Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Monday, May 25, 2009
I recently finished Bruce Catton's amazing Mr. Lincoln's Army. He describes the eve of Antietam. I don't think it's possible to do a better job of setting this scene:
"How far they had marched, those soldiers—down the lanes and cross-lots over the cornfields to get into position, and from the distant corners of the country before that; they were marching, really, out of one era and into another, leaving much behind them, going ahead to much that they did not know about. For some of them there were just a few steps left: from the rumpled grass of a bed in a pasture down to a fence or a thicket where there would be an appointment with a flying bullet or shell fragment, the miraculous and infinitely complicated trajectory of the man meeting the flat, whining trajectory of the bullet without fail. And while they slept the lazy, rainy breeze drifted through the East Wood and the West Wood and the cornfield, and riffled over the copings of the stone bridge to the south, touching them for the last time before dead men made them famous. The flags were all furled and the bugles stilled, and the hot metal of the guns on the ridges had cooled, and the army was asleep—tenting tonight on the old camp ground, with never a song to cheer because the voices that might sing it were all stilled on this most crowded and most lonely of fields. And whatever it may be that nerves men to die for a flag or a phrase or a man or an inexpressible dream was drowsing with them, ready to wake with the dawn."
Friday, May 22, 2009
Thursday, May 21, 2009
ERROL MORRIS: Did the Mayans really predict that the world would end on December 21, 2012?
DAVID HUMISTON KELLEY: No. It’s based on a false assumption.
ERROL MORRIS: Please explain.
DAVID HUMISTON KELLEY: They are 208 years too early. [The correct date is December 21, 2220 – E.M.] I wrote a long article on various ways of solving this problem. I included in a footnote that you could almost get things to matchup correctly, if you used correlation 660205, the Julian day number of the base state of the Mayan calendar. Which is also the interval between the translation of the number in the Mayan baktun, katun date, if you add that number to that date you get what we would consider to be the equivalent date. Ha! A bit complicated but I think you can follow. The colonial Mayas, most of them didn’t have any clue about this. The ones who did were the calendar specialists and they made sure to keep their mouths pretty tightly shut because the Spaniards were burning people at the stake for maintaining pagan ideas of which the calendar was a major part. The calendar determined all the ceremonies and rituals, when people were sacrificed, all the nasty things and all the good things.
The transit of Venus in June of 2012? Oh, just ignore that.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Somehow there's a comfort in seeing things in their proper places, particularly in May, with the high season poised to unfold.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
We asked our local connection what we should see in town. He suggested Graceland. In Memphis. Three hours away.
When Tennessee was settled the land claims were suspect. The classical architecture seems a way to say “Hey, at least we're bringing civilization.” The cheapest little suburban houses have their front doors framed by columns. In the horse country just outside of town, there are epic McMansions, each its own Tara. It was gratifying to see most of them with "for sale” signs. The other highways out of town are carpeted with megachurches. We asked a Nashville local what percentage of people go every Sunday. “100%,” she estimated.
Favorite church signs: “Don't make me come down there. -- God” and “God is like Tide. He gets out the stains others leave behind.”
The people are friendly, and we ate well. “Cracker Barrel” was the most popular recommendation. At the BBQ place we let slide we were from New York. Over the intercom they announced “If they’s any Yankees in the restaurant, your food is ready.”
Monday in the business district was just as dead as Sunday. At rush hour it was so quiet I could hear the flags luffing over the state capitol.
The main honky tonk strip is more Nashville than even the stereotypes. Speakers on the sidewalks pump in country music. An elegant Art Deco bank has been converted to a tattoo parlor. On one short block we saw at least forty guys with guitars. This part of Nashville seems a repository of broken dreams, something like Vegas, or parts of L.A.
Friday, May 15, 2009
Thursday, May 14, 2009
Amid the annals of the improbable,
Endless as they are,
Is a listing for the last direct blood of Montezuma,
Shed in New Orleans
Don Alfonso, His Excellency,
Who once held vast estates in Spain
Who was once a magistrate
Died with possessions insufficient
To cover his debt
To his nurse.
The papers of the court
$2.65 in pocket change.
Don Alfonso, His Excellency,
Died by his own hand
After having his heart broken.
With the knife at his throat,
Did his resolve falter?
Or was it over in one impulsive slash?
Like his great forebear,
He was self-sacrificed
For unrequited love.
Monday, May 11, 2009
Thursday, May 7, 2009
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
The story of the Conquest strains believability (500 Spaniards traveling with 13 horses subdue a native population of 25 million, along the way reducing the 200,000-strong capital city to rubble.) I just finished Prescott's 1843 epic telling, a work littered with a sardonic wisdom, which maybe is in short supply today.
A few of my favorites:
It was the just recompense of rebellion; a word that has been made the apology for more atrocities than any other word,—save religion.
Considering the awe in which [Cortés] was held by the Mexicans, a more improbable tale could not be devised. But nothing is too improbable for history,—though, according to Boileau’s maxim, it may be for fiction.
If the historian will descend but a generation later for his authorities, he may find materials for as good a chapter as any in Sir John Maundeville or the Arabian Nights.
The country was reported to be full of gold; so full, that “the fishermen used gold weights for their nets.” The life of the Spanish discoverers was one long day-dream. Illusion after illusion chased one another like the bubbles which the child throws off from his pipe, as bright, as beautiful, and as empty. They lived in a world of enchantment.
Those fared best, as the general had predicted, who traveled lightest; and many were the unfortunate wretches, who, weighed down by the fatal gold which they loved so well, were buried with it in the salt floods of the lake.
He died at the age of seventy-six, much regarded for his virtues, and admired for his genius, but in that poverty with which genius and virtue are too often requited.