“where shall we put our hope?”

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The cyclical nature of perception and improbable rehabilitation of historical figures (take a look at the youth of Russia venerating and admiring Stalin) makes me take a look at this poem by Finn Pentti Saarikoski. He writes ironically: “Marx’s mistake is Lenin/as Stalin is Lenin’s mistake/but Stalin didn’t make mistakes.” Today, it is just as likely that a young person with no tangible connection to history would read this and think, “Yes, of course. Stalin was a great leader.” (By the way, read Svetlana Alexievich‘s Secondhand Time: An Oral History of the Fall of the Soviet Union for more insight.)

from The Dance Floor on the Mountain
Pentti Saarikoski
XXIV Winter solstice
And the bees cling to each other
in the hive center
where Jesus is born a honey-scented child

The sun is setting
a scarlet winterball like a fatbellied man
our neighbor, the carpenter
will be rolling into bed

On the first day of year
I place two white porcelain jugs spout to spout
after thinking all night long
about Marx’s mistake

Marx’s mistake is Lenin
as Stalin is Lenin’s mistake
but Stalin didn’t make mistakes.

I construct a snowman
a sad fascist in the yard
so some image of this winter will remain
our neighbor the carpenter
bends his knee and takes a snap

A heavy snowfall
should mean a rich harvest

I’ll build
a cold church for the fascist
a warm one for Jesus

When with summer’s first ill-natured wind
the guests gone
we come down the mountain
with no protection but each other’s limbs
where shall we put our hope?

XXVI On St Stephen’s Day
I sit in their kitchen
drink some beer and listen to language
that’s their affair, their memories
and I scare: I say something
but it clatters
from mouth to floor like a horseshoe.

Heeding the political precedent

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Media, political parties, political analysts and pundits, popular culture and just about any person you talked to in the US or abroad laughed off the Donald Trump presidential candidacy as a joke. Whether because Trump himself would lose interest, because it was such an outlandish proposition that it seemed impossible, because eventually he’d go too far and no one would stand for it any longer, because people love sensationalized stuff (they do, after all, love drama and reality television), because one of the “serious” candidates would surge ahead, everyone chose to ignore what was unfolding. And they chose to ignore the real-world precedent of the laughed-off, joke candidate who swept into power and did real damage.

World history is full of examples (Ronald Reagan was just a bad actor), but I think back again to watching the Italian TV series, 1992, which explored the idea of Berlusconi as an unlikely, laughable political leader (and its joking about how that would be as ridiculous as a Schwarzenegger political career…). No one seems to heed the warnings of these previous disasters, and we are doomed to repeat what we have not learned from.

Photo is from Piñateria Ramirez’s Donald Trump piñata via the Piñateria Ramirez Facebook page.

Lunchtable TV Talk – Reign: Historical fiction

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Most women my age – and probably a fair number of men, too – watched and maybe even loved the CBC/PBS miniseries, Anne of Green Gables. Megan Follows, while she has had a rich and long career since, will never quite shake her identity as Anne Shirley. And Gilbert Blythe, Anne’s academic rival, friend and eventual husband in the Anne of Green Gables series (a series of Canadian books set in Prince Edward Island, Canada that adolescent readers have devoured for the many decades since they debuted), had life breathed into him by Canadian actor Jonathan Crombie. He has appeared here and there in other things, perhaps most recently and notably in The Good Wife, but he has been tied all his life to his reputation-making role as “Gil”. Sadly, Jonathan Crombie passed away this past week at the age of 48, which plunges the hearts of “kindred spirits” of my age into “the depths of despair” – to use some of Anne Shirley’s over-the-top, verbose, well-loved language.

Ultimately, though, this was not meant to be about Crombie or his passing. (Or to question the “dying young” passing of Canadian actors who graced Canadian tv institutions. Referring here to the 2007 death of Neil Hope, who was “Wheels” on the original Degrassi Junior High.) Instead, I had just been watching this week’s episode of Reign, which sucked me in despite not being my style at all. In large part, I tune in week after week to watch Megan Follows’s regal, scheming performance as Catherine de Medici. Follows finally outshines her past, defining role as Anne Shirley and is the one reason I keep coming back to Reign.

This is not to say that Reign isn’t a decent show. I like these kinds of historical fiction programs in that they may not paint a full or accurate picture of historical events, but they breathe life into long-past history that may ignite curiosity in those non-historians among us. We might then make moves toward reading real history and finding out what in these programs (like Reign, The Tudors and Wolf Hall, to name a few recent entries) is true and not true. History brought to life, regardless of creative license employed for television audiences, can only pique interest and perhaps make history a more interesting subject for otherwise disinterested generations (each generation, at the risk of sounding like a cranky old person, seems less and less interested in history).

I am driven by my viewing of Reign to go back and read the history – and often enjoy the modern music pairings that make up the soundtrack. Occasionally an interesting person will turn up as a guest star – Amy Brenneman as Marie de Guise (a great piece of casting!), Yael Grobglas as Olivia (best known now as Petra on Jane the Virgin) and even Battlestar Galactica’s Helo (Tahmoh Penikett).

Considering all these factors, especially Megan Follows’s presence, now that I know the show has been renewed for another season, I will continue to watch (even if my mind is very much stuck now on Anne of Green Gables, Anne and Gil and Jonathan Crombie, resting in peace.)

Don’t Repeat Ugly History

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A Swedish political video recently went viral. It features the grandson of Nazi Rudolf Höss. The grandson, Rainer Höss, whom I have seen in documentaries about the descendants of Third Reich leadership, has been trying to work through the burden of his own history all his life. He declares in this hard-hitting ad: “My history taught me that democracy and equality and human rights never can be taken for granted.”

“Never forget. To vote.”