Just About Gone

Oct. 17th, 2017 02:18 pm
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      . . . . I am all packed for tomorrow's flight and two weeks in Mexico, except for the jewelry choices and the make-up, which go into my carry-on / purse anyway.  I think I'm packed, anyway.  El V won't be able to do his until after dinner, after teaching his seminar all afternoon.

The inviters booked us into a boutique hotel in an excellent part of Mexico City (DF. Federal District, as it is now called in Mexico).  But by the time we arrive probably all we'll be able to do is eat and go to bed.  We leave the next day for Xalapa (Veracruz), where we are checked into what looks to be yet another very nice hotel

This is a new adventure -- so unlike Cuba -- wifi everywhere, They Tell Us.  But poor El V is exhausted.  Two flight to and from Cuba in less than two weeks, coming back and teaching immediately, not to mention all the other things he does! Now, Mexico a week after getting back the second time. I am going to do my best to get him to relax and sleep the first few days. He needs it. 

At least, for once, there isn't the anxiety to meet a short deadline as there always has been for years. We overnight in Mexico City. If the bus (which evidently is very nice -- nothing like a Greyhound) is slow or whatever to Veracruz, it doesn't matter. 

But this trip he isn't wrangling! He's not having to solve problems! He doesn't have to take care of anyone! We will be staying in one hotel room most of the time! I'll be with him so he won't be fretting about me! There won't be other people around all the time! We'll have Just Us time -- it feels like forever since that happened on a trip away -- we are always chasing one deadline for a gig after another, always on, always meeting people. 

In other words, this is really different from doing book tour trips

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      . . . WTF? The New York Times travel section did a round-up of Caribbean tourist destinations, which ones one can travel to and when, after these catastrophic Climate Collapse hurricanes trashed them.

Cuba is described as devastated and impossible to get around on. Also you will go mad and be permanently damaged by mysterious sonic events. DO NOT GO! Not that there are rules against going to Cuba, just OMIGAWD awful, DANGER warning DANGER warning DANGER warning! 
And that's all they have to say about Cuba.

Not a word about all the hotels being operational, the tourist agencies operational, eco tourism (diving, birdwatching, etc.) operational, the musicians continuing to play all over the island, food, water, wiffy (wi-fi) available just as it was before the hurricane, which was already limited by comparison to all of us here having our own home connections and networks.

As el V was in Cuba himself, personally, twice, this month, and not only traveled around by himself, once, and then the second time had 28 people ferried about, to an entire festival of events he and his crew organized and produced, this is a palpable lie. Nor has he or a single person we know, Cuban or otherwise, experience such a sonic event, or met or know a single person who knows anyone who has. Moreover, the cruise ships were back even before he was.

What they had were perfectly acceptable provisions of food in their very pleasant accomodations and in the restaurants (though there were so many events the Travelers didn't have much time to spend in either of them), electricity (i.e. a/c and lights), internet, a/c-ed tourist buses, etc.

What they didn't have were -- problems.

What else they had, were transcendent, top of the list, life-altering experiences. 

And everyone made new friends, among the Cubans and among their sister - brother Travelers.  And it didn't rain once.

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      . . .  I sent the link to Bill Clinton 's review of Ron Chernow's new biography, Grant, to el V. 


For the reviews in this post I am providing url instead of a links, as these reviews are behind The NY Times paywall:


El V's response was dismissive: "It's like Clinton's seeing these ideas of Grant for the first time."

To which I responded, "Clinton is a southerner. When he was growing up, the mainstream, and even scholarly academia hadn't begun to admit and confront that our received history of the Civil War was a falsified, revisionist one. It's even more recently that scholarly academics have begun to view the 20th century accounts of Grant as man, general and POTUS as part of the received revisionist Glorious Lost Cause history, and actively correct it. So yah, it could well be that Clinton is seeing this information of the real Grant for the first time." 

El Vaquero thought that made sense and wondered why it hadn't occurred to him while reading B-linton's piece as it did to me.

Over the years I have read many works about Grant as biography, as general, as president, as writer, etc. This includes the books written by his family. And books about and by his closest associates -- friends, family, politicians, soldiers. Still, I am looking forward a great deal to Chernow's Grant, despite having not time to get to it right now.  As it's nearly 1000 pages long, it's too big to take along to Mexico, to where we go in a few days for the live Slave Coast performance, academic conference etc.  I don't want an e-version since I need the cites and reference pages, as well as the index. Then there are the more than a few reviews that sniff Chernow's book has little or nothing original to say about Grant. But Chernow's an effective word slinger and a conscientious connector of researched historic dots.

Additionally, one does doubt these the reviewers actually have read the whole thing, any more than most of the reviewers of Hillary's book read all her book either (which I have, btw -- it's part of the first draft of this phase of US history, thus essential).

Janet Maslin's New York Times review even claims that Grant is much livelier than Chernow's Hamilton,


which she complains was "a tough slog." I read Hamilton (2005) back in 2010, and then listened to the audio edition some years later. It seemed to me a quite a felicitous read - listen experience. Like Bill Clinton's review of Grant, Maslin's feels as though she doesn't understand and is unfamiliar with this nineteenth century US history. In the tradition of romperman she pronounces as one encountering this matter for the first time, and therefore believes no one else knows anything about these matters either -- which surely can't be the case for Masilin?  Not only does she call the book an attempt at "a make over for Grant," she says it's "startling" to learn that Grant's victory in the War of the Rebellion didn't end southern white supremacy and hatred! It's an odd tone, particularly for a NY Times reviewer to take on a book about what is so central to our national history -- particularly as the NY Times was part of the recent five year, daily, re-examination of the Civil War on the occasion of its sesquicentennial. One suspects that these reviewers now look at another Big US History work, particularly one that deals with the subject matter that makes the US War of Rebellion and that of slavery and white supremacy, and just -- groan, at the very idea of having another one to review, and so barely skimmed it -- as it's clear, after reading it myself, that most reviewers also at best skimmed Hillary's What Happened.

Surely this large, detailed biography of Grant will teach me at least a few things I don't already know.  In any case, there are many positives to have all this factual and honest information about Grant in a single work by an author that people are ready to believe in, even without the massive hit of the Broadway show of Hamllton made of his bio of that fellow. (Not that they have a lot to do with each other, of course, but  it is what we hoped to do with our subjects in Slave Coast.

The thing is that Grant continues to be vilified with lies constantly. Even in the comments to the reviews of Chernow's book, the trolls howl about Grant owning a slave plantation and loads of slaves and hating black people, being a butcher and a drunk, a terrible general, particularly when compared with that saint, Robert E. Lee. It was refreshing indeed to hear Chernow laugh about that in the WNYC interview with him earlier this week.  He said, "Compare for instance, the number of armies that Grant destroyed with those that Lee did. Lee never took out a single army."

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      . . . . I have finished reading Donna M. Lucey's (2017) Sargent's Women: Four Lives Behind the Canvas.  


One of the four figures profiled in Sargent's Women is Elizabeth Winthrop Chanler. Elizabeth was one of the siblings in the tragic Chanler family, among whose possessions is the New York fiefdom of Rokeby, as the Chanlers were among the heirs to the unfathomably vast Astor family fortune. As Archie Chanler was Elizabeth older brother, she also figures largely in a biography I read last month, Lucey's Archie and Amélie: Love and Madness in the Gilded Age (2005). 

     . . . .Amélie Rives (Chanler) of Virginia, a member of the southern aristocracy born in the decade after the abolition of slavery, was a manic pixie dream girl before Zelda Fitzgerald's time. One of the great propagandists for the revised history of the War of the Rebellion, she found her métier to fame, and  thus, ultimately fortune in marriage to an Astor heir, by writing scandalous-for-the-time sexual fiction.  Good grief, on one page the author describes a man breathlessly kissing his inamorata's knee! 


Worse! the inamorata likes it! Adding to her ever lengthening tail of scandal Amélie painted herself.



She reproduced her self-portrait as a post card which she sowed broadcast across the lands!

Sargant never painted Amélie, though he did paint, as mentioned initially, Amélie's sworn enemy, her husband's sister Elizabeth.

     . . . .The first of Sargent's four women Lucey presents to us is Elsie Palmer, the oldest daughter of US railroad magnate, General (one the side of the Union) William Jackson Palmer.  Elsie ultimately married L.H. Meyers, author of the 1930's trilogy, The Root and the Flower, a philosophical-mystical-historical-fantasy set in the Mughal India of Emperor Akbar (where Meyers  never set foot).  I've been reading this for months, becoming too impatient to ever continue beyond a few pages every time I open the huge volume. Myers, ultimately finding this world far too unsatisfying in comparison with how it should be, killed himself.

As we can see from her subjects, Donna Lucey has a fondness for the more colorful figures out of the Gilded Age's obscene plutocracy. Being plutocracy heirs, the sorts of women Sargent's portraits have immortalized, his subjects don't generally merit book-length biographies, thus Lucey's decision to do four of them in a single work.  For example two of Sargent's women, Elsie Palmer and Elizabeth Winthrop Chanler, are remembered only for being one of the Great Artist's portraits, and the relationships with the men who made the money -- or, in Elsie's case, her author-husband who married her father's money.

For Lucia Fairchild Fullerthe one of them, who from early on was actually poor, due to her father's bad business decisions which lost him his wealth, and her richer siblings' meanness, Lucey makes a convincing case that she should be better remembered than she is. This seems an odd decision on Lucey's part, as Sargent didn't paint Lucia, but her sister, Sally Fairchild, one of the greatest beauties of her day. However, Sally not only did not accomplish anything, she never even married a famous / rich fellow, despite many proposals early on. So, around the portrait of Sally, Lucey constructs the truly interesting story of the unpainted sister, Lucia Fairchild, who was a successful artist in her own right. Lucey made the right decision -- it is a fascinating story, that ends in untimely death, due to Lucia's overwork supporting a family of feckless husband and loving children.  But there is also a great deal of joy and fun in her life too, which the author describes in telling detail.

Isabella Stewart Gardner's home, now the Gardener Museum, from the outside, 

Inside the Gardner Museum

As well, the other exception to non-accomplishment among these four women is Isabella "Belle" Stewart Gardner, the woman who gave us the justifiably famed Gardner Museum in Boston. What a story!  What a character!  I had no idea. Over the years, due to the location of the Gardner Museum, I had a presumed idea in mind of who Isabella Stewart Gardner had to be: earnest, learned, proper, civic-minded as so many of the women we meet in the Boston of Louisa May Alcott. On the contrary, Isabella Stewart Gardner was a personage for whom "banned in Boston" might have been coined to describe her.  Banned in Boston but this flamboyant, vital woman, with exquisite taste and a brilliant eye for great art, wasn't slightly discommoded, and hardly noticed -- no matter though, Boston noticed her.  Perhaps that's why the author, in her illustration to Sargent's Women, included two "Belle" two portraits by Sargent -- he painted her twice!

It is impossible to unpick these women from their age, meaning the power and wealth of the men who were their fathers, brothers and husbands.  None of them would be remembered today without that wealth.  The wealth was staggering, almost beyond imagining, if some of them, such as J.P. Morgan and Gardner hadn't left behind the tangible results of some of what they spent that wealth on.  Ultimately, this knowledge and the descriptions of this milieu and these people left me rather more than uncomfortable, despite that some of them have left us museums and the objects in them. At what price to thousands and thousands and thousands?  And the staggeringly plutocratic oligarchies of today aren't even doing that. 

Perhaps I understand the suicide of L. H. Myers, poor Elsie Palmer's husband, better than I thought.  He turned communist, by the way, before he killed himself.

     . . . . From these portraits of a self-enclosed world of indescribable wealth, luxury and indulgence lived securely away from the era's indescribable poverty I turned to Omar El Akkad's terrible dystopia of environmental failure, constant war and terrorism, American War: A Novel (2017).  It is the story of the making of a terrorist in the third US Civil War between Red and Blue.  Part why this future USA is suffering constant warfare and terrorism, refugee and relocation camps, punishment camps like Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib, is because it is in the interest of the other nations to keep the USA occupied with itself.  They send huge container ships filled with supplies to keep the Red rebels eating enough  to reproduce. They employ coteries of people who hunt likely recruites for a range of terrorist actions.  The refugee camps and prisons are among their most effective tools in the creation of such terrorists.  Massacres help too.

This making of terrorists, and what it is like to live this way, without occupation and future, in the ugly squalor of the degraded environment and Climate Crash,  is what the author is most concerned with -- because this is how the US has been making terrorists for generations. The author's text doesn't soft pedal this in the least.

Beyond that, since it is still the North vs South, oddly the author never mentions the history of slavery, white supremacy, just old hatred with a new flag.  He does say that the new hatred is deeply rooted in the old history -- which is described as the days of glory, chivalry and magnolias.  I'm still mulling whether or not this is successful. In the new hatred the south seems to have replaced racism with the Red nation's determination to keep on the fossil fuel teat vs the north and the rest of the world having moved far beyond that power source long ago.  It just seems -- stupid.  OTOH, keeping the old war alive as we have since 1865 due to outraged white supremacy and defeated slaveocracy is certainly stupid.  As we see every single day now, there are no limits to moronic hatred, belief and behavior.

March 2013

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