Tuesday, July 18, 2017

That New Breed Thing

He ain't no drag
Papa's got a brand new bag
Released in July 1965, Papa's Got A Brand New Bag was James Brown's first single to hit the Top Ten in Billboard's Hot 100.  It had a different sound than any Top Ten song to that date.  With its emphasis on the first beat ("The One"), Brown delivered a brand new bag of Funk.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Ten Years After: The Ottomans Come A'Knocking (Part 3)

The long awaited final installment of the three part series regarding six events which transformed the course of history between 1519 and 1529.

The first part covered the New World - the entrance of Cortes into the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan, and the coming of smallpox to the American mainland.

The second discusses two turning points in the Reformation; the excommunication of Martin Luther (January 1521), and Henry VIII's decision to pursue marriage with Anne Boleyn (February 1526).

The last event is also entangled with continental politics, particularly the impact of the Sack of Rome in May 1527 by the forces of Charles V, the Hapsburg monarch who also became Holy Roman Emperor.  For our last installment we will backtrack a bit to 1525.

The Queen Mother Writes The Sultan

The early 16th century in Europe saw interminable warfare among the royalty of Europe with one of the fiercest rivalries between Francois I of France and the Hapsburg (and Holy Roman) Emperor Charles V.  In late 1524 Francois led an army into Italy, seizing Milan and laying siege to Pavia.  In February 1525 an army sent by Charles to relieve the siege completely smashed the French force and captured Francois.

Even before the Battle of Pavia, Francois sought seeking allies among the enemies of the Hapsburgs, entering into an alliance with Poland the very year he invaded Italy.  But with his defeat and capture the need became even more urgent.  Even while the King was in captivity, the Queen Mother, Louise of Savoy, dispatched an emissary to Suleiman the Magnificent, the Ottoman Sultan, carrying a letter imploring the Sultan:
“ I had left my son’s freedom to the fairness of Charles. But, he is insulting my son. I entreaty you to make my son free with your great world sovereignty, and grand power that the world recognised”.
All├ęgorie de la r├ęgence de Louise de Savoie - Gestes de Blanche de Castille BNF Fr5715.jpg(Louise of Savoy)

Suleiman responded:
“You! Francois, the King of French province! [Note the reference to France as an Ottoman province!] You have sent a letter to us with your ambassador and informed us about the enemy that entered to your country and imprisoned you. So, you asked our favour for your freedom. It is not bizarre for a sovereign to be defeated or to be imprisoned. Do not worry about it. We have taken our arms and have been riding our horses for days and nights. Every thing will be as the God wishes”.
Though the Ottoman probably did not need a solicitation to justify his next move, the Queen Mother's plea and the promise of an alliance provided a proper causus belli.  The history of Ottoman expansion in Europe was covered in The Song of Jan Sobieski, but to quickly recap; the Ottomans first ventured into Europe in 1354, smashed the Serbian state in 1389, defeated the Crusades mounted in 1396 and 1444, and captured Constantinople in 1453.  Nonetheless, until 1525 their depredations (excepting a brief excursion into southeastern Italy in 1480) had been restricted to the remote and barbarous Balkans.

Between the Balkans and the Hapsburgs in Vienna lay the Kingdom of Hungary.  Already under threat from the Ottomans who had seized Hungary's southernmost fortress at Belgrade in 1521, Louis II, King of Hungary and Bohemia had agreed to a marriage alliance, wedding Mary of Hapsburg in 1522.

Fulfilling his pledge, Suleiman set forth with his army from Istanbul in April 1526.  Four months later, on August 26, 1526, the Ottomans slaughtered the Hungarian army at Mohacs.  Among the dead was the Hungarian king.  The kingdom was shattered, most to fall under Ottoman rule while a sliver in the north and northwest came under Hapsburg sway. The path to Vienna was now clear and France and the Ottomans had established an alliance that was to last for almost three centuries.

Suleiman Retreats From Vienna

On October 15, 1529 the Sultan lifted the three week siege of Vienna and, amidst the autumn rains, began the long trek back to Istanbul.  He had set out that spring with great expectations but the gigantic force of infantry, cavalry and artillery, Muslim and Christian had been hampered in its advance by endless rains and flooding.  It was not until September 8 that Buda had been captured and Vienna not reached until late September.  Tunneling and mining failed to bring down the walls, as did direct assault.

If Vienna had fallen the way into central Europe for the Turks would have been open.  Even with this failure, the expectations of Christian Europe were that Suleiman would return, and return soon.  The threat remained.  The reality was it was an unrecognized turning point.  The Turks returned for a second siege, but not until 1683.  In the interim was a century and an half of back and forth.  In the Mediterranean, the Knights of Malta defeated the Turkish invasion of 1565 (read, The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of), and the Ottoman fleet was defeated at Lepanto in 1571.  Though the French alliance paid off, as during the 1540s the Turkish fleet wintered in Toulon, and dominated the sea, seizing tens of thousands of slaves in its ceaseless raiding.  But for the first time in almost two centuries, the Sultans were not constantly advancing.  Europe had a breathing space.


The ten years from 1519 to 1529 saw the European conquest of the Americas made inevitable by the ravages of disease, the Catholic Church challenged after twelve centuries as the ruling faith of Europe, new dynamic of faith and conflict within Christianity created, and the beginning of the end of the remorseless Ottoman threat, all of which set the stage for the era of European world dominance.


Along with the six events profiled in this series, I researched another which, as it turned out, fell just outside this period but which had consequences that continue to ripple through history; the transport of sub-Saharan African slaves to the Americas.  The scale of this transfer was such that until the mid-19th century more Africans than Europeans had cumulatively come to the New World since 1492.

"Africans" had been present from the start as part of the initial Spanish and Portuguese expeditions to the New World.  However, they were either Moors; Arab or Berber captives from wars in North Africa or seized from ships, or in some instances, Moorish slaves from sub-Saharan Africa captured, in turn, by the Spanish or Portuguese.

Although there is reference to a 1502 slave transhipment from sub-Sahara Africa it appears the beginnings of the systematic trans-Atlantic trade was in 1517 or 1518.  Over the next 300 years, 10-11 million Africans were imported with more than one million others dying during transport.

Of these about 47% went to Brazil and 32% to the British and French sugar plantations in the Caribbean.  Another 17% were transported to Spanish possessions (two-thirds to Cuba).  The colonies (and later states) that were to constitute the United States account for about 389,000-407,000 (or 4%).

Sub-Sahara Africa also saw another large slave trade to the east and north with an estimated 10-20 million slaves transported to the Muslim countries of North Africa and the Middle East over a period of one thousand years.  During those same years, an estimated one million Europeans were enslaved by corsairs sailing from the Barbary states of North Africa.  There was also a lively slave trade during the Dark Ages of European slaves taken from the pagan areas of Germany and the Baltics during the Crusades to bring those areas to Christianity, sold via France to Muslim traders in Spain, as well as a well-established trade by Vikings selling captive slaves to the Turkish and Abbasid caliphates.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

A Dutchman In Rome

Born in Amerfoort, Holland in 1653, Caspar van Wittel left the Netherlands in 1674 for Italy, residing primarily in Rome, where he died in 1736.  He became well known for his urban landscape paintings, many of which juxtaposed the remnants of imperial Rome with the reality of the shrunken city at the beginning of the 18th century.

I've always been taken with this particular piece which shows the Arch of Titus with the Palatine Hill on the left.  It's a reminder both of durability and fragility.  The structure, though damaged remains, but the city and Forum surrounding it are mostly long gone, as well as those who built it.  The humbleness of the inhabitants we see is also a reminder of the transitory nature of things.  The Arch straddles the Sacred Way.  Triumphal processions would approach it up a slight incline having just passed by the Colosseum, 300 yards away.  Straight in front of them, down another slight incline was the Roman Forum, the heart of the empire.

To the left, the Palatine Hill was crowned by an enormous sprawling complex of Imperial Palaces clad in marble.  In 1700 we see the Palatine covered in trees, and scattered people walking through the ruins around the Arch, with a horse walking down the path from the Palatine.  The once carefully paved Sacred Way reduced to a rough dirt path.  The Arch itself is no longer maintained and is slowly eroding away.  The monumental buildings surrounding it long ago had their marble cladding stripped and their exposed cores left to crumble.  For more on the deterioration of Classical Rome over the centuries read Belisarius Enters Rome.

The inscription on the Arch reads:
The Senate
and the People of Rome
to the late revered Titus Vespasian Augustus
son of the late revered Vespasian
The monument was erected by the Emperor Domitian (81-96), the younger brother of the Emperor Titus (79-81), the sons of Emperor Vespasian (69-79), who constituted the Flavian Dynasty.  Vespasian, an experienced and stern soldier came to power in the wake of the overthrow and subsequent suicide of Nero (54-68) and amidst the turmoil of the Year of the Four Emperors when it was demonstrated that the legions far from Rome would be the decisive force in choosing the new emperor.

As a ruler, Vespasian was strict and personally austere, a complete contrast to the profligate,  undisciplined and disliked Nero.  Vespasian had his predecessor's hated palace, The Golden House, turn down, filled in its lake and on its former location had the Flavian Amphitheatre (better known to us as the Colosseum) built for the people of Rome.  Succeeding him, Titus was more charismatic and popular and his early death due to illness was a shock.  The Arch was built shortly after Domitian's accession to the throne.  Domitian was also initially popular but sank into paranoia and more and more irrational acts unlike he was assassinated in a conspiracy led by his own wife who feared for her life.

Much of the decorative aspect of the Arch commemorates the accomplishment for which he was most honored by Romans; his crushing of the Jewish Revolt in 67-70 and the sacking and complete destruction of the great temple in Jerusalem.  In the photo below the picture you can see a depiction of the great menorah being removed from the temple as a trophy of Rome's victory.  When I first saw the Arch in person it created quite a mixture of emotions for me.  Thousands of Jews were enslaved by the end of the rebellion and many of them brought to Rome where they worked as part of the labor force constructing the Colosseum.  Some may still have been around to work on the Arch of Titus.

Much of the exterior of the Arch a tourist sees today is not the same as that painted by Wittel three hundred years ago.  By the early 19th century there had been so much further degradation of the structure that in 1822, at the direction of the Pope, it was completely rebuilt in travertine.  The inscription, however, is the original.

The menorah being carried away.
Image result for arch of titus location map

As it looks today:
By Rabax63 (Diskussion) - Own work (Original text: Eigene Aufnahme), CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31309658

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Risky Business: The Alternative Ending

I don't think anyone who saw Risky Business when it was released in 1983 has forgotten it, and I don't know of anyone that dislikes it.  It's probably the same for the 90% of current American adults who've seen the film.  An unusual storyline mixing teenage male angst, comedy, reflections on materialism, sex, catch phrases, classic scenes, charismatic young stars appealing to both the boys (Rebecca de Mornay, and boy, was she appealing) and girls (Tom Cruise), perfect music in the right setting (remember the train ride with Phil Collins' In The Air Tonight and the hypnotic music of Tangerine Dream?), all of which kept the viewer off-balance.  Was the movie a comedy, a romantic comedy, a black comedy, a drama with comic touches, a teen fantasy film, a serious social commentary?  It depends how you view Joel (Cruise) and Lana's (De Mornay) characters, particularly the ambiguity surrounding Lana.  Was it all a setup or was it real?  Or both at the same time?  Yes, no, maybe.

Risky Business was the first film directed by Paul Brickman.  Despite it's huge commercial and critical success, it was also his last directorial venture; a choice made by Brickman after he lost an argument with the studio over the ending of the film.

The theatrical version of the film ends with two scenes; the first a dinner between Joel and Lana in a swank Chicago restaurant, where Joel inquires about their future and whether it was all a set up, interspersed with cuts to Joel's fellow business club members making their presentations.  It then closes with a second scene of Joel and Lana walking through the park exchanging casual repartee with a humorous turn on the dialogue from their very first encounter, leaving open the possibility that their relationship may not be over.

Brickman hated that second scene which was added at the studio's insistence after the original shooting ended.  For Brickman, Risky Business was ultimately a tragic story and the walk through the park, with its light heartedness, shattered the feeling he wanted the viewer left with.

Below is the original ending, as intended by Brickman.  To me, it makes clear that Joel now has the upper hand in the relationship - he's going to Princeton after all, since "Princeton can use a guy like Joel" (which only happened because he followed Lana's advice) and it is much clearer that both Joel and Lana know their relationship is doomed and she will not have a good ending.

Some things I noticed:

In the first scene below in which Joel finds out he's going to Princeton and embraces his Dad, the embrace and the position and look on his face is identical to Lana's embrace and look when, earlier in the film, Joel comes to her after being expelled from high school, and Joel's Dad has his head bowed in the same way as Joel does in his embrace with Lana.  Joel is now as cynical as Lana.  You can do your own comparison; watch below and then watch the earlier scene. (This scene is the same in both the Brickman cut and the theatrical release, I just hadn't noticed the parallels with the earlier scene before).

There is a continuity problem with the original scene in the restaurant.  When it starts, it is full day outside but when Joel and Lana embrace it suddenly looks like early evening.

While I think the original ending is actually better, the final line "Isn't life grand?" is not as effective as the last in the theatrical release, "The time of your life, huh, kid?"

What do you think?