Bag Girl Reviews: Helen of Troy by Bettany Hughes

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Bettany Hughes is an historian whose documentaries I adore. My favorite documentaries of her’s are the episodes about Helen of Troy and the ancient Minoan civilization from her Ancient World series. The Mycenaeans and Minoans are two ancient civilizations whose culture and aesthetics I am fascinated with; Greece, specifically the island of Crete, are on my bucket list of places I want to visit. 

The definitive account of the life of Helen of Troy comes from Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey but there are a plethora of, often conflicting, other sources from the ancient world which provide details of her life.  Many of these details, her conception via Zeus’s rape of her mother Leda in the form of a swan, being the protegee of the goddess Aphrodite, seem fantastic but are there kernels of truth in her story? Bettany Hughes presents Helen’s world, late bronze age Greece, as one where a superbly beautiful and high born woman like her would have wielded great power. Reports of a stunning and powerful queen and her misadventures may have been exaggerated over time. Helen was also perhaps a high priestess, officiating over religious ceremonies or a vestige of some long forgotten bronze age goddess.

A fascinating thing about Helen of Troy is that she refuses to conform the madonna/whore dichotomy of  later civilizations. She is an adulteress whose extramarital affair and elopement with the trojan prince, Paris, started the Trojan War but was also worshiped by young virgins on the cusp of womanhood in her hometown of Sparta, who hoped to gain some of her famous sexual allure.  Helen has been loathed as everything from a scheming seductress to a vapid bimbo and yet people have fascinated by her for thousands of years.

I have to admit that I had a hard time getting into this book, mostly because of the difficulty I have with reading non-fiction. Anyone with an interest in the ancient world, and an easier time reading non-fiction, will get something out of reading this.  I would recommend looking up Bettany Hughes’s documentaries on Helen of Troy and the ancient Minoan civilization on Youtube for those without the time or patient to crack open a scholarly book. I have a major girl crush on Bettany Hughes, the Nigella Lawson of ancient history, and Greece is a country rich in natural beauty and historical sites. You can relax on a beach and then explore a Minoan or Mycenaean ruin, my dream vacation destination.

After I finish college, I’m going to spend a few years taking classes at North Shore Community to get my library degree and to learn Italian and Greek  and working to save money. Then I’m going to spend some time traveling in Italy and Greece.

 

A Bag Girl Double Feature: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales and Wonder Woman

I’ve always had a soft spot for the Pirates of the Caribbean Franchise. Not only is the ride my favorite Disney attraction, the films, along with Mean Girls and the Spider Man series starring Tobey Maguire, were the first PG-13 rated movies I ever saw. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End and Spider Man 3 were the first PG-13 rated films I saw in theaters. I own a necklace of the golden doubloon from Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl (the chain broke years ago and I now have it on a silk ribbon) and I wore an Elizabeth Swann costume from Oriental Trading Company for Halloween when I was eleven. Even though I am a fan, I was part of the collective eye roll and “why?” when a fifth installment was announced and was not surprised to find that it was getting terrible reviews but a mixture of loyalty to the franchise and curiosity to see how bad it could be drove me to go see it.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales or Salazar’s Revenge picks up the story a number of years after the first four installments. Henry Turner, son of Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann, is searching for a way to free his father, who is cursed to remain aboard the Flying Dutchman. This causes him to seek out Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), his father’s old friend/enemy, now a drunken wreck of his former glory. Jack Sparrow is being hunted by Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), a ruthless Spanish pirate hunter who Sparrow sent to a watery grave years earlier and has returned from the dead to get revenge. Along the way they encounter  Karina, a young woman whose interest in astronomy causes her to be seen as a witch and who is trying to decode an enigmatic astrological map left to her by her father and Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), who returns for some reason. The macguffin that will help everyone get what they want is Poseidon’s Trident, which can break all of the sea’s curses, and Karina’s map leads to.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales was not as bad as I thought it might be (I got a few laughs of out Johnny Depp, Javier Bardem was creepy, the CGI looked cool), but it was by no means a good movie. The two young leads are a poor man’s substitute for Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley as Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann. Karina was exactly the type of female character I despise: the girl who’s so much smarter than everyone else but is absolutely useless in a pinch; a prissy ninny trying to pass herself off as a bad-ass. The first chance she gets to put her muscle where her mouth is, she runs away, gets caught in traps, and needs to be rescued. If your heroine is going to be a helpless damsel, at least be honest about it.

The film’s ending scene involves Will Turner returning after he is released from his curse and being reunited with his wife and son. Jack Sparrow gets back the Black Pearl and sails off into the sunset. It’s a decent send-off to the franchise before it is, hopefully, put out to sea for good.

I also have something of a soft spot for superhero films ( I love the Spiderman, Batman, and Captain America movies) but I was not planning on seeing the new Wonder Woman movie. My mind was changed when I heard that it was getting great reviews. I was also intrigued by the fact that the film is set during World War I, one of my favorite time periods. The fact that this movie exists, let alone this successful , is something of a miracle. After the notorious flops that were Catwoman and Elektra, Hollywood has been reluctant, to say the least, to touch superhero films with a female lead.

Diana of Themyscira (Gal Gadot) has been dreaming all of her life of glory and heroism, but is sheltered from the outside world by her mother, Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons, a race of warrior women created by Zeus to protect mankind from the corrupting influence of Ares, god of war. When an American fighter pilot, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), crash lands on Themyscira, Diana learns that World War I is going on around her. Believing that Ares is behind this potentially all consuming war, Diana vows to kill him and save the world. Placing Diana in the setting of World War I  highlights the change in attitudes during this period. World War I was first modern total war and had millions of casualties, many of them innocent civilians. The big super weapon in the film is a poison gas, a weapon which made its debut in World War I.  Diana has always believed that war is glorious and that morality is black and white and is startled to find herself in the middle of a hopeless and all destroying conflict. The young men who fought in World War I, raised on greek epics and mythology, Diana’s world, must have been similarly traumatized. This shift is highlighted by the film’s cinematography which goes from the Homeric glory of Themyscira to the muddy, grey, grittiness of no man’s land.  

Wonder Woman bares a number of similarities to Marvel’s  Captain America: The First Avenger, my favorite of the Avengers films. Both are war based period pieces featuring an earnest and idealistic protagonists. I appreciated the film did not make Diana a cold, cynical femme fatale like her Marvel counterpart Black Widow. Part of the film’s strength comes from Gal Gadot’s superb performance.  After two hours listening to the smug, pedantic prattle of Karina from Dead Men Tell No Tales, which would make Hermione Granger think she was insufferable, it was refreshing to see a heroine who actually is bad ass. The action scenes, especially the one where Diana struts across no man’s land deflecting machine gun bullets with her wristbands, made me want to shout “fuck ya!.”

Wonder Woman is refreshingly free of the cynicism which characterizes similar films made in the past few decades. Diana is presented as a naive fish out of water and though she becomes less naive about the outside world, but does not lose her idealism. She learns that humanity is flawed and capable of atrocities but is still worthy of her protection. Considering all of the political conflict, terrorist attacks, and destruction of the environment that we read about in the news today, perhaps Wonder Woman has arrived when we needed her most.

 

 

Bag Girl Reviews The Witches by Stacy Schiff

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One of the most endlessly fascinating episodes in American history is the Salem Witch Trials, perhaps it’s best known unsolved mystery. What made the citizens of an upstanding puritan community turn against itself with friends, family, and neighbors accusing one another of the worst crime they could think of: witchcraft. There is no shortage of books describing the events of 1692 Salem and providing theories as to why they happened, but The Witches by Stacy Schiff is a welcome addition.

Schiff provides a detailed and nuanced depiction of the Salem Witch Trials, going beyond the American History class stereotypes. She gives context to these events as well as possible explanations, without resorting to the typical conspiracy theories: these range from political divisions to ergot (a mold which is what LSD is derived from ) laced rye bread. It all began with a group of adolescent girls, a disenfranchised section of the community who were both largely ignored and highly scrutinized, it is possible that a combination of strict puritan religious beliefs and societal expectations and the repression of teenaged impulses and desires caused them to act out. What started off with youthful rebellion snowballed out of control, fed by the divisions and suspicions in their society.

Early New England lived in fear of attacks from Indians and the French, disease and other natural disasters as well as interference from the British crown. It was divided between a number of different political and religious factions. Salem village itself was split between those supported the minister, Samuel Parris, and those who resented having to pay his salary. A top of that were various land disputes and personal grudges.

Schiff puts the Salem Witch Trial against the larger backdrop of the 17th century ( the period which saw the greatest number of witch trials worldwide) as well as World History in general, specifically the McCarthy Trials of the 1950s and  the fairly recent Patriot Act/ War on Terror era, which we are (arguably) still going through. Both of these events and those like them are often referred to as “witch hunts.” The Salem Witch Trials are invoked whenever a climate of fear and suspicion cause us to turn against one another.

The Witches by Stacy Schiff provides fascinating context to the much discussed Salem Witch Trials and is a must read for anyone who is interested in these events.  I found it dry at points but that is due to the difficulty I have with non fiction. 

Bag Girl Reviews Harlots

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*** Warning: Spoilers***

Harlots is a Hulu series that I have been hearing a lot about through the period drama related social media I follow, mainly the blog Frock Flicks. My interested was piqued but since I did not have Hulu, I got a late start in watching it. This was what made me give in and finally subscribe to Hulu. 

The series follows Margaret Wells (Samantha Morton), an upwardly mobile brothel owner in 18th century London trying to provide for her two daughters: Charlotte (Downton Abbey’s Jessica Brown Findlay, London’s most sought after courtesan, and Lucy, whose innocence attracts a number of sadistic men. Margaret’s social climbing provokes a feud with Lydia Quigley (Lesley Manville) a high class madam and Margaret’s former employer, who steals the entire series with her bird-like menace. Manville’s performance as Lydia Quigley is something watching a vicious parrot.

One interesting thing about the series is that it includes elements usually missing in your typical costume drama: lesbianism and mixed race relationships. The slums and brothels of 18th century London are shown as a diverse place which caters to all tastes. Margaret Wells is in a common-law marriage with William North, a free black man, and they have a mixed race son. Amelia Scanwell, the daughter of a puritanical religious campaigner, has a lesbian romance with a local prostitute. It is also noteworthy for its depiction of prostitution, one of the few professions available to an 18th century woman where she could rise to wealth and prominence but at the risk of abuse and condemnation. The prostitutes in the series are not portrayed as pathetic victims or vice-ridden jezebels but rather as women using the few opportunities offered them to try to survive and get ahead. Whoredom is both glamorous and degrading.  

The rivalry between Margaret Wells and Lydia Quigley is the most interesting part of the series. Other storylines such as Charlotte’s romance with an Irish gigolo named Daniel  (Jessica Brown Findlay in another relationship with a hunky irishman), and the murder of a noble client in Margaret’s brothel do not grab you as much. You do not really care about what happens to Charlotte and Daniel but you want to see Margaret take Quigley down. I love where the character of Lucy, who starts off as a reluctant prostitute and is afraid to go off as the kept woman of a wealthy man, is going. In the last episode, she is taken under the wing of  Nancy (Kate Fleetwood) a friend and neighbor of her mother who works as a dominatrix and taught the art of flagellation. Lucy returns to her mother and tells her “I’m ready now.” My prediction is that in the next season, Lucy, who serves as one of the series’s defactio ingenues, will become a dominatrix like Nancy.

Harlots has little of the stodginess which people all too often associate with period dramas but does not feel historically inauthentic or untrue to the time period. There is a fine balance between  “this is a different time period” and “and these are understandable and relatable people.” It is accessible and appealing to the general audience but does not feel dumbed down.

Bag Girl Goes to Morristown or In Search of Alexander and Eliza

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Today, we went for a drive to Morristown to see a couple of old house: the  Schuyler-Hamilton House and the Ford Mansion. Before we set out on our trip, we had lunch at Camillo’s, a restaurant in Sayreville. The drive was about  forty-five minutes long and we got to the Schuyler-Hamilton House around 3:00. I took a photo of a sign on the garden fence which explains what happened there: this is where Alexander Hamilton met and courted Eliza Schuyler. We were lead into the parlor, where a member of the D.A.R told us about the Battle of Trenton and how George Washington’s army ended up in Morristown and how the owner of the house at the time, Dr. Cochran, inoculated the men against smallpox. Dr. Cochran’s wife, Gertrude, was the sister of General Philip Schuyler, whose daughter Elizabeth (known as Eliza or Betsy) came to stay in 1780. Her parents hoped that she would marry one of the Continental Army’s eligible officers but she ended up falling in love with Alexander Hamilton, George Washington’s dashing aid-de-camp. Though Hamilton was a bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks, her parents allowed the marriage because he was brilliant, ambitious, and destined for greatness. The gift shop sells peg dolls of the two love birds which were too cute for me to pass up.

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Then we were shown around the house. Upstairs is a bedroom known as Betsy’s room, which is filled with dolls, including a rather unsettling life-sized doll tucked into the bed. On the dresser were some items which a woman like Eliza Schuyler would have used, such as a curling iron, hair combs, and a corset busk. In closed in a special case is a ruffled widow’s cap, lace collar, and a lock of hair belonging to Eliza herself.

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Our next destination was Ford’s Mansion, which served as George Washington’s head quarters when the Continental Army was stationed in Morristown. We arrived too late for the final tour of the mansion, and only got to poke around in the visitor’s center. In the little museum exhibit, there were some beautiful articles of clothing and furniture as well as copy of a Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington. I was disappointed with this part of the trip, but hopefully we can come back again next time I’m in New Jersey.

Another disappointing part of the trip was when my grandfather proposed that we get ice cream on our way home, but when we got to the place where my grandparents like to go for ice cream, we found that the line in front was too long. It is what it is, as my mom would say.

Bag Girl Goes to The Met

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I have been going into New York City more or less once a year since I was eight but I have never been to the Met Museum. For the past few years, I have been trying to go but every time it has not worked out. Excuses have ranged from Jasmine was not interested to the weather was too hot. Aunt Pat has been talking about taking my mom and I into New York City since the fall, so I decided this was my chance.

Pop drove us to Aunt Pat’s house around 9:30 this morning and she took us to Tower Center, where we caught the 10:25 bus into New York. From Port Authority, we took a taxi to the Met. I enjoyed the taxi drive through Central Park. The taxi had a sunroof through which I looked up at the buildings. We were able to get into the Met cheaply: with her Johnson and Johnson card, Aunt Pat was able to get mom and herself in for free; I only had to pay twelve dollars with my student I.D. I saw a good part of the Medieval wing as we were looking for the American Wing Cafe, where we had lunch. The courtyard where the cafe is situated has some very beautiful Tiffany stained glass windows.

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After lunch, we looked in the European Painting wing, where we saw paintings by artists such from Titian to Picasso, including our old favorites Johannes Vermeer and Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

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One of the highlights was Edgar Degas’s Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer.  I was completely overwhelmed by all of the superb art in this museum and it is impossible to take it all in. One would need a week at least to see everything in the Met.

Next we went to the American Wing, where I saw two iconic paintings: Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Leutze and Madame X by John Singer Sargent.

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After the American Wing, we took a break and went to the cafeteria for a snack and a drink.  Aunt Pat sat out the rest of the visit. Mom and I went to look in the Egyptian Wing and I took pictures of  sarcophagi, jewelry, and statues of Hatshepsut, the first woman to rule Egypt as Pharaoh. The centerpiece of the Egyptian Wing the Temple of Dendur.

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By this point, Mom and I were beginning to fade, so we went to go rejoin Aunt Pat and look in the Met Store. I bought a guidebook to the museum, some postcards of artworks I liked, and a print of Venus and the Flute Player by Titian. We got another taxi from the Met and went to the Hamilton Store, across the street from the Richard Rogers Theater, where Hamilton is performed. I took a picture of the Richard Rogers Theater and sent it to my Aunt Terry, is also a big Hamilton Fan. In the store, I bought a Schuyler Sisters t-shirt.

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My friend Mary saw on Facebook that I had checked into the Hamilton Store and thought that I was going to see the actual show. She commented “enjoy” to which I replied, something along the lines of  “I only went to the store” and “In my dreams I could get Hamilton tickets. As much as I would love to see Hamilton, the cheapest tickets are somewhere around six-hundred dollars, money which could go towards studying abroad. The t-shirt I bought was $40, and all I could think was “what did I expect.”

The Hamilton Store is a seven minute walk from Port Authority, where we arrived a little before six and caught the 6:20 bus back to Tower Center. Aunt Pat took us to Wendy’s before bringing us back to my grandparent’s house.

 

A Review of The Promise

*** WARNING: SPOILERS***

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The Promise is a film that I have been following for several months. I have seen it advertised frequently on Facebook and Youtube and it has been making the news for being the first major film to tackle the Armenian Genocide, a subject which is still sensitive today. At first, I was hesitant as to whether or not I wanted to see the movie. The plot centers around a love triangle, a plot device which is overused and often annoying. But then I decided, why not give it a shot and told my mom that we would go see it for Mother’s Day since we both love historical dramas.

Oscar Isaac (known to many as Poe Dameron from Star Wars: The Force Awakens) stars as Mikael, an Armenian man who travels to Constantinople to attend medical school on the eve of World War I. There he meets Ana ( Charlotte Le Bon), a beautiful young woman who works for his wealthy relatives as the dancing instructor for their daughters and a fellow Armenian though brought up and educated in France. Mikael and Ana fall in love despite him being engaged to girl in his home village and her already being with an American journalist named Chris, played by Christian Bale. I have had a crush on Christian Bale since I was a little girl and Oscar Isaac is not bad looking either, so I cannot blame Ana that much for being conflicted as to which man she wants to be with.

Turkey enters World War I and things become hostile for Armenians like Ana and Mikael. The film does not shy away from depicting the atrocities of the Armenian Genocide. Mikael is sent away to a work camp, from where he later escapes. There is a heart racing scene where he tries to release some Armenian prisoners from a moving train, which chugs over a bridge. Poor Mikael falls from the train and into the water below before he can undo the lock on the train car. He finds his way back to his home village, where he marries his fiancee and lives happily for a while until he reconnects with Ana and Chris, who are involved with getting refugees out of Turkey. Mikael enlists them to help him and his family escape, but his feelings for Ana causes some tension between him and Chris.

One of the themes of the story is how the Turkish authorities is tried to cover up the truth about the Armenian Genocide. Chris is constantly thwarted in his attempts to expose the truth and is later arrested under suspicion of being a spy and saboteur and sentenced to be executed. Even today, few people know about the Armenian Genocide. The Turkish government refuses to acknowledge or apologize for it, and there are some who deny that it ever happened. As we walked out, my mom told me that she felt embarrassed that she did not know much about this period of history.

The Promise feels, at first, like a fairly predictable story. I assumed that one of the men would die and the other would end up with the girl. When Mikael’s pregnant wife is killed by the Turks, along with most of his family, and thought that Chris would be executed and, now freed from their inconvenient partners, Ana and Mikael would finally be able to be together. But the American ambassador manages to get Chris a pardon. I thought that he might end up being killed during the final battle scene, where are three heros and the group of refugees try to escape into life boats provided by the French Navy. The sea is choppy and Ana’s life boats tips over and she drowns before Mikael can rescue her, which came as a shock.

I would recommend seeing The Promise, if only to learn about an unfairly obscure  historical event. It is also well acted and beautifully shot. Whether you like battle scenes or romance and pretty dresses, you will enjoy it.

Downtown Salem

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There is a book/gift store in Salem which I like called The Marble Faun, which is not open on Mondays, which is usually when I have the time to go downtown. With two more books to buy left on my list, I decided to pay them a visit on Thursday, a day when I only have one class which is over by noon. Jasmine and I had made tentative plans to see The True 1692, a documentary which they show at the Salem Cinema. I decided to take a 2:20 shuttle, giving me plenty of time to go to The Marble Faun, which closes at 4:00. Jasmine said that she wanted to spend some time at works study, so I told her that we would meet up at Museum Place Mall for dinner around five. To pass the time between 2:20 and 5:00, I would poke around the Peabody Essex Museum, something I’ve been wanting to do all year but was unable to because it is also closed on Mondays.

Jasmine finished up with work study earlier than expected and decided to go with me instead of meeting up later. I had made a mistake when I checked the shuttle schedule: the 2:20 shuttle was only going around the campus. The next shuttle going down town would not be until 4:30, so I called a taxi, which dropped us off near the Peabody Essex Museum. A few doors down is the Marble Faun. I was able to find the two books I was looking for: a volume of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short stories including Young Goodman Brown, The Birthmark, The Minister’s Black Veil, and Rappaccini’s Daughter, and a volume of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s writings.

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After purchasing these books, Jasmine and I tried to buy our tickets for The True 1692 but Salem Cinema was closed, so we went across the street to The Peabody Essex. We were able to get in for free with our student I.D.s. Our first stop was Yin Yu Tang, a 200 plus year old house which was brought over from China. It was my third time seeing it: number one was when it first opened ( I was seven), number two was when I was in high school (I think it was junior year). Jasmine and I poked around the various rooms and listened to our audio guides. When we were done, we looked around in some of the other exhibits. What Jasmine especially wanted to see was a visiting exhibit called W.O.W or The World of Wearable Art. My favorite pieces were called Lady Curiosity, which combined vintage tattoo art and victorian bustle era fashion, and Persephone’s Descent, which was made by the armourer who made the armour for the Lord of the Rings films.  The exhibit finished up with a short film showing performance pieces which include some of the wearable art on display in action.

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We finished up before five, when the museum closes, and went back to Salem Cinema to buy our tickets. Then we went and got dinner. There was still a fair amount of time until our movie began, so we looked around in some of our favorite shops including Wicked Good Books and Hex, where I bought a rose quartz positive energy charm. In a magic shop next to Wicked Good Books, where I got another rose quartz, we got talking to a woman who offered to give us a tour of Old Burying Point Cemetery. As we walked down to the cemetery and were showed various graves, I was a little uneasy. A stranger asking you to go with them to a cemetery does not sound like it’s going to end well. One of the graves we were shown was of John Hathorne, one of the judges in the Salem Witch Trials and the notorious ancestor of my homeboy Nathaniel Hawthorne.

At 6:15, we returned to Salem Cinema and bought our popcorn and waited to be let into the theater. The True 1692 was shown in their smallest theater and Jasmine and I were the only ones there, so it felt like a private showing. We watched an unidentified (much to Jasmine’s annoyance) puritan girl tell us about the events of the Salem Witch Trials and provide some historical context. It was a short film, only about a half hour, but very well made and interesting. 

This was to be one of our last trips to downtown Salem this school year, since it wraps up next week.

On Visiting Concord MA on Earth Day

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During this semester at school, I am taking a class on Early American lit in which we read the likes of Emerson, Thoreau, Fuller, and Alcott as well as many other influential works of American writing. Part of the curriculum was a field trip to Concord MA, the home of many sites of historical and literary significance, such as Concord Bridge and Walden Pond.  My professor’s plans for a field trip did not work out, due to poor planning and her getting sick, but she said that anyone who made a visit to Concord would get extra credit. After much arm twisting, I convinced my dad to take Jasmine and I there. I think we drove him crazy with our singing a long during the drive down.

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The first place my professor recommended we visit was the Concord Museum, which provides a good overview of the area’s history and places to visit. Inside are reproductions of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s study and other historic rooms, works of art by local artists such as Daniel Chester French, who sculpted the Lincoln Memorial and the Minuteman statue at Old North Bridge, and artifacts belonging to some of the area’s most famous residents.

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 After exploring the museum, Jasmine and I had to take a look in the bookshop. I bought a copy of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden while Jasmine got a book called Ladies of Liberty, which is about influential women in the early days of America’s government such as first ladies like Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, and Dolley Madison. This book also caught my attention because Eliza Schuyler Hamilton was one of women depicted on the cover. I later used the index to search for references to her and was disappointed to find that the author went the rather unfair rout of portraying my beloved Eliza as plain and dull but devoted and married to a womanizer who was really married to her much more interesting sister.

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Our next stopped was Minuteman National Park. Since it was Earth Day, there was some sort of environmental celebration with a lot of old hippy and crunchy granola types with their small children and dogs. Dad told us about how he went to a demonstration there during the bicentennial to protest the Ford Administration’s military involvement in Cambodia. He says  that the protesters were standing on the side where the minutemen stood while the police and national guard were on the side where the British advanced. We walked over Old North Bridge, the “rude bridge that arched the flood.”

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We made our way through the park and up the visitor center. The day had begun fairly drizzly and by this point it was raining and it was nice to be inside again. I had my National Park Service passport with me and got it stamped in the visitor center gift shop. This was where I bought another book ( Common Sense by Thomas Paine) to add to my collection and Jasmine got another t-shirt to add to hers.  Because it was raining, we decided not to have our picnic at Walden Pond but rather to go straight home, after Dad made a stop at Toys R Us.

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 Jasmine faithfully goes to see the yearly Disneynature film every Earth Day and I promised her that we would go see this year’s Born in China. The movie impressed me, especially its cinematography. I was amazed by the footage of China’s stunning beauty and how they were able to capture very human emotions in the animals the movie focused on: Dawa, a snow leopard, Taotao, a golden snub nosed monkey, and Ya Ya, a giant panda. The charm of these movies is looking at cute animals doing adorable things and on that count it delivered in full. Since we saw it during the opening week, some of our money went to charity which supports creatures like Dawa, Taotao, and Yawa.

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson and Hamilton: A Comparison

Bloodybloody

I recently looked up a show called Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson on YouTube. Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson is a punk/emo rock musical based on the life of our notorious sixth president, Andrew Jackson. Even though it predates the smash hit, Hamilton, it feels like a follow up piece  and the two musicals beg for a comparison.

Both Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson and Hamilton seek to do a similar thing: tell a story of a figure from American history using a modern genre of music which highlights specific themes in that person’s life. Hip-hop is used to Hamilton to show Alexander Hamilton’s quick mind and skill with words and how his rise to the top and dramatic fall parallels many of the themes found in rap music. Punk/emo music in Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson characterizes the Jacksonian age as America’s angsty adolescence. Bloody Bloody Andrew also bares a lot of similarities to the Green Day rock opera, American Idiot; both are tales about an individual looking to rebel against society, only to have it backfire on them. Andrew Jackson is presented as an angry, chaotic, and rebellious figure (pretty much if St. Jimmy from American Idiot became president) who comes to power by appealing to the anger of America’s underclasses, who eventually turn against him.

Hamilton and Jackson both start off as kids from nowhere with something to prove who get their chance to make something of themselves: the American revolution and the shaky beginnings of American government and politics. But the Hamiltonian world of banks and big government is the world that Jackson believes is screwing the common man over and wishes to dismantle.

The relationship between Jackson and his wife, Rachel, is nearly identical to that of Hamilton and his wife, Eliza. Both men are shown as loving their wives and yet constantly putting their own needs and ambitions before them. But unlike the demure and devoted Eliza Hamilton, Rachel Jackson is an equally angsty Whatsername to her husband’s Jesus of Suburbia. She sings the angry, woman-scorned, breakup song “The Great Compromise” which is reminiscent of Green Day’s “Letterbomb.”  Eliza and Rachel are presented as stabilizing figures who try to keep their husband’s grounded, with little success. Hamilton cheats on Eliza during a moment of weakness and blabs about it to the press to avoid embezzlement charges while Jackson goes against Rachel’s wishes and runs for president, which causes his enemies to rummage through his family’s dirty laundry.

The beautiful Rachel Donelson Robards Jackson was originally married to an abusive jackass named Lewis Robards when she met the dashing frontier lawyer, Andrew Jackson. Rachel wed Andrew in 1791, although their union was technically bigamous due to the fact that she had not yet obtained a divorce from Lewis Robards. She would later get the divorce and remarry Andrew in 1794, though their union was considered by many to be invalid. When Andrew Jackson latter ran for president, this dirty little secret came out and Rachel was ostracized in Washington society as a bigamist and adulteress. She died of a heart attack in 1828 soon after his election as president, possibly due to the stress of such a scandal.

Andrew Jackson, as portrayed in Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, is many negative things but is an objectively better husband than the more sympathetically portrayed Alexander Hamilton, although both of their marriages suffer from similar problems. The two men put their careers and reputations before their relationships with their wives and bring scandal and heartbreak on their families. But Jackson appears to be too immature to understand the consequences of his actions; Hamilton knows precisely what he is doing and how it could hurt those he claims to love but does it anyway. He jeopardizes a perfectly good marriage by cheating on Eliza and makes the situation worse by leaking the scandal to the press to beat his enemies to the punch. In contrast, Jackson turns down a crazed fan who throws herself at him by saying “my wife is mad enough at me as it is”, and jumps in to defend Rachel’s honor when the public starts calling her a whore. The real life Andrew Jackson famously challenged to a duel  any man and the nearest male relative of any woman who insulted his wife.  

Hamilton paints its protagonist as a flawed but ultimately admirable figure, whereas the central character of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson essentially behaves like a petulant teenager (which is even more hysterical considering the real life Andrew Jackson was in his sixties when he was president). Both musicals deal with how history and posterity remembers important figures. Alexander Hamilton was an unsung founding father with a checkered reputation and dismissed as an elitist jerk, but has re-emerged in recent years as an unlikely pop culture icon and the face of electoral reform. Meanwhile, Andrew Jackson was celebrated as a rugged man of the people in his own day and more many generations afterwards but our modern world view has condemned him as a genocidal tyrant. It is easy to deify or vilify historical figures, especially when they represent values which either mesh or clash with or own: a significant number of people despise Thomas Jefferson in particular for being a slaveholder and Andrew Jackson in particular for the treatment of the Native Americans. Reviling a specific individual in an attempt to distance ourselves from negative parts of our history is a lot easier than dealing with them.