Coffee with Mary Magdalene

Would we drink coffee with Mary Magdalene?

Kristy: Okay, this suggestion comes from a colleague, who said if he could pick any historical figure to have coffee with, it would be her. She’s not the first person I’d pick, but I think I’d have coffee with her. I’m not sure I could turn down coffee with her, because what a great opportunity to fill in all sorts of historical mysteries, though on the other hand… asking the questions you’d need to ask could be really awkward. “So… tradition holds that you were a prostitute, but all the Bible says about you is that Jesus drove some unclean spirits out of you… what’s the truth there?” “Speaking of Jesus… you hitting that?” “So… The Davinci Code… what a pile of steaming crap, amiright?” (actually, I wouldn’t feel awkward about that last one at all) But yes, I would like to meet the woman, because I’ve suspected since the first time I read the Bible (yes, I’ve read the whole thing more than once, but I just skim the begats looking for interesting names) that the present perception of her, the folklorized version of her to drag out my dissertation for a second, is probably very different from the real woman. And I’d like to know what the real woman was like.

Cammy: I’m in.  Like Kristy, it’s really a matter of how could I not?  Strangely, I don’t feel any awkwardness in asking those questions (along with the “So, tell me, how do you feel about this all boys club image of Jesus’s road-crew?  Was it really the He-man Woman-Hater’s-Club?  Or is this something I should be blaming Paul/Faux-Paul for?”).   And beyond this, if you get one of the most infamous women in the Bible to sit down for coffee, why not ask her general opinion of how the gender gets treated in the book over all.  If anyone’s ever been entitled to an opinion on that subject, it’s her.  Only thing that would be better is if we could rope the BVM into the conversation at the same time.

New Adventures of Travel with the W&M Hoodie

A key part of my standard travel gear is a hoodie.  I have two, one from my law school alma mater and one from my undergraduate alma mater.  I’ve found that both of these have generated interest and conversation from strangers while I’m traveling, but the William and Mary hoodie in particular seems to possess almost magical powers of garnering attention (I’m basically never wearing the thing near the East Coast, thus it’s far from a common siting).  Introvert though I am, I’ve found that I enjoy the polite conversations I usually get when someone lays eyes on the green and gold and strikes up conversation.

Usually, the hoodie results in one of three conversation starts:  (1) General comments on the quality of the school (2) Mentions of friends/family/co-workers etc. who attended the school (and the “do you know?” game that follows).  (3) Geographic comments (“Oh!  You’re from Virginia?”).  Once in a great while, it gets (usually from children seated next to me on planes) “Who’re William and Mary?”

But this most recent trip to Australia generated a new kind of conversation starter for the hoodie.

Now, understand, The Hoodie has been to Oz before (it got high praise from a gentleman in the International Terminal of San Francisco Airport on my way out, and a “Hey!  William and Mary!  Great school!” in a parking garage in Canberra.  So the bizarre change I encountered in both Australia and New Zealand on this trip was a head-scratch-er for me.

I had four different people, in widely different areas of Australia and New Zealand, question why I had the names of old British monarchs on my shirt.

Not “Who are William and Mary?”  No, they were all very clear on who William and Mary were.  The mystery lay in why a person would embroider the names on a sweatshirt in large letters.

All four were from some part of the Commonwealth (a Brit, a Kiwi and two Aussies), so that kind of removes any reason for surprise at them knowing who William and Mary were in history (unlike the U.S. where an astonishing number of people don’t have a clue).  Since I’ve traveled around and with so many Aussies, Brits, Kiwis, Canadians, etc before, it’s really rather strange that this is the first time that it happened.

In two cases, it was all very pleasant.  I grinned and assured them, yes, it was the same William and Mary from that list of monarchs some ancient schoolmaster made them memorize, and explained about the charter.  None of these people had known anything about this part royal history, and they seemed pleasantly surprised and then the chat turned to the usual “What brings you down here?”

But one (and I’ll let you guess which nationality), well, let’s just say the encounter was far more amusing for me than the questioner.  The woman (whom I’d heard behind me, commenting to a companion something about “American girl…monarchs…shirt…” in a none-too-friendly tone) all but marched up to me:

“Do you know William and Mary were our king and queen in the late 17th century?  WHY are their names on your shirt?”

I could see it in her eyes and hear it in her voice:  there was a challenge.  This wasn’t just a question or a demand.  She was expecting me not to have the answer.  I don’t know if it was a moment to confirm American stupidity, or if it was just another opportunity to use blunt confrontation to establish her intellectual superiority (I think it it’s the latter–I heard her giving an unsolicited lecture to a group of Asian tourists about English shrubbery a bit later), either way, she failed rather spectacularly.  Instead of gaping like a fish, or giggling inanely and making a reduced-IQ comment about liking the style, I met her with a very cheerful smile.

“Yes, they were, and during their reign, in 1693, they chartered  The College of William and Mary in Virginia.”

The superior stare faltered and she actually took a step back.

“1693, well, yes, that would be the right time period…I never–” she paused, and her shoulders sagged a little.  “Well, I didn’t know that.”

I could tell the admission pained her and before I could sweetly begin to elaborate on how The College was supposed to educate clergy for the colonies and about how Thomas Jefferson was an alum….she walked off.  I probably shouldn’t be this delighted about it, but I’m quite pleased.  I could tell it really stuck in her craw that she hadn’t one-upped me, and had, in fact, been one upped herself.

The Hoodie went from a tool of conversation to a tool of education smack-down.

As I turned away from my little victory, a couple from approached and asked me to take their photo.  “We saw your shirt.  We’re from North Carolina!”

If I had Two Coffees…

Would we drink coffee with Christina of Denmark?

Kristy: I would. First, because I think that I’m contractually obligated to have coffee with any other Christinas whenever possible within reason. Second, because of the whole “If I had two heads, one should be at the King of England’s disposal” quip when marrying Henry VIII was floated in her direction. Granted, until I started this “coffee with” that was all I knew about her. And for a long time I couldn’t remember who said it. Just that it was someone blonde named Christine who I thought might have lived in Milan. But it’s a good quip. And whether she actually said it or not, people believed it was something she would have said, which says something about her. Also, have to love a woman who wears mourning clothes to pose for her possible future husband. Nice way of saying, “Yeah, you divorced your first wife and beheaded your second. No, I will not be wife number four.” You figure this is the kind of woman who will have lots of catty commentary to make while people watching. There’s also the whole part where she led a fairly interesting life between the proxy marriage at fourteen and the part where people tried to overthrow the king of Denmark on her behalf. Figure she might have a good story or two.

Cammy:  Hey, she was painted by Hans Holbein (apparently we’re talking Hans Holbein The Younger not The Elder), which makes her cool in my eyes.  And Kristy is certainly right about her possibly having catty, snarky commentary to offer up on the people passing by (and if there’s anything that makes people worth having coffee with it’s the potential for snarky people watching).  And there’s an added cool factor of her being married by proxy.  I don’t know why, but marriage by proxy amuses me greatly.  For no really good reason, other than the vague thought in my head about how elaborate it might get and how awkward it could be to play the stand in.  But I digress.  Yes, coffee with a Danish Christina should happen.

Coffee in the City of the Ladies

Would we drink coffee with Christine de Pizan?

Kristy: Yes. Let’s start with the general life stuff: girl was married at fifteen and a widowed mother of three by twenty-five. I know that wasn’t unusual for a woman of her social class in that day and age, but knowing these facts and knowing what it was like are two different things. I would like to get her perspectives on women’s lives in her day, because based on what I’ve read of her writing, she’d have a lot to say, and it stands a good chance of being insightful. I’ll confess I don’t love her writing–like most allegories it gets a little heavy handed–but I love it for what it does. Over six hundred years ago Christine was writing about the overlooked place of women in history, and issue we have still not come close to solving. So I’d like to buy her a cup of coffee and chat about women in history, literature, and education. I’d be interested to see what she thinks of where we are now, though I’m afraid she’ll just be disappointed we haven’t gone further.

Cammy:  What the heck?  Sure.  I didn’t know squat about her existence until Kristy mentioned her, but she definitely sounds like a ground-breaker.  Single mom is a tough gig.  Single mom in the middle ages is even tougher.  And I do like a good allegory (even the heavy handed ones) so despite the fact that she was a poet, I might be able to handle coffee with the gal.  I’m sure Kristy will be stuck with the lion’s share of the conversation, but with so few notable female figures in history, how can I miss a chance for coffee with one of them?

Documenting Coffee

Would we have coffee with Ken Burns?

Cammy:  Absolutely.  I love this man’s work.  One of my earliest memories is of watching his documentary on the Shakers.  From his use of still photographs, to his careful incorporation of music, he has a style that sucks me in like no other documentarian I’ve ever watched–and I’ve watched a crap-ton of documentaries.  For the pure awesomeness he’s shared with us through The Civil War, Thomas Jefferson, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, I owe this man whatever beverage he likes.  I’d love to know what other person/era/event he has in his targets for the future (I know there are plans out to at least 2018–I’m particularly looking forward to the planned Country Music).  Are there any subjects/people that he has marked as just too difficult to cover properly?  And while I definitely love that he covers American history, is there anything outside the US that he’s ever considered focusing on?  How does he narrow the material down for his documentaries?  I’m more willing than normal to pepper this man with questions.  Kristy might need to restrain me.

Kristy: Sure. I’m ashamed to admit I’ve seen very little of his work. I saw some of The Civil War, but remember very little of it. But even if I don’t watch as many of them as I feel I should, I find documentary films very interesting. I’m interested to know if there’s anything he found while working on any of his documentaries that changed his mind/feelings about anything. I’m interested to know what got left out of them, and why. And I’d even be interested to know how he wound up going into documentary film in the first place.

Coffee with Deborah Sampson

Would we drink coffee with Deborah Sampson?

Kristy: Well, having had coffee with most of our founding fathers, I suppose it’s appropriate that I have coffee with one of our founding mothers. Okay, “founding mother” might be something of an exaggeration since she had nothing to do with our country separating from England or in establishing the government after. But TJ could have written all the poetic letters he wanted and GW could have triumphantly crossed all the rivers he wanted, if we hadn’t had the run of the mill soldiers to back them up, none of it would have mattered. And, you know, some of those soldiers were women. It’s nice to know. I’d like to have coffee with Deborah, because, honestly, I’d like to know more about her motivation. Did she join the army out of patriotism like the folk stories tend to make out, or if it was just a chance to get out of her life as it was. From what I’ve read about her life, she didn’t have a whole lot to leave behind. I’d also like to ask her whether it was hard to go back to living the restricted life of a woman after living as a man for so long. The records seem to make it clear she had a rough life before and after, but was no pushover. And if nothing else, you know that woman has some stories to tell.

Cammy:  But of course.  Sad as it is, I didn’t know who the hell she was until just now.  Doesn’t mean I don’t want to have coffee and see what she’s all about.  American history is sadly lacking in female figures for us gals to look up to.  And one who actually took up arms?  Yeah, how is it THAT little fact fails get mentioned in, oh, I dunno, every textbook I ever had?  I’m sure she’d be good for a chat about women in the U.S. military today and how it’s taken until 2012 for the DoD to start considering letting women do what she did over 225 years before (actually participate in combat).  Definitely looking forward to this round of coffee.

Coffee and Bandits!

Would we drink coffee with Eric Hobsbawm?

Kristy: When I heard about Eric Hobsbawm’s death a short time ago I had one of those weird, “Oh I didn’t realize he was still alive… but now he’s not…” moments. We had just spent a good amount of quality time together as both The Invention of Tradition and Bandits were on my reading list for my qualifying exams. And it’s because of those that I’m going to have to say yes. Bandits is one of the most delightful pieces of scholarship I’ve encountered–it has a fun subject matter, it’s written in an easy to comprehend manner, and it’s short. It was only in reading his various obituaries that I learned about his political leanings. And yeah, they were a little… extreme. But I think it’s also very easy for people in my generation to dismiss communism; we grew up able to see that it would never work on a large scale. Not because of the propaganda our government put out, but because we literally got to see it fail. But if I hadn’t seen that… I mean, it’s a nice idea. Not a nice enough one to justify Stalin’s actions, and not a practical or realistic one, but in a theoretical sense… nice. So anyway, I’m really hoping I can get him caught up discussing invented traditions and folklorization of history and we can just avoid that political whatever. Honestly, I’d like to know his opinions on how scholarship should be written. Why don’t more scholars write accessible works and should they? I have to wonder if his political leanings have anything to do with his proletarian style. It might be interesting to see. (By the way, are there British intellectuals who aren’t Marxists and aren’t Christopher Hitchens? I feel there must be, but everyone I encounter is fairly severely Marxist. Maybe Eric can tell me.) I’m curious to see where he stands on disciplinary divides given that he often worked kind of on the edge of his discipline. And I’d like to know, even though this might get the political rants going, if he has any regrets about being so vocal on his views. Several of his obituaries stated that his brilliance as a scholar was overlooked because of his political reputation. I’m not sure that will be true for his long term reputation, but if it is, is he okay with that? Was it all worth it?

Cammy: I’m gonna pass.  I know next to nothing about his scholarship, which means I’m gonna have a damn hard time participating in any kind of meaningful conversation, and I’ve a nasty feeling that despite all of Kristy’s best efforts, there will be political ranting.  Since there is about 0% chance he and I are going to be in agreement on anything in that arena, and while I’m sure a debate on political theories with this guy would be WAY more valuable and well-informed than with most people, I’m SO OVER political ranting right now.  So, I’m gonna go hang out at the bar and let Kristy handle this one.

Coffee with a Mexican Empress

Would we have coffee with….Empress Carlota?

Cammy: Being on a Mexico kick of late, and having stumbled across the old Bette Davis flick Juarez again recently…sure.  For one thing, there’s the novelty of having coffee with an Empress, magnified by the fact that Empresses in North America are rare indeed.  I’d also like the opportunity to judge for myself how crazy she really was.  I, personally, have my doubts.  I mean, I’m sure there was a mental breakdown there when she realized that she and her hubby Max were being thrown under the bus by their European family,  but after that?  Royal family members may have had her declared insane, and she did live in seclusion until her death, but given the relative sanity of those European royals who left the fledgeling Emperor and Empress of Mexico to hang out to dry, I’m really not sure I trust their assessment that she was that much more nuts than the rest of them.  And let’s talk realities:  Hindsight’s 20/20, so it’s easy to say now that any fool should have turned down that particular job offer, but how much did she and Max expect going in?  Or was this “an offer you can’t refuse” kind of deal from the family back home?  I’m also a little keen to see what she’s got to say about her husband’s family.  She was sister-in-laws with Sissi, and apparently the two didn’t get along well (and Sissi was her own kind of body-image flavor of crazy), but their mother in law liked Charlotte better.  All in all, even if she really is 100% pure-d certifiable crazy, at least that will keep coffee interesting….

Kristy: Yeah, sure. Like Cammy I’d like to know the extent of her crazy. I’m also genuinely interested to hear her impressions of Mexico (besides that part where they executed her husband). She really did try to adopt the country and yet was supposedly so homesick they remodeled part of Mexico City for her. Not that those two things are incompatible, I’d just like to hear her opinions from her. And crazy or not this woman lived through a lot of history and rubbed elbows with a lot of famous people–I’m sure she can tell you lots of stories. Assuming she’s sane enough to remember them.

Movie Review: Zapata – El sueño del héroe

Title: Zapata – El sueño del héroe (2004)

Writer/Director: Alfonso Arau

Cammy: In my procurement of media to assist in my Spanish practice, I wound up with a copy of the relatively-recent Mexican feature film,  Zapata – El sueño del héroe.  When I bought the DVD a few months ago I watched the first, maybe 5 minutes and was completely lost.  The thing had NO English subtitles and my Spanish clearly wasn’t up to par to tackle this one.  I mean, there were Spanish subtitles in those first minutes, but I was connecting none of what I was hearing to what I was reading.

Months later, after a LOT of telenovela viewing, I felt a little better, but I still thought it would be smart to bring it with me on my visit to Kristy and watch it with her.  For one, her Spanish is vastly better than mine after years of classes, a degree in Latin American studies and two summers in Latin American countries.  For another, that same degree in Latin American studies meant that her over-all knowledge of the history of Emiliano Zapata was likely to be way better than mine.  Just like she helped prop me up through University Spanish, I was going to depend on her again!

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Drink Coffee Like a Pirate?

I figured since this blog didn’t acknowledge Talk like a Pirate Day last week, maybe we’d consider buying one a cup of coffee this week.

Would we drink coffee with Sir Francis Drake?

Kristy:  I’ll admit I’ve been back and forth on this one.  On the one hand, I’m not sure he sounds like a very nice guy.  On the other hand, he’s Sir Francis Drake.  Which means I think I have to say yes.  Though we may have to move the conversation to the bar as I’m not sure Sir Francis drinks anything with an alcohol content lower than 5%.  I’m not entirely sure what to think of the man:  I want to respect him for climbing his way up the notoriously slippery English social ladder.  And for being a decent military strategist.  And for having some seriously large huevos.  But then sometimes he just sounds someone who was looking for a fight and financial gain wherever he could find in, regardless of the results.  Then there’s the fact that every Sir Francis Drake I’ve known (I’ve known at least two) has kind of played the role like the Renaissance equivalent of a rock/movie star.  Which you have to figure he was on some level.  So maybe having a drink with him would settle that. And if nothing else, you know the man’s got great stories, and seems to have had a reasonable sense of humor.  And should things get out of hand, I’m fairly sure Mary keeps a shotgun behind the bar.

Cammy:  I didnt know much about ol’ Sir Francis prior to Kristy’s discussion above and my follow up googling.  I’m sure he’s likely to have cool stories.  And if he’s the kind of rock-star type, he’ll have groupies.  That being the case, I’m not sure I so much want to have a drink with him as just be in the audience when he gets enough hooch in him to go on a roll.  If I were more interested in military strategy, I’d rather have coffee with him sober to pick his brain, but that topic only catches my interest now and then (once in a blue moon) so for the most part, I’m happy to hang around and listen to whopping tales of the high seas (hopefully with some good defeating-the-Spanish-Armada recounting), but I don’t care much to do the small group setting.  And if Mary’s got the shotgun, I’m more than happy to operate it should the need arise.