Historical Geography reading list

This is a list of books I’m likely to mention in today’s Archaeology and Anthropology panel.

Historical Geography is the study of how a place changes over time, with a focus on human economic and cultural interaction.

  • The Fields Beneath, The History of One London Village, by Gillian Tindall
  • The Man Who Drew London, Wenceslaus Hollar in Reality and Imagination, by Gillian Tindall
  • London, The Biography by Peter Ackroyd
  • The Discovery of France: A Historical Geography From The Revolution To First World War, by Graham Robb
  • Landmarks, by Robert MacFarlane (about dialect terms for very specific geography throughout the UK)
  • The Revenge of Geography, What the map tells us about coming conflicts and the battle against fate, by Robert D. Kaplan
  • Jerusalem, by Simon Sebag Montefiore
  • Palmento: A Sicilian Wine Odyssey, by Robert V. Camuto
  • Barcelona, by Robert Hughes
  • The Accidental City: Improvising New Orleans, by Lawrence N. Powell

Scholarly texts:

  • Late Victorian Holocausts: El Nino Famines and the Making of the Third World Economy, by Mike Davis
  • The Great Divergence: China, Europe and the Making of the Modern World Economy, Princeton University Press by Kenneth Pomerantz

Archaeology non-fiction:

  • Mesopotamia, The Invention of the City, by Gwendolyn Leick
  • Babylon: Mesopotamia and the Birth of Civilization, by Paul Kriwaczek
  • Britain Begins (very dry and factual) Barry Cunliffe

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My schedule at World Fantasy

The World Fantasy Convention starts in a few days. After years of attending cons as Alyx​‘s wifely appendage, this will be my first where I’m actually on the programming.

Here’s my programming run-down:

Reading – Friday, 11:30 AM (Broadway 1)
I’m very much afraid nobody will attend, so I’m bringing chocolate as a bribe. Then if I’m alone I get to eat it myself. Win/win.

Anthropology and Archaeology panel – Saturday, 1:00 AM (City Center 2B)
With Meg Turville-Heitz, Mari Ness, Shauna Roberts, Rosemary Smith
This topic fascinates me like no other. My fellow panelists are charming and knowledgeable. I’ll be the fangirl among them.

Food Fantasy panel – Sunday, 11:00 AM (City Center A)
I’m moderating this gorgeous dream team: Esther Friesner​, Sarah Goslee​, Paul Park, Fran Wilde​

I’m very excited about all of this! We’ll be driving from Toronto on Wednesday, hoping to make it in plenty of time to clean up before attending the Tor kick-off party at Northshire Books.

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TIFF Roundup #6 – NEON BULL and SOUTHBOUND

SOUTHBOUND-GIRLS-1200x450

Friday was our three-movie day at TIFF. Some hardy festival pros see five a day. We are simply not that hard-core. Our three films were The Apostate, Neon Bull, and Southbound. I hated The Apostate, so I’ll ignore it and spend my attention on the other two films which were simply wonderful in very different ways.

Neon Bull follows a group of cowboys who truck bulls from rodeo to rodeo in the impoverished northeastern part of Brazil. They live on the road and form a loose family unit headed by young mother Galega, who is undeniably in charge of the operation. Our main character is cowboy Iremar, who sews costumes for Galega and has a passionate dream of becoming a professional fashion designer.

The film making is gorgeous and the window on the lives of the characters is unique. The story is delivered with stark but poetic realism which is enhanced by several dream-like sequences, including a spectacular interlude where Iremar communes with a horse, and a long — and I think unique — sex scene at the very end of the movie. The movie never comes to a particular point. I wish it had, but it was so gorgeous that I loved it despite the lack of a satisfying ending.

I also loved the horror anthology Southbound, for very different reasons. After overdosing on low-narrative arty movies it was heavenly to see something that delivered five cohesive stories with actual endings. Give me story, dammit! Southbound over-delivered, knitting the five stories into a seamless whole. All are about travelers on a particular desert highway who brush too close to a malevolent nowhere town. All come to a point of crisis, big or small, where they have to put their trust in strangers, and all come to horrific, splattery ends that had me squirming in my seat.

To say any more would be to give it away. Southbound delivers several visuals that I won’t forget for a long time, including iconic desert vistas with nebulous monsters/entities hanging in the mid-distance. I’ll be watching for them on my next road trip. Shiver.

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TIFF Roundup #5 – Go see SHERPA immediately

DCIM101GOPRO

DCIM101GOP

There’s one showing of Jennifer Peedom’s documentary Sherpa left at TIFF, Sunday at 9:00 PM at the Bloor Hot Docs cinema. Go. You can buy tickets at the door. Just go. Don’t think any more about it. Trust me, just go.

If you’re going to go, don’t read any more of this. Just go.

For my writer friends not in Toronto, here is why I’m pushing this movie:




Sherpa is the most Science Fictional movie I’ve ever seen.

Jennifer Peedom has been working on Everest documentaries for a long time, always cognizant of the fact that every human movement toward Everest is backed up by the intense physical labour of Sherpa men and women working long hours in incredibly dangerous conditions. In all the movies she’s worked on, Sherpas have ended up on the cutting room floor. Nothing — not one inch of footage– could happen without Sherpas, but they’re in the background. Sherpas are scenery.

So she set out to produce and direct a documentary about Sherpas, not only with a Sherpa subject — Everest veteran Phurba Tashi Sherpa, aspiring to ascend Everest for a world-record-breaking 22th ascent in 2014 — but also with Sherpa cameramen and crew.

Now here’s the Science-Fictional situation:

Historic:
Since well before Tenzing Norgay’s ascent of Everest in 1953, Sherpas have been essential to every Himalayan expedition. They have been the hard-working, but minor beneficiaries of an increasingly lucrative mountaineering and adventure industry, receiving salaries that are high for their economically depressed region, but extremely low compared to the profits that the Nepalese government rakes in, or compared to the salaries of the white alpine guides or the profits of the expedition business owners.

Economic:
As Sherpa communities have become more connected to the outside world, more and more Sherpas  have traveled outside the Himal to receive education. They are connected to social media; they have a sophisticated understanding of their socio-political situation, and the fact that they are the key element in delivering an experience that is unmatched around the world. They are also not content to adhere to the expected role of the smiling, happy, compliant, helpful Sherpa. They are self-actualized; they know their worth.

Spiritual:
Sherpas are a modern community of people who are deeply attached to their unique culture and religion. Their spiritual beliefs involve a reverence for and a specific way of being in the natural world. This includes deeply-held beliefs about the proper way to behave on and around Chomolungma, Everest, the Mother-God-of-the-World, and how to interpret and respond to her actions.

Social:
In 2013, the year before this documentary was shot, these tensions came to a head when three climbers (Swiss, UK, and Russian) ignored, abused, and disparaged Sherpas during an Everest ascent. The Sherpas, who in the past have absorbed such abuse, did not accept it. This led to a physical brawl, which, in such extreme conditions in a small and isolated community, is an extremely dangerous and deeply troubling situation with life-and-death repercussions.

NOW:
In 2014, this documentary is being shot. And 13 thousand tons of  ice drops on a team of Sherpas ascending the first stage of Everest, the Khumbu Icefall. Sixteen Sherpas are killed.

Why this is Science Fictional:
This movie is utterly about the confrontation with the other, with ways of thinking and being in the world that are foreign.  It’s about another world, where diametrically opposed forces blow up in people’s faces, and there is not one thing anyone can do about it. It’s about meeting someone whose world view cannot accommodate yours, and the dramatic weights that are still at this very moment hanging in the balance.

This is absolutely a must-see movie. Its historical-socio-political analysis is thousands of layers deep. It’s everything that we see movies for. See it now.

 

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TIFF roundup #4 – 25 April and Faux Depart/Sector IX B

25 APRIL

Alyx and I have begun to suspect that Jackman Hall, the TIFF venue attached to the Art Gallery of Ontario which is around the corner from our condo, is a bit of an art film ghetto during TIFF.

Today, this worked out 50/50 for us. Leanne Pooley’s 25 April was really worth seeing — a festival favorite for us both. It’s an animated documentary of the Battle of Gallipoli, and it was utterly gorgeous, great art, good storytelling, terrific sound design, a well-developed movie in every way. We loved it. A must-see. The sheer originality of making a documentary-style animated film about a historical event would have made it a brilliant movie, but the quality of the production was simply terrific, too. We both loved it.

But we were disappointed with our other showing today, double feature Faux Depart and Sector IX B. Faux Depart is a short film about the burgeoning fossil hunting (and fossil faking) industry in Morocco. A very slight film focused narrowly, and with nearly no sound. Interesting, but not exactly the kind of event you go to a theatre for — more like the kind of thing you see in an art museum alcove. And Sector IX B, though longer, was even less developed. Ostensibly, it followed a French researcher in the field of History of Ethnography in Africa, but it had no story, referred to a few points but didn’t actually make any, and the imagery wasn’t memorable. Worst disappointment of the festival so far. In fact, it was so off-putting that we’re seriously considering skipping our last Jackman Hall film tomorrow just to avoid risking getting bitten again.

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TIFF Roundup #3 – THE FEAR and EVA DOESN’T SLEEP

eva-no-duerme

Today was our first double-header of TIFF. Though I must say “I love my neighbourhood” at least once a week, today I’m newly in love with it because we live literally in the middle of all the venues. One of them, Jackman Hall, is two minutes from our door. Unfortunately, it’s also the venue with knee- and tailbone-punishing seats. For our double header there on Wednesday, we’ll definitely be bringing cushions.

Today’s movies were French World War I film The Fear and Eva Doesn’t Sleep from Argentina. Both world premieres, both highly artistic, and both slim on story. One I liked, and the other I didn’t.

I’m not going to diss The Fear on the day of its world premiere. It had some beautiful, memorable scenes, but it didn’t say anything about war we haven’t heard before. It wasn’t to my taste.

Eva Doesn’t Sleep deals with the weird journey of the embalmed body of Eva Peron. After her untimely death from cancer at the age of 33, her corpse had been slated for Lenin-style public display but went missing after a military coup and was recovered 16 years later.

The movie has three parts: The Embalmer (deliciously, in Spanish: Embalsamadore), the Transporter, and The Dictator, with a slight framing story where General Emilio Eduardo Massera, the butcher responsible for thousands of murders and disappearances during the 1970s, just froths at the mouth about Eva’s corpse.

The photography during the Embalmer portion was utterly spectacular and very tense. The Transporter section included an impressive one-shot fight scene in an compressed area. The last two sections seemed scripted more like stage plays than movies, giving the actors the opportunity to perform skillfully but not really advancing the story all that much or posing questions to the audience.

Despite the slender story, I appreciated the ambitious filmmaking and the fact that it aspired to deal with Argentina’s post-colonial struggles and difficult, violent past.

Also, there was an interesting parallel with one of our previous TIFF films, Starve Your Dog, which also dealt with decolonialism and the difficulties of getting satisfying answers out of a captured dictator.

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TIFF Roundup Film #2 – STARVE YOUR DOG, by Hicham Lasri

starve your dog

Starve Your Dog is a difficult, psychedelic examination of Morocco’s totalitarian past and its effect on the present. The director, Hicham Lasri, described it in the Q&A session as a “science fiction film about a character who died ten years ago.” The character is Driss Basri, a Moroccan politician that the film describes as an assassin and pawn of U.S. foreign policy.

The first half of the movie was beautifully-shot but story-free image poems — sensorial cinema, the director called it, also referencing Metallica’s ‘wall of sound’ as an effect he was trying to create visually. It was utterly beautiful, with saturated colour and lacy light, but also overwhelming and disorienting. At least five or six people bailed out of the theatre during this part. When the story got going, things did get quite a bit easier, as Basri holds forth on his past and as the film crew starts going at each other’s throats.

I was glad I saw it, but wow, it wasn’t easy. The Q&A with the charming director really helped made me appreciate what he was saying, and gave me much needed socio-political context.

Oddly, Joss Whedon’s name was in the credits. Don’t know in what capacity, because the credits were in Arabic.

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