of the prey, to the astonishing glide-drop to the back of the goose, both going underwater from the impact of the overhead strike’s velocity, then the eagles beating their rise from under the water, up into the sky again, their meal in their talons.

Schwarzman Library

At the same as I arrived at the columned portico of the library (which Bobst does not have, but Schwarzman in midtown has, I had brilliant conception for a novel. 

Then I was in the house that I shared with my writing major roommates. I couldn't wait to describe to them what I had seen, but simultaneously, deliberately refrained, restrained, to preserve the marvel of it -- not just once did I see that successful targeted plunge through air and water and ascension again, but twice! Nor was I going to tell them of my novel breakthrough! 

It was at that point El V woke me . 

I was able to recall in detail the eagles, but not the novel. All I can recall of it is that it involved two women and their relationship to writing, which informs entirely their relationship with each other, and with life generally, which is hardly a brilliant conception, and certainly not even original. Nor have I ever been in a writing program, whether in university or otherwise, though I have certainly been graduate schools!

Oddly, these days when I dream of being back in school, it's always graduate school, not high school or undergrad, as those dreams used to be. Still, as all my life, I still spend a generous amount of time on campuses and in libraries. 

While drinking tea I realized the landscape of this dream included all four of the landscapes that I have imprinted upon, due to inhabiting - walking, every day for years and years, or nearly every day.

Upon even further reflection this dream includes yet one more formative landscape -- Chestertown and the Chester River of Maryland's Eastern Shore, which is where the Canadian geese come from.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Black Sails and Treasure Island + Outlander and Voyager

     . . . . Black Sails (2017) Season Four, final season was very good.  At this moment I'm still wondering this may be the most historically accurate action adventure period presentation dramatized on screen (and read in most historical fiction).  Cuba! Views of its bay and fortalezas and habana vieja that I too have seen and been to! Invasion of Nassau to put down the motley pre-era of Revolution crew of pirates, self-emancipated slaves, free blacks, indentures and the lower classes in general – as the greatest threat to civilization.

The Black Sails writers really read Marcus Rediker it looks like.

A deluxe 1886 edition of Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island included a treasure map.

 This isn't to say that some liberties with historical facts have not been taken -- for instance the Peruvian shipment on the pirated Spanish vessel, Urca de Lima, was made of valuable commodities such as hides and chocolate,  but not that ever more powerful chimera of gold! gold! gold! which is the ever more enthralling, ever more unattainable source of the stories of  Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island and Starz's Black Sails.  But, over all, throughout, Black Sails tacks remarkably close to what historical facts of Nassau's early history we know.

Guess who . . .  he didn't begin like this.

So it matters more for Spain and Britain to cooperate in putting them than the current war between their rulers. Their sheer outrage that anyone not of the ruling classes should attempt to change anything is brilliantly emoted.

These outsiders' ideals of anti-slavery, equality and fairness, have been bubbling along for the previous season, though sometimes submerged either by the imperious demands of survival, which means financing survival, and rivalries and conflicts of interests of all sorts.  In the final season both the ideal, inter-personal conflict and greed are at center of every action.  In the last episodes the audience begins to glimpse through the current action, the characters as we first got to know them in Stevenson's Treasure Island.

Professor Marcus Rediker

After watching the end of the series, I re-read Treasure Island, on Gutenberg since Black Sails is the prequel to the stories of all these characters long and long before Jim Hawkins enters the picture at his mother's inn, the Admiral Benbow, the black spot and all the rest.  Needless to say, in Black Sails, everybody was much much younger and very good looking, which they generally are not in Treasure Island, except perhaps that charming, enticing storyteller we meet as one-legged Long John Silver, with a parrot named Flint (Captain Flint is the central protagonist in Black Sails) -- and many of them had ideals of freedom, liberty and equality, escape from the real evils of the poor and powerless  attempting to create an alternative to Europe's ancien régime.

But in the end, as stolen treasure does, the Urca's fictional gold destroyed them all. And now they're old, so old, if not actually you know,  like Captain Flint, dead. Yet they're still chasing after that damned treasure for which  that hundreds if not thousands have already lost their honor,  blood and lives.

It had been a long time since I'd re-read Treasure Island.  What isn't different though -- and this is brilliant of Black Sails, considering its unique social and political concerns (also so much part of the age), which are seldom if ever found in adventure entertainments --  from the first pages already, the evil miasma of the Urca treasure contagion is in play.  Hawkins, the boy, of course, like we kids who are much of Stevenson's targeted audience, can't see it.  But the boy can see danger, far more quickly than the adults do.

This particularly struck me in terms of Starz's Outlander, both because I just finished re-reading Voyager, the third novel in Diana Gabaldon's historical romance series from which this current season is adapted, and the latest episode takes place at sea, sailing to Jamaica. The ships used in this episode are among those that had been constructed for Black Sails. 
Voyager's action is located in the spread of 1745 - 1765, only a few decades after Black Sails in 1715.  The African slave trade, slavery and indenture slavery were reaching their peak during this entire arc. This is something that the pirates of the era understood thoroughly.  The more oppressed the bottom, i.e. slaves, can be, the more oppressed are every class above them.

Voyager was the book in the series after which I quit, because none of it was working any more. The arbitrary artificiality of the obstacles being put int the way of the twenty years older Claire and Jamie, to have a life without running, and lots and lots of their happy, happy sex is preposterously obvious. This is the point where the series goes off the rails in the books, and probably does on television too.  It's all more likely due to the author's embarrassing caricatures of non-white characters and her ignorance of the cultures in the Caribbean in general.

The author's determination to keep this a romance, is, in the end, makes the effort only about the personal, and by extension to family and clan's well-being, which are still personal concerns.  In Black Sails, romance was not the point.  Sex wasn't even the point., though there was a lot of it, some, unwatchably violent and abusive, detailed and prolonged. Though lesbians were not punished for being lesbian,  gay men had to keep their love a terrible secret, which such demand by society and law at large, has effects on the development of character, thinking and action.

Loyalty and companionship matter of course, but most of all for some, at least, among the Black Sails' crews, there were those who had larger loyalties to ideals of social and political justice, for women and men, for black as well as white. Not only is Black Sails a prequel to Treasure Island, but it's a prequel to revolution, located as it is on the eve of the Era of Revolutions that set the whole world on fire (with help from that anti-revolutionary, Emperor  Napoleon) -- Washington, George Danton, Toussaint L'Ouverture, Símon Bolívar.  But the Outlander books, really about Claire and Jamie's ROMANCE, and  her family and their romance,s as more and younger members of her family arrive in the past from the future, are missing this dimension.

Perhaps that makes the contrast between Starz Outlander and Black Sails all the more stark: Outlander's Voyager turned us cranky and impatient; Black Sails got ever more compelling as the seasons and episodes rolled on.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Chronicles of Prydain -- Best Fantasy Series for the Youth? What About the Animal Heroes?

     . . . . Chronicles of Prydain -- Best Fantasy Series ever?  But is it? 

Is it the very best? -- this person passionately believes it is; at Vox News he tells us that he so much believes it true that he writes to tell us this news every year or so.  Read all about it here

I had all the Prydain books, but they never grabbed me.  I can hardly remember anything about them now.  Perhaps I was already too old when I encountered them in high school? I certainly don't have them on my shelves now, though Winnie-the-Pooh and many other books of fantasy and whimsy, with a sort of non-adult flavor remain. 

Also, the guy writing this is a -- guy, who lurves it that the Hero is a another young guy. That might have kept me from truly rolling with it, perhaps? though the guy-centeredness of so many other books and series never interfered with my passionate attachment to them, from The Black Stallion, his boy, Alec, to Lad, A Dog (see - Lad, another guy!), to LotR, not to mention some of my beloved Zane Greys, and many others -- even Pooh! 

Or -- maybe -- because I was living on a farm, I just knew too much about pigs to suspend my disbelief (always have had some trouble with Charlotte's Web re that).

I loved animal books -- which no longer seem to be written.  Did the Youth lose interest in animal protagonists?  Or was it just the publishing industry?  Anyway, I read every single one that came my way, many of them over and over and over, like the Black Stallion books and the Bambi Books, and Lassie Come Home

I received at least one of that sort of book every Christmas from each set of grandparents and from Mom and Dad.  So that was three books at least every Christmas!

I sobbed every time at the deaths of the animal protagonists in the books I re-read so avidly -- Ginger the rebel / bad slave in Black Beauty, Joe in Beautiful Joe, you name a death and I cried. Albert Payson Terhune's Lad, A Dog (1919), provoked particularly copious tears. Once it happened that I was reading his death while in school (the one-room country school house). The entire room including the teacher were aghast -- what ever could be happening to me? No one could understand how I could weep over a dog, dying, in a book!

I loved all the Terhune books. It wasn't only the canine principals that had me re-reading them constantly though. It was the setting. It was an exotic world, a magical one, as much as any fantasy world I might encounter later (those books weren't around anywhere when I was growing up). The Master and the Mistress, the kingdom of Sunnybank -- which I later learned was in New Jersey, He and She could drive into unknowable NYC for dog shows -- all this was as foreign and unknowable as the moon. This dimmish, but constant background kingdom of Sunnybank that cast a spell as irresistable as any of a fantasy novel. Sunnybank was ruled by Him, to whom Lad owed all his service and loyalty, and Her, who in turn ruled Him, and whom Lad adored in all humility and to whom his devotion was entire -- and that had that inexplicable thing -- servants! who even served the dogs.  Thus dogs' lives and hierarchy reflected perfectly this perfect feudal world, with impeccable class system -- a creation of the plutocratic, bloated Gilded Age. 

I was too unsophisticated and ignorant to recognize it for the class system that the Terhune books celebrated at the time. So every aspect of this strange world so far away in both time and space fascinated and enthralled me, those times that so-called 'real world' penetrated the world of the characters -- characters that could not have existed without that upper, non-understood plane of Master and Mistress / Him and Her ruling that world.

I'm not sure I'm recollecting exactly how the owners of Sunnybank were called in Lad's mind -- but it was something like that. What I do recollect clearly was how much I liked the dogs having real names, as -- to my mind -- being the significant ones -- while the human beings were -- to my child mind -- peripheral.

Too bad the world isn't really run that way, the non-human world at the center, and we hooman beans the side-bar.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Still Feeling Xalapa: ¡Gatos!

     . . . . I introduced The Young of Xalapa to the concept of "herding cats."

El Azuzul Jaguar Statue. Museum of Anthropology, Museo de Antropologia, Xalapa.

Jaguar statue, Oaxaca.
Olmec Twins & Jaguar: the twins are divinities also. Here they are facing off to the Jaguar God, in the posture of respect, which, we note, is one of the postures common to cats of all kinds.

Due to loss of habitat, jaguars are endangered species throughout Mexico, Central America, South America and Brasil.  It is revered by the cultures in all these regions.

As all of my young friends are more than fond of cats, appropriately as they are descended from people for whom the Jaguar is a divinity, they immediately got it.

In Xalapa they term such a concept as "Xalapeñear."

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Xalapa Siete - Hangin' with los Muertos

     . . . . Our official work is concluded, so we're trying to relax and see as much of this city and state as we can before leaving.

This is the weekend before el día de los muertos (November 1), which is in full swing festivities aleady, making traffic worse, but making every blink of the eye filled with something interesting and fun. Even so, last night, after all the long day of Slave Coast events, I fell out and slept for nearly 12 hours last night.  When last did I do that when not sick?

But awesome el V, after a 45 minute nap, went to work, reviewing essays of his NYU students, and then attended Donald Harrison Jazz Symphony, with himself and his group playing with the Xalapa Symphony Orchestra.  Then, he went to the reception afterwards.  He got in about 1:30 AM.  I never heard him, even though I'd been sleeping for hours already by then.

So much has happened, and so much continues to happen, all this, running in parallel with the city's ever intensifying Day of the Dead celebrations. 

Today is cool and a little rainy. El V and I went to a Day of the Dead tamale festival, where I found cool regalos for mis amigas, including lots of items made out of chocolate (which grows here, btw) and are formed into images that roll with el dia de los muertos. Since I get back Monday, I will be able to give them out on Halloween, most appropriately.  There were many groups of dancers and bands from all over, performing, one after another, including some splendid flamanco, one of my favorite forms of dance - music.  This is going on everywhere!  Actually, it feels like the week of Mardi Gras in New Orleans.  Donald thinks so, and he ought to know.


El V bought local artisan cervezas.  He also ate several different tamales -- and then we went to lunch with Donald and the guys.

Tonight there's a very large Day of the Dead parade, that passes right by our Hotel Clara Luna, so I have a spectacular view of it from the second floor window overlooking the street. 

Tomorrow we are going to meet with an historian and anthropologist, whose study is the African cultures in the state of Veracruz.  She is the aunt of one of the tremendously talented volunteer organizers who has been herding all the gatos who are the talent of the festival. (Like everyone else doing the actual work, she hasn't slept in days, so I feel a real wimp-fool for my 12 hours fall out last night. El V is particularly excited as Dr. Sagrario Cruz-Carretero is very famous at the CUNY Grad Center among our anthro friends there.  He says, "How envious they will be when we tell them!"

I have uploaded yesterday's and today's photos, but I'm too tired right now to post any of them. But they are colorful!

Ooo, I am hearing the squeals, yells and screams from the people in the street already as the parade begins!  And now I hear the bands!