Blogs: History

Last summer 13 year old Mo'Ne Davis, whose fastball has been clocked at 71 miles per hour, was the first Little Leaguer to get on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Have you seen her pitch? Amazing!

Did you know that just 42 years ago girls were not allowed to play Little League?

I learned this and more in the book Let Me Play: The Story of Title IX, the law that changed the future of girls in America. The book is well written and full of startling facts, great photos and cartoons. Did you know that U.S. Representative from Oregon Edith Green was the author of Title IX? I didn't. 

A few more facts to get you thinking about life for females in the U.S. before Title IX:

  • In the 1970's a school district spent $250,000 a year on boys' sports teams and only $970 on the one sport offered to girls.
  • In the 1970's University of Michigan spent $2.6 million on men's sports and $0 on women's sports.
  • Before Title IX, many law and medical schools limited the numbers of women they would admit.

Oh, the difference Title IX has made in the lives of women and girls in the U.S.

 

I think it was in the late 1980s when I became a Remedios Varo admirer. It might be that her close relationship with Frida Kahlo and Leonora Carrington made me aware of her contextual Celestial Pablum by Remedios Varoexistence. Born in Spain in 1908, this surrealist artist was strongly influenced by her father, a hydraulic engineer, her second husband Benjamin Beret a French dadaist, and her friend André Breton.

When living in Paris she was forced into exile during WWII and settled down in Mexico City. She found refuge in Mexico until she died in 1963. Graduated from the prestigious San Fernando Academy of Fine Arts in Madrid, she created around 150 art pieces, 110 of them created in Mexico using oils on masonite panels she prepared herself. Her art is full of ambiguous characters; the elements of her painting are mostly biographical, and her art is allegorical, humorous, fantastic, and oriented to science, the spiritual and the psychological.  

From the very beginning I was fascinated and intrigued with her peculiar style and wanted to know who she was. Back in the days before the internet, information was very limited so I couldn't pursue my research; but I held in my mind some images of her artwork that I saw in books and postcards. Then one day, I was reading the newspaper and discovered that the Museum of Modern Art in Mexico City would be hosting one of her exhibitions -- what an opportunity! I went and spent and entire afternoon contemplating her creations and trying to digest every single image. Among my favorite paintings were "Celestial Pablum," "Creation of the Birds," and "The Cats Paradise." Her potential and her creative mind were not recognized as she deserved; you probably won't find much information about her. For me, the afternoon I spent in the company of this forgotten surreal artist will always remain in my mind. Learn more about her work in The Magic of Remedios Varo.

Chocolate bookjacketMy Mexican pride elevates each time I hear the word “chocolate”, knowing that the word comes from the Aztec “Xocoatl”. The great recognition of this peculiar Man holding cacao fruit -  National Antropology and History Museum of Mexicobean and is unprecendented; it is one of the most relevant contributions from the Mesoamerican civilizations to the world. The Olmecs, a social group established along the Gulf of Mexico, were the first to taste the flavors of this special fruit in the form of a drink where the cacao (cocoa) was ground, fermented and mixed with herbs. In those days cacao was used as currency in trading among Mayans, Aztecs and other social groups in Mexico and Central America.

The cacao was a symbol of great abundance and was used to pay taxes, to honor gods and goddesses in religous rituals, and as an offering during the funerals of the elite. The Xocoatl drink was reserved exclusively for privileged social groups and soldiers, who used it during times of war.

Columbus tasted the drink in 1502 on the island of Guanaja in Honduras, on one of his last voyages to the New World. He brought it back to the King and Queen of Spain, who didn’t see the value of the product. It wasn't until 1519 when Hernan Cortes “the conquistador” was invited to drink it by Moctezuma, the Aztec Emperor and then revealed the culture of the cacao for the first time in the Old Continent.

After its introduction to Europe this great product inspired the imagination of artisans, and cooks all over the world who have transformed it into delightful treats.

When you eat a piece of chocolate don’t forget the history and culture behind that delicious taste.

 

November 11 is Veterans' Day. President Woodrow Wilson first declared the date Armistice Day in commemoration of the end of The First World War, occurring at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918. 100 years this past July, WWI began. It lasted four awful years and changed how we think about war. Historians still debate the exact causes of the conflict but they agree that the level of carnage and horror was to that point, and maybe since, unmatched.

At the outset, the war was a patriotic rallying point on all sides, for all levels of society. Poets were not immune to the zeal of fighting for king and country, but they also reacted to the hideousness of trench and gas warfare. Here are two poems. The first was written by the English poet Rupert Brooke in 1914:

 

The Soldier

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England's, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

By the end of the war Brooke’s poem was criticized as an example of a mindless patriotism that contributed to the zeal for war.  In high contrast the following poem was written by another English poet, Wilfred Owen, in 1917:

Dulce Et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.

GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!-- An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.--
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

The Latin of the last line translates to “it is sweet and right to die for your country”.


In the United Kingdom November 11th is called Remembrance Day.  A hundred years on, the importance of remembering the horror of that violence is something no one should find controversial.
 

 

Although I hope never to experience war first-hand, I find exploring the topic through books and other media endlessly fascinating. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War One. Since there are many fine resources that explore the conflict on a large scale, I thought I would feature a couple of recent releases that provide more intimate looks at this world-changing event.

The burning of the world BookBéla Zombory-Moldován was a young Hungarian artist when the war broke out in 1914. The Burning of the World, recently published for the first time, recounts his experiences as a soldier on the eastern front and his observation of the drastic changes the war brought upon the world. A short read, this reminiscence is a Behind the lines jacketfirst-hand account of a little-known front in the conflict and brings to life the horrors of war on a very personal level.

In Behind the Lines, soprano Anna Prohaska and pianist Eric Schneider explore the repertoire of the soldiers’ song. Although the focus is on the First World War, the songs range in time from the Renaissance to the 20th century, sung in English, German, French and Russian. Included is a German folk song; lyrical songs by Beethoven and Schubert; the four songs by Hanns Eisler offer some challenging listening; and Charles Ives’ setting of "In Flanders Fields." A carefully conceived and thought-provoking collection.

tiki popCome with me, if you will, to a tropical paradise. The darkness has returned to Portland, and with it, my desire to read about all things palm tree. Imagine my delight when I came across this new edition to the collection of Multnomah County Library. Published in connection with an exhibition at the prestigious Musee du quai Branly in Paris, Tiki Pop , by Sven Kirsten, is a massive coffee-table exploration of the Tiki phenomenon.  

Tiki culture at its height was a manifestation of exotic visions of island culture inspired by the tales of American soldiers stationed in the South Pacific during World War II: trees loaded with exotic fruits, sleepy lagoons, white-sand beaches, and gorgeous people dancing in grass skirts. Americans made Tiki their own, often ignoring authenticity, and created a mid-century cultural movement that was then forgotten until the recent Tiki resurgence.  Tiki Pop explores the history of Tiki, from James Cook's first explorations of the Pacific Islands in the 18th century, all the way through Hollywood's embracing and manipulating of the Tiki culture through its jungle films. But the real highlights of Tiki Pop are the hundreds upon hundreds of glorious, colorful images. Kirsten has assembled what I think might be the penultimate photographic memory of a time in our culture that was unique in so many ways. What a pleasurable journey!

So, if the rainy skies are getting you down, mix yourself a zombie, a mai-tai, or a hurricane, settle in, and be transported to a different (and warmer) time and place. Cheers! cocktails

 

 

cup of teaMany mornings lately, I have had a date with an Earl. During the hot summer months I don't often crave his company. But when the rains begin, he once again becomes appealing. He is warm and steamy, he smells wonderful, and he gets my day off to a great start. When the Earl is not available, or I'm just not in the mood for his charm, I soothe myself with a robust English or Irish breakfast, or perhaps even some zesty orange and spice. And for those mornings when I need extra calming, green always does the trick.

This is your friendly reminder of the wonders of tea. Coffee is swell, but, to me, nothing beats a warm cuppa. The endless varieties only add to the pleasure. One of the best parts of my mornings is the daily choosing of the tea! Black (especially Earl Grey), green, white, or red, I can always find a tea to match my mood.  Then it's time to take in the aromas and flavors of the day's selection, a bit of peace and tranquility before the start of the day.

The library has many wonderful books about the history and culture of tea. If you are so inclined, check one out, brew yourself a steaming pot of your favorite blend, wrap yourself in a blanket in front of a rainy window, and lose yourself in the world of tea.

 

 

From whence comes the phrase "chocolate cities and vanilla suburbs"? Why is Detroit in bankruptcy and NYC always bailed out by American taxpayers? In what way is American culture and fashion a re-play of Regency and Edwardian England?

Warmth of Other Suns book jacketDon't know? Ask Isabel Wilkerson and Jacques Barzun. Respectively, they are the authors of The Warmth of Other Suns and From Dawn to Decadence. This is history that Miz Hackett, your 8th grade teacher, never heard of. Wilkerson, a journalist, and Barzun, an eminent historian, have answered history's questions in a personal way. This is not memorize the dates boredom. No, these are the impolite questions you'd ask your neighbors if you only had the guts about what it's really like where they come from and what they think about it all .
 
The Warmth of Other Suns is the story of our cities in the 20th century as told through the recollections of three individuals who lived "theFrom Dawn to Decadence book jacket great migration." They didn't know that they were part of some historical drama, so the stories are straight shooter talk of folk who weren't afraid to change their destiny in the face of tall odds. Barzun's From Dawn to Decadence is subtitled 500 Years of Western Cultural Life: 1500 to the Present. He does a remarkable job of connecting how we behave to where that behavior begins. I mean seriously, why is there money for opera and classical music but punk rockers have to work at Fred Meyer to support their art? See page 637 of Barzun for a hint.

I read a new graphic novel that is so compelling I couldn’t put it down. It’s definitely a page turner!  March is an autobiography by congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis. It is filled with stunning visuals by award-winning Nate Powell. The story starts with the family chickens. His care of the flock helps him build his moral core. As a reader it  helped me get to know him and care about him. At the same time, this comic book is a biography of our civil rights movement in the United States. Important issue, important man: Fantastic read. Don’t miss it.


If you are interested in more comic books about history they can be found in the History through graphic novels list.

I was born in 1954. 

Here is Elvis bookjacketa snapshot of that year:

Elvis Presley paid to have his first two songs recorded in Memphis.                                                                                                                                    

The average cost of gas was twenty two cents and Lassie and Rin Tin Tin were keeping us safe from the bad guys.                                                                              

There was a new trend called DIY that encouraged citizens to decorate their own homes and fix own their cars through magazines like Popular Mechanics and Better Homes and Gardens .

It was also an exceptional  publishing year with modern classics likeHorton Hears a Who by Dr.Seuss and Live and Let Die by ex-British Spy Ian Fleming.

When I read the list of books that were published the year I was born it was like seeing a snapshot of my own personal history. For example, my dad carried a copy of Ian Fleming's books in his black metal lunch box to read at work. Among the piles of book we brought home from the library every week there were always at least one or two by Dr. Seuss. The families we knew traded stories and ideas for fixing up their hoHorton bookjacketuses and gardens and cooking with new and interesting ingredients, among them Jello.

Wondering what books were published the year you were born and what they might tell about your personal history snapshot? I would love to make you a list.

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