Thursday, August 16, 2018

John Gibney's 'A Short History of Ireland, 1500-2000' (2017)

John Gibney's A Short History of Ireland, 1500-2000 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017) provides an overview of modern Irish history and concludes each chapter with a "Where Historians Disagree" section.

After reading this and Thomas Bartlett's Ireland: A History (Cambridge University Press, 2010), one thing's clear: the state of affairs in Ireland at the beginning of the 21st century would seem to be far preferable to those of the 1500s and 1600s.  

Anyone who's delved into Irish history will probably know something of the horrors of Oliver Cromwell's activities in the 1600s, but the preceding Elizabethan period was also quite devastating to the Irish people, lands and ecology. Let's dive in, shall we?

In the 1500s, "Ireland offered scope for the unscrupulous to enrich themselves in ways that undermined any claim by the [English] authorities to be acting as honest and impartial brokers . . ." (page 27)

There was "a rise in the levels of violence employed by the Tudor state . . . increasing use of martial law from the 1550s onward . . . In July 1575 the earl of Essex . . . had six hundred men, women, and children killed on Rathlin Island, the stronghold of the MacDonnells, under a commission of martial law. This was gradually extended across Ireland as the reign of Elizabeth wore on . . . summary execution became a widespread practice, and decapitated heads became a common feature of conflict, whether as trophies of war or grisly receipts for rewards."  (page 27)

And pity anyone who found themselves shipwrecked. "[T]housands of survivors of the Spanish Armada were executed in 1588 by [order of Sir Richard] Bingham on the coasts of Galway, Mayo, and Sligo . . ." (pages 27-28)     

"[I]n June 1602 [Charles Blount] Mountjoy embarked on a scorched-earth campaign whose systematic nature and sheer scale marked it out as distinctive . . . livestock, crops, buildings, and people were simply eradicated across the north of the island." (pages 40-41) 

By the time Gibney reaches the 20th century, one is not at all surprised by the Easter Rising of 1916, the Irish Civil War, the Emergency (World War II period), nor the Troubles, nor by mass emigration in the wake of the Potato Famine in the mid-19th century.   

With the arrival of the 21st century, there is peace at last -- but also a looming Brexit and its attendant fallout. Still, much better than martial law and mass beheadings -- and Ireland finally wins.

Today's Rune: Breakthrough. 

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Chapel Hill Daze: Pictures of Another Gone World: West Franklin Street, 1968-2018

Along West Franklin Street, starting at the Columbia Street intersection and heading toward Carrboro, there are still some vestiges of the Chapel Hill of 1968. There were more when I was a student at the University of North Carolina.

Of the "south" side of West Franklin, I've previously discussed University Square in another post. Next was Hardee's at 213 West Franklin (now there's a Panera at that address); Union Bus Station at 311 (the Franklin Hotel is now at that address) and the Chapel Hill Weekly newspaper at 501.

I certainly remember the Hardee's and the newspaper building, having eaten at the former and worked immediately next to the latter (at Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill).

The bus station building I remember vaguely. Having been completed in 1946, it soon thereafter became part of the history of the civil rights movement:

"On April 9, 1947, eight African American and eight white members of CORE (known as the Freedom Riders) set out from Washington, D.C. on Greyhound and Trailways buses; on April 12, both buses arrived in Chapel Hill. As the buses departed Chapel Hill for Greensboro on April 13, four of the riders were arrested. The commotion aboard the buses drew a large crowd of spectators, including several white taxi drivers. 

The men were taken to the police station, with a fifty dollar bond placed on each man. As white rider James Peck got off the bus to pay their bonds, a taxi driver struck him in the head.  

In May 1947, those members who had been arrested went on trial and were sentenced. The riders unsuccessfully appealed their sentences. On March 21, 1949, they surrendered at the courthouse in Hillsborough and were sent to segregated chain gangs." 

The bus station's food service desegregated in the early 1960s, under pressure.  Source: "Trailways Bus Station," Open Orange. Website link here.

Of the "north" side of West Franklin, an earlier post covered the first block off from Columbia Street, heading toward Carrboro. If you crossed Church Street going in the same direction in 1968, there was a Belk-Leggett department store at 206 West Franklin, Fowler's meats at 306, Carolina Grill at 312, Village Pharmacy at 318 and The Cavern at 452 1/2.  

The Bookshop (pictured above) came into being in 1985 at 400 West Franklin, a merger of Keith Martin Bookshop and Bookends (both Chapel Hill book shops). I remember all three of them, having bought books at each. The Bookshop closed in the summer of 2017, having lasted close to thirty-two years in that location.

Belk-Leggett was gone from its 206 location by the time I came to Chapel Hill. Fowler's was still at 306 for a while and then folded. There was one in Durham, too. 

I loved the Carolina Grill -- you could eat like a king on the budget of a college student. Which may be why they eventually had to close. I remember flat steaks there, excellent meat and potatoes type staples, probably requisitioned from next-door Fowler's. It was sort of like a large hall with tables, for some reason making me think of a Bavarian beer hall in memory. 

Village Pharmacy, 318 West Franklin, "Home of the Big O." This place was around for a while but must have eventually died on the vine. Browsing issues of the Daily Tar Heel, I came across an advertisement for Village Pharmacy from the September 28, 1949 issue: "Opposite Bus Station - Phone F-3966."  In "land line" telephone exchanges of the twentieth century, "F" might be named Flanders, Fleetwood, Factory, etcetera.  In any case, when I was working at Algonquin Books, I'd occasionally walk to Village Pharmacy for its soda fountain features. They served fresh lemonade, orangeade, milkshakes and grill food. No longer.

The Cave is a long-standing underground bar and music venue. Because I have detailed location notes from college journals dating to the 1980s, I'll devote more time to The Cave in a later post. It nearly folded after fifty years (1968-2018), but was saved by Melissa Swingle and Autumn Spencer in the summer of 2018 -- thank God! Here's a link to their website. Dig it!

Invaluable resource to cross-check memories, places:  OCCUPANTS AND STRUCTURES OF FRANKLIN STREET, CHAPEL HILL, NORTH CAROLINA AT 5-YEAR INTERVALS, 1793-1998, by Bernard Lee Bryant, Jr. Chapel Hill Historical Society, printed out by J.D. Eyre in 1999. Link here.

Today's Rune: Partnership. 

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Chapel Hill Daze: Pictures of Another Gone World: Internationalist Books

It's like the book title, All That Is Solid Melts Into Air. Elegiac America. Chapel Hill Daze. Since I first scampered around Franklin Street as a kid till now, a lot of melting. 

Life must go on,
And the dead be forgotten;
Life must go on,
Though good men die;
Anne, eat your breakfast;
Dan, take your medicine;
Life must go on;
I forget just why.

~ from Edna St. Vincent Millay's "Lament" (1921)
Internationalist Books is gone! It had, believe it or not, four locations before vanishing into the ether of Saṃsāra. Perhaps it'll cycle through again. The four locations were:
Chapel Hill. 108 Henderson Street (upstairs, above Henderson Street Bar & Grill; aka Linda's Bar & Grill; now Imbibe), by the Continental Café/Hector's (now gone) and across the street from the US Post Office (still there). It was tiny. (Notice in Daily Tar Heel, February 3, 1982). Call 942-REDS. Early 1982 (late 1981)-1984.
Chapel Hill. 408 West Rosemary Street, 1984-1991+. Part of a spacious former house. This allowed plenty of room for meeting, reading, discussing, organizing. I worked at this location as a volunteer. The house is still standing and serves as Mama Dip's Kitchen, which used to be at a nearby location (405 West Rosemary).  

Chapel Hill. 405 West Franklin Street, circa 1995-2014. I took the photo at top on November 24, 2012.  

Carrboro. 101 Lloyd Street, 2014-September 2016. Final stand.
International Books founder Bob Sheldon (April 17, 1950--February 22, 1991) was murdered during the opening phase of the Gulf War, which he opposed. The case remains unsolved. Originally from Colorado, he graduated from Temple University, Philadelphia, and worked as a nurse at UNC, as well as being an organizer and book store founder. He is buried in Colorado Springs (see "Find A Grave"). 

I am really happy to see that his papers are held at the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University. Here's a link to the Guide to the Bob Sheldon Papers, 1968-1991.  

Today's Rune: Possessions. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Ryan H. Walsh's 'Astral Weeks: A Secret History of 1968' (2018)

Ryan H. Walsh, Astral Weeks: A Secret History of 1968. New York: Penguin Press, 2018.

A kaleidoscopic time portal into trippy Boston centering around 1968, but opening out into the 1960s and 1970s. The possibilities for further study of its phenomena are wide and deep. 

The biggest revelation for me was musical, with Boston bands like Ultimate Spinach (a sort of psychedelic Doorsy head band); and interesting historical context for powerful music with which I was already quite familiar (James Brown, Velvet Underground, Van Morrison).  
And you get all sorts of crazy details about the local music scene, clubs, musicians, cultish and political activism (particularly "the Lyman family"), underground newspapers, Michelangelo Antonioni's Zabriskie Point (1970), the freaky What's Happening, Mr. Silver? show, Howard Zinn, Timothy Leary, Steve McQueen, the Boston Strangler, Tony Curtis, Aerosmith, Maria Muldaur, astral projection, Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers, Barney Frank -- and more! 
Astral Weeks: A Secret History of 1968 probably syncs well with an altered state, too, or so one can imagine. Can you dig? 
Today's Rune: The Self. 

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Boots Riley: 'Sorry to Bother You' (2018)

Boots Riley's first film, Sorry to Bother You (2018), takes the side of workers against one-percenters, the proletariat vs. late capitalism. The movie is satirical and surreal with a variety of sometimes bizarre comic elements. It's not all fun and games, certainly. During a first watch, one may feel anxious and uprooted by dread. After experiencing Sorry to Bother You, who will engage in direct action? Who will think about culture and economics a little more deeply?    
The tone of Sorry to Bother You very much reminds me of Lindsay Anderson's O Lucky Man! (1973) and, to a lesser extent, Anderson's Britannia Hospital (1982). The music is at times as eerie as the soundtrack of Liquid Sky (1982). It could have also been accompanied by a few choice Gang of Four cuts.  
In addition to its lively critique of capitalism, Sorry to Bother You takes into consideration interrelated variables of race/culture, gender, possibility, technology/communications, art/production/consumption and location (in this case, Oakland) -- among other things.   
Boots Riley is a music dude, too -- check out The Coup and Street Sweeper Social Club if you want to sample some. 

This kaleidoscope of modern American life is creating a stir, for sure. Actors in Sorry to Bother You include Lakeith Stanfield (Cassius "Cash" Green), Tessa Thompson (Detroit), Danny Glover, Armie Hammer, Omari Hardwick and Stven Yeun. 

Today's Rune: Separation (Reversed). 

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Gloria Naylor: 'The Women of Brewster Place' (1982)

The Women of Brewster Place: A Novel in Seven Stories (New York: Viking Penguin, 1982), Gloria Naylor's first book, was adapted into a mini-series in 1989 that was filmed in Chicago. The setting for the novel is vaguer -- maybe Cleveland, or maybe a smaller Midwestern or "Northern" city.  

In the course of the novel, Naylor (1950-2016) follows several interconnected women in their tatty neighborhood, an effective organizing principle that combines place, time and character. How did they get there? How do they live? What will happen to them? About most of the main characters, we learn the answers by the end of the book.

What is more important in determining a person's arc -- gender, race, class, sexual orientation, geography, or time period? The Women of Brewster Place posits that all are important, and all have some variability. Also, existential choice plays a role regardless of one's station in life, not to mention chance, or luck of the draw. Some give up, some go with the flow, some become casualties, some organize, some try somewhere or something else.
The main characters are: Mattie Michael, Etta Mae Johnson, Lucielia "Ciel" Turner, Melanie "Kiswana" Browne, Cora Lee, Theresa and Lorraine. 

"Sometimes being a friend means mastering the art of timing. There is a time for silence. A time to let go and allow people to hurl themselves into their own destiny. And a time to prepare to pick up the pieces when it's all over. Mattie realized that this moment called for all three." (page 70).

A couple of expressions I particularly like: "She smiled warmly into Cora Lee's eyes." And: "She sincerely liked Mattie because unlike the others, Mattie never found the time to do jury duty on other people's lives." (page 123).

The novel earned a National Book Award for Naylor in 1983.

Today's Rune: Gateway. 

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Yasujirō Ozu: 'Tokyo Story' / 東京物語 (1953)

Yasujirō Ozu's Tokyo Story / 東京物語 (1953). This is the kind of movie you could study many times and still pick up new details. It's a masterwork of world cinema, and though I am not a devout believer in rankings and lists, it's worth noting that Tokyo Story has been listed by film directors as the number one film of all time, up to the year 2012. Certainly it's a memorable film.

Tokyo Story provides an effective answer to world wars, Trumpism, the internet "shallows," and ADHD. Tokyo Story is quiet, slow, thoughtful and deep. 

Tokyo Story subtly shows the intricacies of family systems. Three generations are on display, with variations in life station, geography, age and demeanor. There are: one set of parents, four surviving kids (one son, who had been drafted into the Imperial Japanese Army, died in 1945, near the end of the Second World War), one son-in-law, two daughters-in-law, and a couple of grandchildren. Family members have "stories" about each other, and each fit into the system in their own way. There are also friends, mostly old friends, and a neighbor or two. 
Ozu (December 12, 1903-December 12, 1963) uses several distinctive techniques in his craft. One is the low-angle shot, bringing viewers into interior scenes. For transitions, he often shows technology or architecture, exterior (smokestacks, trains, signs, lights, boats) or interior spaces (a room with plenty of traces of human habitation but no people). For plot shifts, he'll jump forward past a milestone event (wedding, funeral) and into ramifications and changes to the status quo. 

The actors: Chishū Ryū (1904-1993), who plays the father, is superb, using facial expression, body language and occasional verbal expressions to maximum impact. Setsuko Hara (1920-2015), in playing widowed daughter-in-law Norika, is delightful, poignant, deep. These two stand out, and yet the rest of the ensemble cast is very believable and forceful, too. 

Lest we forget, Ozu's main screenwriter: Kōgo Noda (1893-1968).

Today's Rune: Joy.