East Of Eden

"A curious mix of the relevant and reverential"


Some Saturday Stuff: November 16th.

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Happy Saturday, folks. The picture above is a cropped bit of the results of my bloodwork taken at Northwestern and sent to the Mayo Clinic. Thanks be to God, the results showed no evidence of cancer! I got these Tuesday and would've posted them sooner, but Zoe caught a cold this week and promptly recovered, but not before passing it on to me. Unlike my daughter, I'm still simultaneously runny and stuffy and feeling dragged down. It's not an out and out bug or flu. I have no fever and have not vomited, again, thanks be to God, but it is annoying and combined with Zoe's epically bad two year old behavior (I'm starting to say "You're getting a time-out" more than "I love you"), I haven't been able to blog. My bad. However, I do post links to interesting stories on the Facebook page everyday and am on Instagram, so if you're on those, you can continue to get a daily dose of me... which is pretty scary, now that I think about it.

 

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 A year ago today was the last time I saw Joscelyne. I'm feeling okay about that, but I have been missing her a lot. I went through some old recordings and found one that K took of Jos holding Z the day after we bought her home from the hospital.

 

Jos was something, wasn't she?

 

carmenmirandaCarmen Miranda (Backlots)

 

 

This week while trying not to lose my mommy mind, I managed to watch quite a few interesting documentaries, and I'm going to share them here. K lived in Brasilia, Brazil for about four to five years, attending and graduating from high school there. I've always a little obsession about Brazil (and Trinidad, K's homeland), and the first documentary I watched was on Carmen Miranda, the beautiful singer and dancer from Rio. Born in Portugal but raised in Brazil, Carmen became world famous for her fruit-topped, handmade hats, platform shoes and bright costumes, a style she adapted from the African descended women in Bahia. While Americans were crazy for her, many Brazilians of the day were decidely less enthused. From the Wikipedia page:

 

 

While Miranda's popularity in the United States continued to rise, she began to lose favor with some Brazilians. On 10 July 1940, she returned to Brazil where she was welcomed by cheering fans. Soon after her arrival, however, the Brazilian press began criticizing Miranda for giving in to American commercialism and projecting a negative image of Brazil. Members of the upper class felt her image was "too black" and she was criticized in one Brazilian newspaper for "singing bad-tasting black sambas". Other Brazilians criticized her for playing up the stereotype of a "Latina bimbo" after her first interview upon arriving in the United States. In an interview with the New York World-Telegram, Miranda discussed her then limited knowledge of the English language stating, "I say money, money, money. I say twenty words in English. I say money, money, money and I say hot dog!".

 

 

I have to be honest. While I enjoyed watching her I did cringe at the obvious stereotyping in her roles. It was as if all a Latina could be was sexy, hot-blooded entertainment for the real, WASPy characters. She was a great sassy best friend, but never the star. More sad? These movies were made 70 years ago and for the most part, Latinas are *still* playing similar roles in this country. Sigh. Check out Carmen Miranda: That Girl from Rio below.

 

The second documentary I watched was The History of Slavery in Brazil from the BBC Timewatch Series. A description from the YouTube page:


 

While the history of slavery in the US is widely known, few people realize that Brazil was the largest participant in the slave trade. Forty percent of all slaves that survived the Atlantic crossing were destined for Brazil, while only four percent were sent to the US. At one time half of the population of Brazil were slaves, and it was the last country to officially abolish slavery in 1888.

 

This well-researched BBC production charts Brazil's history using original texts, letters, accounts, and decrees. From these original sources, we learn firsthand about the brutality of the slave traders and slave owners, and the hardship of plantation life. With the Portugese colony of Angola acting as a "factor" supplying Africans to Brazil, it was cheaper to replace any slave starved and worked to death than to extend his life by treating him humanely. Few plantation owners sent for their wives to live in this hot climate, so the softening effect of family life was absent among the rough white settlers.

 

Historians Joao Jose Reis, Cya Teixeira, Marilene Rosa Da Silva, anthropologist Peter Fry, and others recount the effect of centuries of slavery on Brazil today.This is an important documentary for Black history, African history, and Latin American studies.

 

Check it out below.

 

 

Coincidentally, my friend David sent me this NPR story on a photo collection documenting slavery in Brazil:

 

 

 

Brazil was the last place in the Americas to abolish slavery — it didn't happen until 1888 — and that meant that the final years of the practice were photographed.

 

This has given Brazil what may be the world's largest archive of photography of slavery, and a new exhibition in Sao Paulo is offering some new insights into the country's brutal past.

 

One image at the exhibition, for example, has been blown up to the size of a wall. "Things that you could never see, suddenly you see," says anthropologist Lilia Schwarcz, one of the curators of the new exhibition called Emancipation Inclusion and Exclusion.

 

In its original size and composition, the image from photographer Marc Ferrez, one of the most impressive photographers from 19th century Brazil, shows a wide shot of a group of slaves drying coffee in a field. Their faces are indistinct but the overall impression is one of order and calm. But once the picture is blown up, the expressions become distinct and details emerge. A female slave is breastfeeding a child in the field; clothes that look neat are seen to be tattered.

"Expanding the photos, we can see a lot of things we couldn't see and the state didn't want to see," Schwarcz says. "We do not want to show slaves only like victims."

Brazil's History With Slavery

Slavery in Brazil lasted for 300 years, and it imported some 4 million Africans to the country. These images were taken during the waning days of slavery and Brazil's monarchy. Many were commissioned by the state in an attempt to show slavery in a better light.

Black woman with white child on her back. Bahia, 1860.
 
Black woman with white child on her back. Bahia, 1860.
Moreira Salles Institute Archive
      
   

Sergio Burgi with the Moreira Salles Institute, which donated the photographs to the show, says blowing up the images shows the underlying brutality of the system. In another image, slaves are lined up waiting to be taken into the field. All are barefoot. In between them, once the image is enlarged, we can see many young children.

"Its incredible what you see," Burgi says. "The amount of children who very early go out ... how would they manage to take care of these children out in the fields?"

Lilia Schwarcz says the slave system was based on violence, and the photos, when when viewed closely, show just how violent that system could be. Whats astounding about the exhibition is the variety of situations that slaves were photographed in: not only in the fields but in their owners' homes, in the city and taking care of the white children of their masters.

One of the most striking images is of a white woman sitting in a litter. The two slaves that would carry her through the streets of the city are standing next to her. One looks down, in deference. The other man is leaning against the litter, his hat tipped at a jaunty angle, staring straight at the camera.

"He's showing himself, and saying 'I'm not just like this, I'm another thing. I'm something different. I'm something else," Schwarcz says.

 

 

jfk

 

 

See much, much more here. Yesterday I watched PBS' American Experience's "JFK", timed for next week's 50th anniversary of President Kennedy's assassination. This is one of the best documentaries on Kennedy I've seen. It's fairly even, portraying Kennedy's humanity without resorting to villianizing or beatification. We see his fumbling of the Bay of Pigs Invasion and his continual choosing to steer clear of involvement in the explosive Civil Rights Movement, for fear that he's lose the support of Southern Dixiecrats. His serial womanizing is discussed but not exploited. I highly recommend it.

 

Meanwhile, writer Nick Gillespie appeared on this week's On the Media to take to task American media's obsession with all things Kennedy. He claims it's just a symptom of self indulgent Baby Boomers. Take a listen:

 

Gillespie, at The Daily Beast writes:

 

Despite the raft of revelations not just about governmental abuses of power generally but those involving JFK specifically, boomers just can’t quit him (or their airbrushed image of him) as their own mortality comes into focus. Here’s Vanity Fair’s James Wolcott, known for an “artful nastiness that’s long disappeared from his peers’ arsenal,” still going weak in the knees for Jack:

I remember the light at the end of the school hallway reflecting off the floor as word went round and the weight in the air the days after. For kids my age, it was like losing a father, a father who had all of our motley fates in his hands…

As Splice Today’s Russ Smith—himself a boomer old enough to remember where he was when Kennedy was shot—notes, this is pure overstatement: “It wasn’t ‘like losing a father,’ and to suggest so is an affront to all the children who actually did lose their own father at a tender age.” Smith, who as the founder of the Baltimore and Washington City Papers and The New York Press knows a thing or two about reader appetites, is “betting that most of these books bomb, mostly because for most Americans those tumultuous days in 1963 are ancient history. Kennedy’s assassination might as well have occurred in the 19th century. Save for ascending and budding historians, where’s the audience for yet another encore of Camelot?”

 

That’s something that Wolcott simply can’t or won’t conceive. The deluge of books is “too much and it’s not enough,” he huffs and puffs. “It will never be enough. Readers will never be sated, because too many hidden dimensions and murky links remain, an atticful of unanswered (and unanswerable) questions, hints of the possible future of which we were robbed. History left us hanging.”

Even though I am technically a boomer, I’m left asking, “Who’s us, kemo sabe?” If the past 50 years has been being robbed, all future generations should have it so good.

In such moments, the baby boomer’s deeply engrained generational arrogance and solipsism is made clear. Since they were born, they were told—and came to believe—that the world existed always and only for them (remember when Steven Speilberg, in promoting Saving Private Ryan, declared that World War II's deepest meaning somehow involved a generation not yet born: “It was as simple as this: The century was either going to produce the baby boomers or it was not going to produce the baby boomers”?). Their obsessions, their memories, their hopes and dreams and fears are everybody else’s.

 

But after 50 years, here’s hoping that particular fever is breaking. Not because Kennedy’s assassination wasn’t a horrible event or because questions around it and the world in which it took place still linger, but because no generation should monopolize the past, present, and future to the extent the boomers have tried. At the very least, we owe our literal and figurative children the breathing space to get on with their lives as free of their parents' shadow as possible.

 

I'd add a hearty "Hear hear!", but I feel like a hypocrite. After all, we Mellinials actually seem to be more adept at navel gazing than our parents (or grandparents). Because if World War II had to be won in order to produce the Boomers, how much more special are we as their progeny??? Yuck.

 

So let's close this post out with Alanis Morrisette's "Ironic", a favorite of Joscelyne's, and how I'm feeling after considering how amazed we all are... with ourselves. Have a great weekend.

 

 

 

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