Sunday, April 30, 2023

The fall from the center of the universe.

Hey, guys, I'm back. I spent most of the past couple of weeks on a river cruise in Belgium and the Netherlands, ending last weekend in Amsterdam (where I came down with COVID, but it's been a mild case, and I'm nearly over it).

The problem I have in general with all-inclusive tours is that they try to appeal to everybody, so usually what you get is the churches-and-castles tour. This trip was, thankfully, more art-focused -- we visited three art museums, including the big Vermeer exhibit at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam -- but there's always something I want to see that's not on the schedule. Sometimes there's time on a free afternoon to see one of those things and sometimes not. This time, there was. So on a free afternoon in Amsterdam, I hoofed it over to Dam Square to tour the Royal Palace.

The building started out as the Amsterdam City Hall. Construction began in 1648, just after the Dutch Republic won its freedom from Spain, and finished in 1665. It's kinda swampy in the Netherlands, so this massive neoclassical edifice was built atop 13,659 wooden piles driven all the way down to bedrock.

This all happened during the Dutch Golden Age, when this tiny country was vying successfully with Portugal and England to be the king of world trade. It did a fair job of it, too, establishing exclusive markets with producers of some spices and founding colonies around the world. The Dutch were proud of their achievements -- and it shows in the palace's Citizens' Hall. 

Lynne Cantwell 2023
The hall is immense. This photo shows only two of the three marble maps embedded in the floor. To the east and west are maps of the eastern and western hemispheres; I was impressed with their accuracy. But then, the Dutch sailed around the tips of both Africa and South America in their trading voyages. 

They even knew where New Mexico was! 
Lynne Cantwell 2023
Lynne Cantwell 2023
The center circle is a star chart. In short, the builders depicted the universe, with Amsterdam in the center. 
Lynne Cantwell 2023
That hegemony was gone, though, by 1806, when Napoleon invaded and installed his brother, Louis Bonaparte, on the throne. King Louis then converted City Hall into a palace for himself. His bedroom is on the tour, and it is not too shabby. 
Lynne Cantwell 2023
He didn't live there long, though -- he abdicated in July 1810. Later on, the Dutch royal family claimed the palace. Nobody lives there now, but King Willem-Alexander uses it for state functions, and of course it's open for tours.

I'm still fixated on the idea that the Netherlands was once a superpower, and then its luck turned. I don't know enough about European history to know how or why. But for a couple of hundred years, give or take, the Dutch were the center of the universe. Then it was England's turn. Eventually, the honor fell to the United States. And I'm left wondering what it would take for us to avoid their fate.

We believe we're the center of the universe now -- but how much longer can it last? And how will we react when we no longer are? The Dutch seem to be okay, now, with not being at the center of things. I wonder how long it would take for the US to reach the same state of sanguinity. Four hundred years might not be long enough.


These moments of centrally-located universal blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe!

Sunday, April 23, 2023

Still out of pocket.

 I'm still elsewhere, larking about. Check back here for a new post next Sunday, April 30th. 

These moments of continuing vacationing blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe!

Sunday, April 16, 2023

Out of pocket.

 As I mentioned last week, I'll be on the road through next Sunday. See you back here on April 30th.

These moments of vacationing blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe!

Sunday, April 9, 2023

One step forward, several steps back.

First, happy Easter and happy Passover to those who celebrate. 


Fair warning: This is a political post.

leszekglasner | Deposit Photos

This has been a week, hasn't it? Particularly for anyone who's interested in the future of abortion rights in this country -- which, given how polarizing the issue is, encompasses virtually everybody. (Back when Kevin's Watch had a political forum, the quickest way to get a bazillion comments on a discussion thread was to post something, anything, about abortion.)

We can all be forgiven if we have abortion-rights whiplash. First, a Trump-appointed federal judge in Texas ruled -- in an order jam-packed with antiabortion rhetoric where sober jurisprudence should have been -- that the federal Food and Drug Administration erred big-time 23 years ago when it approved mifepristone for medically-induced abortions. The same guy also cited the Comstock Act (which hasn't been enforced since the 1930s) in his ruling, saying pills for medical abortions should not be allowed to be sent through the mail. Taken together, those two points would appear to outlaw medical abortions in the United States altogether.  But within the hour, an Obama-appointed federal judge in the state of Washington ordered that the federal government keep the pills available in the 17 states whose attorney generals had filed suit in his court.

The Texas judge paused his ruling for a week to allow the Department of Justice to file a brief explaining why he's wrong. The DoJ is on it. And given the dueling rulings, it looks like the issue is going to be on a fast track to the Supreme Court. Given the current court, you might think that makes the Texas order a slam-dunk. But the high court in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization -- handed down not even a year ago -- deliberately left abortion access to the individual states to decide; this guy in Texas has pre-empted that. Will the Supremes be willing to second-guess themselves so soon? I hope not. The patchwork of state laws that have resulted from Dobbs is bad enough.

There have been shenanigans this week on another hot-button issue: gun control. The Tennessee legislature, which is controlled by Republicans, voted to expel two of its members -- Black men who represent the cities of Memphis and Nashville -- after they and a third representative participated in a protest in favor of gun reforms following a mass shooting at a private school in Nashville. All three of the representatives are Democrats, but the one who wasn't kicked out is a White woman. The ousted legislators say their voters have been disenfranchised. The boards responsible for appointing new representatives for their districts seem inclined to send both men right back to their old seats. But if they do, legislative Republicans are threatening to pull their state funding. 

I can only shake my head. In poll after reputable poll, a majority of Americans support both access to abortion and stricter gun laws. Why Republicans are hellbent on enacting restrictions that most people in this country don't want is a mystery to me. The only thing I can think of is that while these fossils are still in control, they want to lock things down for their side before they're too old to govern and younger folks take over. That day is fast approaching. But it can't come soon enough for me.


An update to my post of last week, wherein I was so excited to learn that Santa Fe has an arthouse theater that I saw two movies there in the same week: I'm glad I went when I did, because the facility's board of directors voted this week to shut it down, effective this weekend. There has been an outpouring of dismay about the abrupt decision on social media, and apparently there's an effort to raise funds in the community to reopen the facility. But still, I'm bummed. 


Oh hey, one other thing: I'm going to be out of pocket for the next two weeks. See y'all back here on April 30th.


These moments of head-shaking blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe!

Sunday, April 2, 2023

Movie recommendations.


damedeeso | Deposit Photos
Isn't it crazy how you can live in a place for a while and still be surprised to find something you didn't know was there? That was me this week. I discovered what amounts to an art house theater here in Santa Fe and saw two -- count 'em, two -- movies there. And I am recommending them both.

The first one I saw was The Lost King. It's based on the true story of an amateur historian who made it her mission to find where the remains of England's King Richard III were buried. I remember hearing about it when the body was discovered -- under a car park, as they call parking lots there -- but there was a lot I didn't know. 

The historian in question is Philippa Langley, played by Sally Hawkins. As the story opens, Langley is working in marketing and has just been passed over for a promotion -- supposedly because her manager wants to give younger workers a chance, but it doesn't help that Langley suffers from chronic fatigue syndrome and misses a lot of work because of it. She's also co-parenting her two sons with her ex-husband (in an arrangement that so many divorced parents would die for). 

Seeing a performance of Shakespeare's Richard III awakens her interest in him. She comes to believe that Richard's role as villain was engineered largely by the Tudor kings who came after him. Before long, she's joining a local chapter of the Richard III Society, doing her own research, and raising money to help Leicester University fund a dig at that parking lot in their town. And that's where they find Richard III -- right under the R painted on the pavement.

At this point, the film strays into controversial territory. Langley, who worked with the producers on the film, insists that when it came time to give credit for the discovery, Leicester University shut her out. The university insists that's not the case. The producers are siding with Langley.

One of the charming things about the movie -- or at least, I thought it was charming -- is that the king himself begins appearing to Langley. She has numerous conversations with him throughout the movie; at one point, she asks him whether he actually killed his two nephews, and Richard stalks off without a word. Of course, no one else can see Richard, and she doesn't try to convince anyone that she can see him, thank goodness. The task she's set herself is tough enough without giving people a reason to think she's crazy.

Anyway, the movie has a happy ending -- the king's remains are laid to rest properly, and his reputation is at least partly restored -- and it's true that without Langley's persistence, none of that would have happened.

The second movie I'm recommending is called The Quiet Girl. It's much slower paced than The Lost King, and the ending is decidely not a happy one. In fact, it wrung my heart.

Nine-year-old Cáit (pronounced "caught"), played by Catherine Clinch, is a middle child in a poor family full of girls. The father is an alcoholic and the mother is pregnant with yet another child. They consider Cáit a handful -- she's given to skipping school and hiding from her parents -- and her mother arranges for the girl to spend the summer with a distant cousin and her husband, three hours' drive from home.

Cáit's foster mother Eibhlín (pronounced Eileen) is warm and caring; her foster father Seán is initially distant, but he eventually warms up to the girl, and they bond. For the first time, Cáit has a home where she's neither neglected nor abused, and she begins to blossom. But then she has to go home. And as her foster parents drive away, she runs after them, throwing her arms around Seán and calling him "daddy" as her sperm donor approaches to take her back. Describing the scene that way makes it sound more dramatic than it is; the most shocking thing about it is that it's the first time in the whole movie that we see anyone hug Cáit. 

That hug will stay with me for a long, long time. 

The Quiet Girl is mostly in Irish with some English; the film is subtitled throughout, which I appreciated. It has won a bunch of awards, and it's the first Irish film nominated for the Oscar for Best International Feature Film. If you can find a screening, see it. It's a great movie. Although I defy you not to cry at the end.


These moments of moviegoing blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe!