Thursday, March 31, 2011

This where I am staying in Athens

It is called Fresh Hotel and is located in an area called Monistaraki, all back alleys, little coffee shops and bars, etc... I think it may get a bit seedy late at night . I have heard a few piercing screams come through my window in the wee hours. lol The hotel itself is way too kool for me. It is Wallpaper Magazines pick for places to stay in Athens. So lots of designers, models and fashion people. But I have met some very interesting people.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Monday, March 28, 2011

Hi all from "sunny" London!

Shock! Amazement! It is SUNNY in London and it's still only March. Don't tell me there isn't any global warming. lol

I am staying at Paddington this time. Paddington sunny?? What next.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Marvelous Hairy Girls

Maddalena, Francesca and Antonietta were the daughters of Petrus Gonzales (c 1537-1618). Along with their father and their brothers, Enrico and Orazio, they exhibited the symptoms of a dermatological anomaly called hypertrichosis universalis: much of their bodies, including the face and hands, were covered with hair. The condition is extremely rare with "fewer than fifty cases... documented world-wide since the sixteenth century".

Paradoxically, the inconspicuousness of such a noticeable family as the Gonzaleses in the historiography indicates the tunnel vision, according to Merry Wiesner-Hanks, of much historical method, and their "re-emergence is linked with the expansion of history itself, from a largely political and military story to one that explores every aspect of human experience and every type of person".

In restoring the hairy girls to our historical purview, Wiesner-Hanks' project is symptomatic of a shift in the practice of history itself that opens it up to its cognate and constituent branches: "art history, the history of science and medicine, the history of ideas, the history of popular culture and folklore, the history of marginalised groups, the history of human oddities". This enfranchisement of hitherto dispossessed histories both relies upon and follows consequentially the development of "feminist theory, post-colonial theory, queer theory, disability theory, and yes, even monster theory". In this way, The Marvelous Hairy Girls is at once a consideration of the Gonzales' "double identity" (since they were both "freaks of nature" and were regular residents at the court of Henry II of France) and a meta-history, concerned to reflect on the traditional priorities of the discipline while drawing hitherto marginal concerns back to the centre.

But in attempting to reconfigure conventional historical programmes, particularly where documentary evidence is thin on the ground, Wiesner-Hanks is, from time to time, forced to hypothesise: "I have tried as much as possible (and probably more than I should, as a historian and not a novelist) to include some speculations about what they themselves might have thought, how they might have understood the worlds in which they lived." As she concedes, the book is somewhere between a historical study and a creative fiction. It is thus a work of popular history rather than a scholarly or original investigation.

Much here is familiar. Wiesner-Hanks provides discussions of early modern travel and exploration; marriage and the status of women; European religious strife; the life of the courtier; medicine and childbirth and the rise of the new science. But the book's strength is that all of these topics are discussed vivaciously as contexts or (in the term used in the subtitle) "worlds" that the Gonzales family inhabited and from which their medical condition may have taken on further and unfamiliar meanings. For instance, the fact that Petrus was born on Tenerife is discussed in the light of westward exploration and contemporary encounters between Europeans and indigenous peoples so that his hairiness is another of those exotic or "monstrous" physical qualities displayed by mythical creatures described by Pliny or, in drama, by Shakespeare.

Elsewhere, monstrous births are discussed as prodigies from God in order to warn against or even punish sinful behaviour; Wiesner-Hanks notes that Augustine linked the words monstrum ("monster") and monstrare ("to point to"). What we nowadays consider to be unfortunate congenital deformities were signs of God's anger: clearly, the birth of a hairy child would have carried such a portentous significance.

In setting her discussion of the lives and afterlives of this unusual family within broader epistemic horizons, Wiesner-Hanks provides not only a tantalising glimpse into early modern philosophy, medicine and science, but also a shrewd consideration of the changing face(s) of history.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

I will be flying back to London next weekend! Yipee!

H. Rochester Sneath

In 1948, the head of Marlborough College public school received a letter from H. Rochester Sneath, headmaster of Selhurst school, "near Petworth, Sussex". Sneath wished to warn his colleague against hiring a French teacher named Robert Agincourt:

"During his stay no less than five boys were removed from the school as a result of his influence, and three of the Matrons had nervous breakdowns. The pictures on the walls of his rooms made a visiting Bishop shudder and would certainly rule out another Royal visit. His practices were described by the Chairman of the County Hospital as 'Hunnish'. The prominent wart on his nose was wittily described as "the blot on the twentieth century'' by a visiting conjurer. His personal appearance is against him, and, after one memorable Carol Service, a titled Lady who was sitting next to him collapsed in a heap.

He was once observed climbing a tree in the School Grounds naked at night and on another occasion he threw a flower pot at the wife of the Chairman of the Board of Governors. Should you wish any further information, I should be glad to furnish it."

Sneath, and indeed Selhurst School were fictitious products of the imagination of Humphry Berkeley (1926-94), at that time a Cambridge Undergraduate. 'Sneath' wrote to several public school heads. He asked the head of Stowe whether it was advisable to provide sex education for school maids. To the head of Tonbridge he wrote: "Dear Rootie, You will doubtless remember old ‘Tubby’ Sneath — well it will give you a helluva shock, you old bounder, because last year I took on the Headship here. Do you remember prophesying my early death in a South American brothel?"

Most fell for the hoax. One who did not was the head of Wimbledon College, whom Sneath had invited to exorcise a ghost haunting Selhurst. He replied: “It will be necessary for you to have ready for me the usual Bell, Book and Candle, a gallon of holy water and a packet of salt ... These operations usually take some time, and remuneration is at the rate of a guinea an hour. An essential condition for success is that all present (myself excepted) should be fasting for at least 24 hours before the ceremony begins.”

When Berkeley was rumbled he was rusticated for two years, but returned in triumph. In later life he was a Conservative MP and in 1965 introduced a bill to legalise male homosexual relations in line with the Wolfenden Report's recommendations. He later fell out with the Conservatives over the Vietnam War and their support for the Apartheid regime in South Africa and joined the Labour Party. He subsequently joined the SDP, and then Labour again.

Berkeley published a bestselling book about the Selhurst hoax, The Life and Death of Rochester Sneath in 1974.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Gotta love the Middle Ages!!!

The next time you're washing yourself and complain that the water temperature isn't to your liking, think how it was for people living in the Middle Ages.

Most people married in June because they took their yearly bath in May and still smelled pretty good in June. However, they were starting to smell so brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the body odour. Hence the custom of carrying a bouquet when getting married.

Baths consisted of a big tub filled with hot water. The man of the house had the privilege of the nice clean water, then all the sons and other men, then the women, and finally the children - last of all the babies. By then, the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it; hence the saying, "don't throw the baby out with the bath water."

Houses had thatched roofs; thick straw, piled high, with no wood underneath. It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the dogs, cats and other small animals (mice, rats, and bugs) lived in the roof. When it rained, it became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the roof; hence the saying "it's raining cats and dogs." There was nothing to stop things from falling into the house. This was a real problem in the bedroom, where bugs and other droppings could really mess up your nice clean bed. A bed with big posts and a sheet over the top afforded some protection. That's how canopy beds came into existence.

The floor was dirt. Only the wealthy had something other than dirt; hence the saying, "dirt poor."

The wealthy had slate floors that would get slippery in the winter when wet, so they spread thresh on the floor to help their footing. As the winter wore on, they kept adding more thresh until it would all start slipping outside when you opened the door. A piece of wood was placed in the entranceway, a "thresh hold."

In those days people cooked in the kitchen with a big kettle that always hung over the fire. Every day they lit the fire and added things to the pot. They ate mostly vegetables and did not get much meat. They would eat the stew for dinner, leaving leftovers in the pot to get cold overnight, then start over the next day. Sometimes the stew had food in it that had been there for quite a while; hence the rhyme, "peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old."

Sometimes they could obtain pork, which was quite special. When visitors came over, they would hang up their bacon to show off. It was a sign of wealth that a man "could bring home the bacon." They would cut off a little to share with guests and would all sit around and "chew the fat."

Those with money had plates made of pewter. Food with a high acid content caused some of the lead to leach onto the food, causing lead poisoning and death. This happened most often with tomatoes, so for the next 400 years or so, tomatoes were considered poisonous.

Most people did not have pewter plates, but had trenchers, a piece of wood with the middle scooped out like a bowl. Often trenchers were made from stale bread which was so old and hard that it could be used for quite some time. Trenchers were never washed. Sometimes worms and mold got into the wood and old bread. After eating off wormy, moldy trenchers, one would get "trench mouth."

Bread was divided according to status. Workers got the burned bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle, and guests got the top, or "upper crust."

Lead cups were used to drink ale or whiskey. The combination would sometimes knock people out for a couple of days. Someone walking along the road would take them for dead and prepare them for burial. They were laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days and the family would gather around and eat and drink and wait and see if they would wake up; hence the custom of holding a "wake."

England is old and small, and they started running out of places to bury people. So they would dig up coffins and take the bones to a "bone house" and reuse the grave. When reopening these coffins, 1 out of 25 were found to have scratch marks on the inside, and they realized they had been burying people alive. So they would tie a string on the wrist of the corpse, lead it through the coffin and up through the ground, and tie it to a bell. Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard all night (the "graveyard shift") to listen for the bell; thus someone could be "saved by the bell" or was considered a "dead ringer."

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The 'Black History' Of America's White House (from NPR)

More than one in four U.S. presidents were involved in human trafficking and slavery. These presidents bought, sold, bred and enslaved black people for profit. Of the twelve presidents who were enslavers, more than half kept people in bondage at the White House. For this reason there is little doubt that the first person of African descent to enter the White House — or the presidential homes used in New York (1788–1790) and Philadelphia (1790–1800) before construction of the White House was complete — was an enslaved person. That person's name and history are lost to obscurity and the tragic anonymity of slavery, which only underscores the jubilation expressed by tens of millions of African Americans — and perhaps billions of other people around the world — 220 years later on November 4, 2008, when the people of the United States elected Barack Obama to be the nation's president and commander in chief. His inauguration on January 20, 2009, drew between one and two million people to Washington, D.C., one of the largest gatherings in the history of the city and more than likely the largest presidential inauguration to date. Taking into account the tens of millions around the globe who watched the event live via TV or Internet, it was perhaps the most watched inauguration in world history. It was of great international interest that for the first time in U.S. history, the "first family" in the White House was going to be a black family.

Obama has often stated that he stands on the shoulders of those who came before him. In terms of the White House, this has generally been seen to mean those presidents he admires, such as Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy, and Lyndon Johnson, who all inspired him in his political career. However, he is also standing on the shoulders of the many, many African Americans who were forced to labor for, were employed by, or in some other capacity directly involved with the White House in a wide array of roles, including as slaves, house servants, elected and appointed officials, Secret Service agents, advisers, reporters, lobbyists, artists, musicians, photographers, and family members, not to mention the activists who lobbied and pressured the White House in their struggle for racial and social justice. As the Obama family resides daily in the White House, the narratives of these individuals resonate throughout their home.

The black history of the White House is rich in heroic stories of men, women, and youth who have struggled to make the nation live up to the egalitarian and liberationist principles expressed in its founding documents, including the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. For over 200 years African Americans and other people of color were legally disenfranchised and denied basic rights of citizenship, including the right to vote for the person who leads the country from the White House. But despite the oppressive state of racial apartheid that characterized the majority of U.S. history, in the main, as Langston Hughes reminds us, black Americans have always claimed that they too are American.

At the end of the nineteenth century, when Jim Crow segregation and "separate but equal" black codes were aggressively enforced throughout the South, few African Americans were permitted to even visit the White House. As Frances Benjamin Johnston's 1898 photo on the cover of this book indicates, however, black children were allowed to attend the White House's annual Easter egg–rolling ceremony. Permitting black children to integrate with white children on the White House premises one day a year was acceptable, even though such mingling was illegal in many public spaces throughout the South at the time, including libraries and schools.

The Easter egg–rolling tradition had begun on the grounds of the Capitol, but concern over damage to the grounds led to the 1876 Turf Protection Law, which ended the practice at that site. Two years later, President Hayes — who had won the presidency by promising to withdraw federal troops protecting African Americans in the South from whites who opposed black voting and political rights — opened the White House's south lawn for the event. By the time of Johnston's photo, the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision legalizing segregation had been implemented, the last of the black politicians elected to Congress would soon be gone by 1901, and accommodationist black leader Booker T. Washington, who was also photographed by Johnston, was on the ascendant.

For many African Americans, the "white" of the White House has meant more than just the building's color; it has symbolized the hue and source of dehumanizing cruelty, domination, and exclusion that has defined the long narrative of whites' relations to people of color in the United States. Well before President Theodore Roosevelt officially designated it the "White House" in October 1901, the premises had been a site of black marginalization and disempowerment, but also of resistance and struggle. Constructed in part by black slave labor, the home and office of the president of the United States has embodied different principles for different people. For whites, whose social privileges and political rights have always been protected by the laws of the land, the White House has symbolized the power of freedom and democracy over monarchy. For blacks, whose history is rooted in slavery and the struggle against white domination, the symbolic power of the White House has shifted along with each president's relation to black citizenship. For many whites and people of color, the White House has symbolized the supremacy of white people both domestically and internationally. U.S. nativists with colonizing and imperialist aspirations understood the symbolism of the White House as a projection of that supremacy on a global scale.

Centuries of slavery, brutally enforced apartheid, and powerful social movements that ended both, are all part of the historical continuum preceding the American people's election of Barack Obama. Few people, black or otherwise, genuinely thought that they would live to see what exists today: a black man commanding the presidency of the United States and a black family running the White House. Despite important advances in public policy and popular attitude since the social movements of the 1950s, '60s and '70s, for the many people of color who lived through the segregation era and experienced the viciousness of racists, the complicity of most of their white neighbors, and the callous disregard and participation of city, state, and national authorities, Obama's election was a moment never imagined. It was never imagined, in part, because of the misleading and unbalanced history we have been taught.

From The Black History Of The White House by Clarence Lusane. Copyright 2011 by Clarence Lusane. Excerpted by permission of City Lights.