Our Better Angels

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“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies.
Though passion may have strained, it must not break
our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell
when again touched, as surely they will be,
by the better angels of our nature.”

President Abraham Lincoln First Inaugural Address,
Washington DC, March 1861

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∼ ∼ ∼ § ∼ ∼ ∼

Back in the Fall of 2015 I had read some rumors and articles that one of my all-time favorite American, historical stories was being made into film. I was thrilled, elated this true event was finally making a screen-write then into full production. This true story is set during the 1970’s Civil Rights Movement throughout the old South, but for these two main characters the movie would begin exactly where it all began, Durham, North Carolina, 1971.

I thought about titling this blog-post Our Better Virtues, but decided against because Lincoln’s quote was just too spot on and appropriate for this subject and film. Although, “Virtues” would have inferred my own meaning, intention, and desires for human kind around the world. After all, every single living human on this planet has some virtues. They just have to choose to find them, bestow them liberally, and nurture as well as grow them. Oh well, “Our Better Angels” gets the point across just fine. 😉

I have blogged here several times about C.P. Ellis and Ann Atwater and the volatile, appalling events they both found themselves. In a February 2016 blog-post I wrote about expanding sympathy into deep empathy and how the two feelings, behaviors are actually quite different. The Golden Rule, “Do unto others” and so on, falls short of deep, impactful empathy. Real empathy requires much more than being self-centered or focused on one’s self. It requires putting yourself into their life, their shoes, and metaphorically (or literally?) walking in them 100-miles or more. It does not involve yourself.

This 2019 film, The Best of Enemies, starring Taraji P. Henson (as Ann Atwater) and Sam Rockwell (as C.P. Ellis), tells that story about finding and giving common, deep empathy for your fellow neighbor, your fellow human being. I finally had the opportunity to watch it and not soon enough! Here is one of the trailers:

Sadly and disappointingly critical reviews of the film have been average and unkind if not neutrally bland. Therefore, I am writing my own reviews and commentary everywhere I can. Why? Because I feel strongly it is important to point out a few things about historical, time-period films to less discerning audiences regarding authentic history, particularly scholarly history that seeks to gather all possible data, evidence, sources, and narratives… no matter their viewpoint. Now, for my personal review of the film, The Best of Enemies:

I imagine this film is horribly underrated and unappreciated by the majority of cinematic fans and specific “cultural” groups. BUT movie reviews will never change what Ann Atwater changed in North Carolina and the ripple-effects she and C.P. Ellis began afterwards during and for the Civil Rights in the 1970’s.

The fact that this film briefly portrays in two short hours what was accomplished in real life between Bill Riddick, Howard Clement, C.P. Ellis, and Ann Atwater—not to mention the Black community in Durham, NC—must be remembered. No matter what movie critics think about the film, and honestly, their trivial criticisms about its direction or production or script or acting do it injustice. Pffffft.

Real, accurate, authentic history is near impossible to translate/transcribe onto the silver-screen in a measly 2-hours or less. This unwinnable cinematic anomaly against movie producers, film-writers, film-budgets, then movie audiences and critics, should always be seriously considered when producing and releasing raw, historically accurate, socially-politically CORRECT and LEGALLY RIGHT Movements as the American Civil Rights, or other highly controversial subjects as the Holocaust or the U.S.’s 18th – 19th century treatment, extermination, and resettlement of Native American Indian tribes. Typically 2-hours or less will NEVER do these historical time-period subjects full justice.

Hence, when all considered, including reading and deciding the real worth/value of this film’s many bland or negative short-sighted or undeserved reviews, just remember this…

2-hours will NEVER be able to tell the full astonishing, real-life true story and relationship about and between Ann Atwater and C.P. Ellis… which required and evolved over three decades! Ignore movie critics, remember the core and marrow of what the film is telling, portraying!

5-stars and more, every time, every day!

Did I emphasize 2-hours enough? 😜

Seriously though, I hope you will make the time to watch, appreciate, and support these fine altruistic, humanitarian films like this one and the stories they tell. They will at least introduce to you a starting point to go further, dig deeper into the entire contextual narrative, facts, plausible facts, and plausible probabilities despite there often being degrees of cinematic license taken to appease corporate profits, severe time-constraints, and/or film productions at the expense of truth and full historical accuracy. Please keep this in mind.

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Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always

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Ordinary People, Extraordinary Heroes

This past weekend and some days this week I have been keenly interested in heroes. Whether modern or older I have wanted to know a bit more and pay personal homage to ordinary people who through acts of selflessness and the highest valor and courage, sacrificed unquestionably their own self-benefit for others, for a greater good, for a greater number in the future. Some of these remarkable stories included many war heroes, men who willing put themselves in lethal danger in order to protect their Brothers in Arms, their squad, platoon, or battalion. Their acts of sacrifice are legendary and should never be lost to time.

But there are also other heroes who never fought in any war, or armed conflict, but the risks and dangers they willingly faced were just as daunting, just as consequential as a soldier faces in combat. Many of them are women of the 19th and 20th centuries. Their fight for equal rights, equal treatment, pay, and opportunities in patriarchal dominated societies across the globe deserve just as much awe, respect, and homage as any man’s stories of gallantry, valor, and sacrifice in war! Agreed? Of course you do if you are a fair and reasonable human being.

Some of the immediate names of female heroes that come to my mind are Eleanor Roosevelt, Susan B. Anthony, Rosa Parks, Billie Jean King, Malala Yousafzai, and a big one for birth-control Margaret Sanger who eventually laid the groundwork for America’s badly needed Planned Parenthood. However, the one specific woman I was reminded of this past Sunday and Monday was Emily Wilding Davison. If you are unfamiliar with Emily’s unwavering commitment to eliminating injustice and gender inequality, then watch this following 15-second clip of her public statement:

As part of my remembrance to many ordinary people who became extraordinary heroes for the betterment of humanity, I watched the 2015 film Suffragette with Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham-Carter, Natalie Press, and Meryl Streep. The film is pretty accurate historically regarding Women’s Suffrage in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s England. From the Smithsonian Magazine web-page:

The filmmakers deliberately modeled [fictional character] Maud [Watts] on the stories of working class suffragettes, whose activism put their jobs, marriages and even custody of their children, at risk. “I think what was interesting for us was to create a rich ensemble of composite characters who we felt would carry the voices of these women who hadn’t been heard and allow them to segue and intersect with these extraordinary moments of history,” says Morgan.

Horse Racing - The Derby Stakes - Epsom - Suffragette Protest - 1913Many parts of the film were real historical events and characters.

…the bombing of Chancellor of the Exchequer, David Lloyd George’s empty country house, and Davison’s fatal protest at the Epsom Derby – were real. After decades of peaceful protest with no result, suffragettes, particularly those in Emmeline Pankhurst’s (Meryl Streep in a brief cameo) Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), followed the motto “Deeds Not Words.” Taking pains not to hurt people, they created mayhem by attacking property – including slashing a Velázquez in the National Gallery  – and disrupting government meetings.

Emily Davison’s protest, whether to attach a scarf of her Movement’s colors to King George V’s horse or to sacrifice herself by death or maiming is unknown to this day. What happened in decades and a century later was unprecedented.

Today, Davison’s gravesite in Morpeth, Northumberland, is a feminist shrine that attracts visitors from around the world. […]

“What is extraordinary about that footage is you can see that this wasn’t a small movement of ladies who meet for tea in Kensington,” says Suffragette’s screenwriter Abi Morgan.  “This was a national and international movement.

Emily Davison closeup

Emily Davison’s entire story is quite remarkable for the time-period. She like most women of the time had very few options outside of the home and birthing then raising children. As a well-educated woman she taught as a teacher and live-in governess as well as attaining two college degrees from the University of London.

Davison was tireless and ingenious. She was arrested nine times for offenses ranging from breaking windows at Parliament to firebombing letterboxes. One of her more creative stunts was sneaking into a closet in the House of Commons one night in 1911 so she could claim Parliament as her place of residence on the official census. It was a subversive double protest. In one act, she could – as many suffragettes were attempting – avoid being counted as a citizen by a government that didn’t recognize her right to vote while if she were counted, it would be at the address of the center of that same discriminatory body.

After her first arrest she wrote gleefully to a friend. “Did you read about it? We went outside Lloyd George’s Budget meeting at Limehouse, and protested at women being kept out, etc. I was busy haranguing the crowd when the police came up and arrested me.” She describes breaking windows in her jail cells and adds “What do you think of me?” before signing off “your loving and rebellious friend.”

If you’re interested in more heroic details of the Suffrage Movement—which later fueled our modern-day Women’s March and activism for more women’s social, workforce, and legal equalities—then click here for the Smithsonian’s article. It is well worth the time.

As I finished Suffragette, I then moved on to another well-directed, acclaimed cast and historically accurate feminine hero 2009 film called Agora starring Rachel Weisz. If you are unfamiliar with the great female philosopher, astronomer, and mathematician named Hypatia of Alexandria, Egypt, during the late 4th-century CE inside a Christianizing and increasingly patriarchal Roman Empire, then I suggest you study her and watch this outstanding film. Hypatia was perhaps one of the very earliest suffragette’s in human history.

Nevertheless, let’s never forget that extraordinary heroes come in all sizes, all races and ethnicities, and certainly all genders and sexual-orientations. They’re all human. That is no debate whatsoever.

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Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always

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Le Parfum Cléopâtre No 5

“The barge she sat in, like a burnished throne,
Burned on the water: the poop was beaten gold,
Purple the sails, and so perfumèd, that
The winds were love-sick with them.”
William Shakespeare, Antony & Cleopatra

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Imagine you have fallen through a mysterious, sensory-overloading, weird disorienting  vortex that catapults you back to 41 BCE in Juliopolis (Tarsos), in the Roman Empire’s province of Cilicia. Many of the sounds and smells your ears and nose would capture are immediately unrecognizable, foreign, baffling your brain. For effect, play the following sound-byte:

Roman portThere within sight at the mouth of the calmly flowing Cydnus River you find the Roman port. Faintly you see and hear the hammering of many ship-workers and foremen yelling commands. You notice ten or twenty half-built Roman ships, some with two and others three deck-levels or more. These are dry-docked and just as many are finished, docked and tied-off in the harbor.

Traveling Turkey: Taursus

Cleopatra’s Gate in modern Tarsus, Mersin Turkey

Once you arrive to all the commotion trying to determine where you have fallen, what is happening, what has happened, “why is everyone gawking at me as I walk by,” it hits you. I am in 21st-century clothing, I do not speak Greek, and I think my money/currency is no good here.

A breeze picks up and brings another mystery. A distinct, unfamiliar scent crosses over your nostrils. In warm temperatures the aroma has touches of pungent, musky, woody and slight medicinal smells, but then you notice the faint compliments of sweet vanilla and black tea. With this aromatic orchestra comes the sounds of people chattering and rushing to the banks of the Kydnos River. You follow the excited crowds. There at the banks of the river you reach the wall of people lined on both shores yelling and waving out to this massive, golden-plated barge with huge reddish-purple sails on two masts. Being downwind the aromas smelt earlier cannot be avoided. You are witnessing the ruler of the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt, Cleopatra VII Philopater traveling up the river to Juliopolis to meet the Roman general Marc Antony.

Cleopatra's barge Tarsos

If you are ever in Berkeley, CA, stop by Mandy Aftel‘s alchemy shop on Walnut Street, called Aftel Perfumes, and travel back in time to ancient and not so ancient recipes of fragrances across the globe, including what might have been Cleopatra’s legendary perfume from her purple sails on the Kydnos River in 41 BCE Cilicia, but also on her seductive body and garments as she romanced Marc Antony!

Researchers Robert Littman, Jay Silverstein, Dora Goldsmith, and Sean Coughlin replicated some of the great Egyptian fragrances from the archaeological excavation of the 300 BCE city of Thmuis and its region’s famed Mendesian and Metopian perfumes. Both contained myrrh, a resin extracted from the tree (see image). Littman states I find it very pleasant, though it probably lingers a little longer than modern perfume. In ancient Egypt and many parts of the Mediterranean port-cities, inland to Rome’s trading network, most of the wealthy families, dignitaries, and rulers wore these scents though they were of a thicker consistency similar to our olive oils or molasses. Cleopatra made perfume herself in a personal workshop, says Mandy Aftel.

Commiphora_myrrha

It is even possible that when Marc Antony accepted Cleopatra’s invitation to come visit her in Alexandria, Egypt, the queen toured Antony through her perfume factory in Thmuis as she lavishly entertained him overwhelming the powerful general not only with the finest of foods, drink, music, and seduction royalty could imagine, Cleopatra also wanted heirs to Rome’s throne following Julius Caesar’s murder. The rest as they say, is history, and legend—although parts are factual and corroborated.

perfumes with myrrhWhether Cleopatra wore this fragrance to charm and lure one of Rome’s finest generals or not, it is certain that the elite of the ancient Mediterranean, particularly in Alexandria and the eastern provinces of Nabataea, Syria, and Cilicia, did indeed wear these strong, long-lasting scents. If you are ever in need of seducing a powerful figure for your own gain and those of your kingdom’s subjects, definitely have Le Parfum Cléopâtre No 5 in your toiletry bag!

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Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
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