2017-01-21

sovay: (Sydney Carton)
I wish I knew where my copies of Lloyd Alexander's Westmark trilogy had gotten to. On the 86 bus yesterday, I was reading Garry O'Connor's Ralph Richardson: An Actor's Life (1982) when I ran into his description of the director and drama theorist Michel Saint-Denis: "A stocky, earthy character both in appearance and flavour, Saint-Denis had a broad Burgundian accent, smoked a pipe, and often had a merry twinkle in his eye . . . As 'Jacques Duchesne,' broadcasting frequently over Radio Free French, he had a price on his head, for his function was to pass on coded information to Resistance workers; he was also responsible for other items such as an ebullient interview with Churchill conducted during an air raid, in which both men, clearly affected by the red wine they were drinking, were audibly being pounded with bombs." I wondered suddenly if I was as old as Keller by the end of The Beggar Queen (1984) or if I had accidentally managed to outlive one of my earliest favorite characters. It took me a minute to trace the connection which my brain had made without bothering to show its work: Old Kasperl "with his peasant jacket, his tankard, and his gray whiskers," namesake of the satirical journal in which he appeared alongside his stealthily smarter companion the Bear. It was popular in Marianstat during the reigns of Augustine IV of Westmark and his successor Queen Augusta, later Citizen Mickle; it was banned and printed secretly during the directorate of Cabbarus and the Ankari occupation. And then I felt like an idiot not to have consciously realized before how much Alexander's experiences in France and Germany during World War II must have influenced these books for all their turn-of-the-nineteenth-century, Les Mis-adjacent Ruritanian setting. Westmark (1981) is a fairly classic political romance ending in eucatastrophe, but The Kestrel (1982) is a war novel and The Beggar Queen is a novel of invasion, occupation, and resistance. Both get very messy. I'll have to see what Alexander said about them in interviews.

I might be older than Keller. I don't know how what I thought "youngish" meant in elementary school. I remember his sharp elbows and his tousled chestnut hair, his argument with Dr. Torrens about the necessity of a free press, the tragicomedy of trying to get himself arrested by a pair of policemen who are too much a fan of Old Kasperl to hand his creator over to Cabbarus and the terrible importance of his ending up where he does. I had a Tolstoy-sized cast to choose from and yet at the age of eight or nine I went unerringly for the consumptive journalist with a never-failing sense of irony and a deep, determined idealism that somewhat embarrasses him to discover, though his passionate quarrels with the politics of his country should maybe have given him a clue. I am not really surprised. He was a writer.

The first and even second time I read the books, I was disappointed by the absence of magic; in college I tried to read them against Ursula K. Le Guin's Malafrena (1979), which didn't work because at that time I didn't like Malafrena very much; on my most recent re-read I couldn't stop picturing Cabbarus as played by Jonathan Pryce circa The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988). That was about five years ago and I can still remember the simile that accompanies a man's death in The Kestrel—a side of beef with staring eyes and a mouth full of red mud—and I can remember the ending of The Beggar Queen that I read so young it didn't even strike me as remarkable, but I can't remember if the text ever specifies Keller's age. For many reasons, I think it might be instructive to revisit the series now.

I am off to meet and march with people. That's one of them.
sovay: (Sovay: David Owen)
I will have to wait to post pictures until I get them off my cousins' camera, but I am back from the march. It was very crowded and very loud and very welcoming and very intense and I am so very glad I went.

I knew we were starting late in the day. My cousins had a prior commitment in the morning, so we met up briefly in Harvard Square before [livejournal.com profile] gaudior peeled off to spend the rest of the day working with people who really needed support after the inauguration; [livejournal.com profile] rushthatspeaks and I got to Boston Common with Fox in their baby sling (and a well-stocked diaper bag over my shoulder) around two in the afternoon. We had already seen a host of people with pink pussy hats and protest signs streaming backward over the Longfellow Bridge and boarding the Red Line at Charles/MGH; we figured that if we had missed the march proper, at least we could be present for the speeches and the singing and be counted as part of the collective demonstration that way. There seemed to be a large number of people still standing on the hillside as we walked up from Park Street. It would still be worth it.

We had not missed the march proper. Due to the number of protesters—three times greater than expected, I heard a woman saying afterward—they were marching in shifts. We were just in time to wait for the next round. Even more people were arriving as we waited near the bandstand, gradually shifting into a column with a generally agreed direction to face in rather than an uncertain mass with variegated signs and mutual photo-taking. There was a singer-songwriter named Emeline who closed her set with an unreleased song about refusing erasure and a whomping riot of brass and jazz from Somerville's own Second Line Social Aid and Pleasure Society Brass Band and the Boston Area Brigade of Activist Musicians (or BABAM!). I saw one protester waving a pride flag from a tree. I took a picture of Rush-That-Speaks and Fox and they took one of me, after I had pushed my hat back enough that my face didn't disappear. And then the crowd started moving in a more or less concerted direction and then we were marching.

I took a lot of pictures. Partly to capture the size of the crowd, mostly for signs I thought were especially excellent, though I couldn't catch them all. The route was something like a mile, around part of the Common and the Boston Public Gardens with a loop up and back the first block of Comm. Ave.; there were route police at intersections where anyone might get confused, but also schoolbuses and recycling trucks courtesy of the City of Boston to provide guiding borders on either side. There was a good range of ages. There was a good mix of genders and ethnicities. There were people with visible disabilities. I saw signs in English, Spanish, Arabic, Hebrew, Chinese. There were fife-and-drum musicians marching under a banner that read "Remember the Ladies—Abigail Adams, 1776," playing "The Battle Cry of Freedom," "The Minstrel Boy," and "Solidarity Forever." (Technically it could have been "John Brown's Body/The Battle Hymn of the Republic," but the people around us were singing "Solidarity Forever," so I took their word for it.) I saw signs that read "Make America Think Again," "Make America Kind Again," "Chin Up, Claws Out," "Never Again," "The Most Disrespected Person in America is the Black Woman," "Hex the Patriarchy," and "Mike Pence Likes Nickelback." I was not expecting the people on Beacon Street who hung out their windows with pride flags or political banners or just cheered and waved as the march went by. The Arlington Street Church gets major props not only for its bubble machine, but for the woman dressed as Betsy Ross waving a thirteen-starred American flag from the front steps and whoever was up in the bell tower ringing out national anthems. A woman about my mother's age whom Rush had seen earlier in the march had parked herself out front of the church with her sign that read "I Can't Believe I Still Have to Protest This Shit." People chanted, "This is what democracy looks like." People chanted, "Black Lives Matter." We saw signs for trans lives, queer lives, women's lives, Muslim lives, immigrant lives. "Love, not hate, makes America great." A young man with dreadlocks and no shirt on came past us carrying a sign that read "I am half-naked and surrounded by the opposite sex and I feel safe." A young white man stood on the sidewalk with a sign declaring "I am using my privilege for good" and we cheered him even though he had spelled "privilege" with a "d."

In keeping with the great tradition of mass public turnouts, we did not expect to run into G. (the mother of my ungodchild) and therefore I turned around to get a picture of a sign and there she was with her Episcopal priest's collar, carrying a sign of her own. We did not meet up with a single other person we knew was attending.

Fox was magnificent throughout. They cried only when hungry (and at the very end of the march when overstimulated, which everyone around them could sympathize with) and the absolute worst this required was for me to barge into a Bolocco on Boylston Street and ask the cashier if I could take some water out of the soda fountain to mix a three-month-old's formula with. She handed me a cup for free.

I got home and [livejournal.com profile] derspatchel informed me the numbers are currently estimated at 120–125,000, the organizers having planned for 25,000. We are going out now to celebrate his birthday at Mamaleh's and then I am going to avoid all humanity for a little while.

Cats get a pass, though.

This was good.
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