Best Days – A Re-Post

black_friday

It’s seventy degrees outside

while at Walmart the Christmas music plays

for those standing in line at the lay away counter

looking in their checkbook

mentally figuring out if they have enough

to pay for the children’s gifts

and next month’s rent

while on a giant flat screen

streaming news of murder and protest

lacking a name for the struggle

taking place before our eyes

in the streets and parks

as police club the people

pepper spray an old woman

endless images in the land of the free

of the bloodied, arms linked, standing still

carrying signs

When did we begin to hate our neighbors

take our guns to the movies

fear the future and one another?

Which day was it

when the sun set on our best days,

days when we ran free,

fearlessly through the streets

not worrying about the future;

when we truly loved our country

because we didn’t know any better?

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Posted in Poetry, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Gaza Town

Today it was announced that our President is considering naming Jerusalem the capital of Israel and may move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv.

The poem below as written in 2014 during the height of the Israeli offensive in Gaza.

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The children played a jumping game
out in the street on market day
the children played a jumping game
until they came to Gaza town.

Their father always looked his best
on market day in Gaza town
selling fruit and nuts and all the rest
until they came on market day.

The children three no longer play
the jumping game out in the street
the children were just blown away
in Gaza town on market day.

Father no longer sells his fruit
on market day in Gaza town
an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth
the price they’ll pay, come market day.

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http://patrickmurfin.blogspot.com/2012/11/dead-babiesrevisiting-old-poem.html

 

Posted in Poetry | 3 Comments

Patience and Prudence

At a corner table of a Wendy’s
an old woman sits every morning
bent over her paper,
her coffee and half eaten egg
patiently awaiting further attention.

In the banality that is old age
she thinks how little she enjoyed
the years of youth and beauty
when she might have been shameless
instead of prudent.

Now she is old but only yesterday
she was lush of hip and breast
inhabiting the fantasies of young men
their desires glowing openly
in eyes that looked at her.

How many impulses denied;
joys sacrificed, chances lost
in the name of sensibility,
security, planning the future;
Oh how the Gods laugh at those who plan!

But it was only yesterday
and now she curses those who counseled
patience and prudence; to plan for tomorrow
to be proper, to do the right thing
“You have so many days ahead!”

Oh the things she might have done
had she not bridled passion;
lovers not taken even as their voices trembled;
novels not written, places not seen;
age now mocking senseless caution.

Children are having kid’s meals
screeching infants demand attention
she must go home before she gets dizzy
rest her head on an empty kitchen table.

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http://artianim.blogspot.com/2011_04_03_archive.html

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Posted in Poetry | 5 Comments

“Dido” Elizabeth Belle

Dido Elizabeth Belle and the Lady Elizabeth Murray

“Dido” Elizabeth Belle was a bi-racial woman born into slavery in 1761 in the West Indies, the daughter of a slave woman, Maria Belle and a British career naval officer, John Lindsay, who was stationed there.

While the details of their relationship are unknown, Lindsay was transferred back to Britain in 1765 and took the child with him. Lindsay would later in his career be knighted and would reach the rank of Admiral in the British Royal Navy.

Lindsay entrusted the young girl to his uncle William Murray and his wife Elizabeth, where she escaped a life of slavery for, you see, William Murray was the First Earl of Mansfield.

The Murrays educated Belle, bringing her up as a free gentlewoman at their Kenwood House, together with their niece, Lady Elizabeth Murray, whose mother had died. Even as an illegitimate child, she was afforded the privileged life that came with her father’s bloodline. But because she was also biracial/black, she was denied full societal and familial acceptance.

Picture

“Belle lived at Kenwood House for 30 years. Her position was unusual because she was born into slavery according to colonial law. Lord and Lady Mansfield to some extent treated her and brought her up as a member of the Murray family. As she grew older, she often assisted Mansfield by taking dictation of his letters, which showed she had been educated.”

The social conventions of his household are unclear.  A 2007 exhibit at Kenwood suggests that she was treated as “a loved but poor relation.”  Other aspects of Belle’s life, such as being given expensive medical treatments and luxurious bedroom furnishings, were evidence of her position as Lady Elizabeth’s equal at Kenwood.

There is a great amount of speculation on Dido Belle’s affect on the abolition of slavery in England. Why you ask?

Because William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield was also Lord High Chief Justice of England. He would rule on two cases involving the trans-Atlantic slave trade which would change the nation.

The Zong Massacre was at the heart of Gregson vs. Gilbert. The Zong slave ship was headed from West Africa to Jamaica in 1781 when the captain and crew threw 133 slaves overboard to their deaths, a practice not uncommon during the slave trade. The owners of the Zong later said that because of illness and a shortage of fresh water, it was necessary to dump “cargo” to save those remaining on the ship. English law at the time allowed the ship’s owners to file an insurance claim if they threw slaves overboard to save the ship, but not if the slaves died of natural causes.

The Zong’s owners filed a claim, but the insurers refused to pay after it came to light that the ship probably wasn’t short on water. Lord Mansfield thought it obvious that the slaves were thrown overboard in order to file an insurance claim for human “cargo.”.

In court, Lord Mansfield ruled in favor of the insurers, but he stopped short of saying murder had been committed. Still, the Zong case brought to light the horrors of the slave trade for the British public and spurred the movement to end it.

Murray also presided over the earlier landmark Somerset case in which the legality of slavery in Britain was questioned. James Somerset was a slave brought from Boston to England, where he escaped. He then challenged his master for his freedom on the basis of English common law. In his decision, Mansfield made his view on slavery perfectly clear.

He ruled that there was no basis in English common law for slavery and that it was so “odious” that only a specific law creating slavery could make it legal in Britain, therefore “the black must be discharged”. Somerset was freed.

Though Mansfield could have gone further in his decisions, both laid legal groundwork for the abolitionist movement and eventually led to the slave trade being outlawed in Britain in 1807 and slavery being abolished in the British Empire in 1833.

Did his relationship with his niece Dido affect his feeling and later rulings on slavery? Historians think so. “Dido Elizabeth Belle must have had an impact on Lord Mansfield’s thinking. He didn’t have children of his own and had afforded Belle what was an unheard-of degree of privilege and status for an illegitimate black child at the time.”

In his will written in 1783, Lord Mansfield officially confirmed Belle’s freedom; to secure her future he also bequeathed her with £500 as an outright sum and a £100 annuity, which she received after his death in 1793.

Dido Belle married John Davinier, a Frenchman who worked as a gentleman’s steward, on December 5, 1793   They had three sons. One of their sons, Charles served as an officer in India with the 30th Native Infantry.

Belle died in July 1804 at the age of 43.  Belle’s last known descendant, her great-great-grandson Harold Davinier, died childless in South Africa in 1975.

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Posted in history, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

Two Sisters of Genoa

Twin sisters of Genoa
sleek, fine, rich of breeding
Languorous, creating that feeling
of wanting to bed with her.

Old fashioned sisters
living in a new age
appealing only to those
who do not hurry and are slow of hand.

You bed with her;
you bed in her
as she takes you
to a land of dreams.

And you know you will remember
those halcyon days in her
though both sisters are now gone
victims of the new speed.

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Michelangelo

Raffaelo

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Posted in history, Poetry | 1 Comment

El Lector

Yesterday I put up a post entitled “Tampa Tales” about my adopted city.  It included the above photo taken in an Ybor City cigar manufacturing plant. One cannot write about Tampa’s history without mentioning cigars and the Cuban and Spanish immigrants who came here from their home countries to hand roll cigars.

Now while I usually smoke cheap cigars, I truly enjoy a fine one now and then.  Usually when our family gets together a number of the older and younger men, including myself will take to the lanai in early evening for a drink and a good cigar, each of us usually bringing 2 or 3.

In the comments to the post there was one from Jennie:  Wow! I learned far more than I ever knew. Like, the lightening capital as well as important history. I recognize the man sitting up high at the Cuban cigar factory. He reads aloud to the workers. It’s a great story, so I must post it soon. Terrific post, Frank. Thank you!

El Lector – “The Reader”

I too knew who the man sitting high up over the factory floor was but Jennie’s comment reminded me that most readers wouldn’t and that El Lector was worthy of a post in his own right.  Two posts if Jennie does one too.

“Tampa’s cigar factories were a cacophony of noise. Wagons, and later trucks, were constantly delivering tobacco and picking up cigars. The sorting rooms buzzed with talk of current events, and la galeria , the main cigar-making floor, was awash with the sounds of the cigar makers and the tools of their trade — the chaveta (a rounded knife) — tapping steadily on their cutting boards.”

Over the sounds of rhythmic tapping on cutting boards was the voice of the Reader.

“The Lector was paid by the factory’s workers to read to them from local Spanish-language newspapers, such as La Traducción, or translate on the fly English-language papers such as The Tampa Tribune or the Tampa Daily Times. They even read novels, including “Don Quixote,” “The Count of Monte Cristo” and “Les Miserables.” The lector read while seated on la tribuna , a raised platform, so all of the workers could see and hear him or her. La lectura (the reading) provided an education for the workers, but it also caused friction between the workers and the factory owners.”

“Beginning with the first time a lector took his seat in an Ybor City factory in 1886, owners saw them as a negative influence on their workers. Lectors were blamed for the workers’ growing socialist views, slowdowns and strikes. Yet the workers revered the lector.

“Generally, the factory workforce elected a committee of workers to audition, select and pay the lector for their factory. The committee usually consisted of three members: a secretary, a treasurer and a presidente de la lectura. During the audition, the prospective lector would have to have both an excellent reading voice — in proper Castilian Spanish — and the ability to almost act out the roles in the novels he read. Each worker contributed to the lector’s pay, which approached $75 a week during the heyday of the cigar industry. Factory workers earned approximately $20 a week.”

The lector committee, not the lector, chose the materials to be read. This mattered very little to the factory owners. The lectors were forced out of the factories when what they were reading was deemed too radical. This caused widespread strikes and work slowdowns. The owners would relent, but only temporarily.

“Workers were both generous and ruthless to the lectors, depending on the performance. If they enjoyed the day’s reading, they would loudly tap their chavetas on their cutting boards as a form of applause. On the other end of the spectrum, workers could vocalize their unhappiness with a particular reading. Since the lector was paid by the workers, he or she took cues from them.”

Many if not  most of the Cuban and Spanish cigar workers had no education what so ever and many were illiterate in their own tongue.  The Lector served up a form of education in news, literature and politics.  He or she would read to the workers as they performed their daily tasks as an adult would read to children, letting them pick the readings of the day.

It was from the Lector that these immigrant workers learned how to speak high Spanish;  learned of unions, socialism, the news and Don Quixote.

And so from the turn of the century until the 1930s a well dressed educated man or woman, perhaps in a fine hat, blessed with a loud and beautiful voice and speaking in perfect Spanish sat atop a platform and read to poor cigar workers as they rolled.  And they would hear Cervantes, Zola, Victor Hugo, Jules Verne ….and Karl Marx.

The owners forced out El Lector eventually during the Depression as they cut wages in the face of slumping sales.  Instead they installed radios as substitutes.

The mass hand rolled cigar manufacturing business in Tampa closed down for good with the coming of mechanization and the increased popularity of cigarettes.

One of the readers, Victoriano Monteiga, who came from Cuba to Tampa in 1913 to accept a Lector position went on to found La Gaceta, a weekly newspaper still published and thriving in Tampa today.  It is America’s ONLY tri-lingual  paper (Spanish, Italian and English).  Today it is run by the third generation of the family and in 2012, La Gaceta marked 90 years, making it the oldest family-owned, minority-owned and targeted newspaper in the United States.

http://lagacetanewspaper.com/

I can still smell the smoke.

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Posted in history | 6 Comments

Tampa Tales

Tampa 

Most of you who waste your precious time reading me know that I live in a semi-rural area north of Tampa Bay.  I’m actually only 29 miles from the Tampa International Airport but my eldest daughter thinks I live in the boondocks.  The area is less rural than it was ten years ago.  We now have a food market, two gas stations, a liquor store and a Dunkin Donuts only minutes away.  Positively bustling.

The history of this area makes for some interesting reading.

Spanish explorers arrived in Bahia Tampa in 1520.  They found a prosperous native American culture; the Tocobaga, living on the coast of the bay and the Gulf of Mexico.

The Spanish, as usual, were looking for gold and converts.  Expeditions led by Pánfilo de Narváez and Hernando de Soto landed near Tampa, but neither conquistador stayed long. The native inhabitants repulsed any Spanish attempt to establish a permanent settlement or convert them to Catholicism.

The newcomers however brought with them infectious disease, resulting in a total collapse of the native cultures of Florida. The Tampa area was depopulated and ignored for more or less the next 200 years.

Florida was first controlled by the Spanish, then the British from 1763 – 1783 and then the Spanish again.  Each European power had primary interest in the Atlantic coast; the Gulf Coast was a backwater, a place of rampant Yellow Fever, no gold and no converts.

In the mid-18th century, events in American colonies drove the Seminole Indians into northern Florida along with escaped slaves from southern states.  During this period, the Tampa area had only a handful of residents: Cubans and Native American fishermen.

After purchasing Florida from Spain in 1821, the United States built forts and trading posts in the new territory.  Fort Brooke was established in January 1824 at the mouth of the Hillsborough River on Tampa Bay, in what is now downtown Tampa.  Tampa was initially an isolated frontier outpost.  The sparse civilian population practically abandoned the area during the Second Seminole War from 1835 to 1842.  Settlers eventually returned but there were still more military personnel than civilians.

During the Civil War, Florida seceded along the southern states to form the Confederate States of America, and Fort Brooke was manned by Confederate troops. Martial law was declared in Tampa in January 1862, and Tampa’s city government ceased to operate for the duration of the war.  Tampa Bay was blockaded by the Union navy and a couple of skirmishes were fought around Fort Brooke.  Florida was occupied after the war by Union troops.

Fort Brooke was decommissioned and all traces of it are gone save for two cannon on display in a downtown park.

Henry B. Plant’s narrow-gauge South Florida Railroad reached Tampa and its port in late 1883, finally connecting the small town to the nation’s railroad system after years of efforts by local leaders. Previously, Tampa’s overland transportation links had consisted of sandy roads stretching across the Florida countryside. Plant’s railroad made it much easier to get goods in and out of the Tampa Bay area.

The discovery of phosphates in the Bone Valley southeast of Tampa along with the railroad suddenly turned Tampa in a boom town, its population jumping from maybe 800 in 1880 to almost 15,000 by1900.

The railroad and our famed humidity also brought the cigar industry to Tampa.  Vincente Ybor, a prominent Spanish-born cigar manufacturer left Cuba and eventually set up operations in Tampa; the area is now known as Ybor City.

Making cigars

Tampa did not possess a workforce able to man the new factories. To attract employees, Ybor built hundreds of small houses for the coming influx of mainly Cuban and Spanish cigar workers, many of whom followed him from Cuba. Other cigar manufacturers, drawn by incentives provided by Ybor to further increase the labor pool, also moved in, quickly making Tampa a major cigar production center.

Old Ybor City

Italians were also among the early settlers of Ybor City. Most of them came from a few villages in southwestern Sicily.   . The majority of Italian immigrants came from Alessandria Della Rocca and Santo Stefano Quisquina,  the two small Sicilian towns with which Tampa still maintains strong ties.  The Italians, having difficulty penetrating the insular cigar industry, opened restaurants, groceries and fruit and vegetable businesses.  Tampa also became home to a number of Romanian Jews fleeing the pogroms in Eastern Europe.

It was hardly the era of enlightenment.  Florida had the greatest number of lynching per capita black resident of any state in the Union.  Butler Beach in St. Augustine was the only beach on the Florida Atlantic coast that blacks were allowed to use between Jacksonville and Daytona.  And the Florida Legislature fought school desegregation tooth and nail for years.  Tampa, with its multi-ethnic population was in a relatively unique position in Jim Crow Florida and for decades the groups lived in their own enclaves and did business with their own kind.

Today Tampa is the third largest statistical metro area in the southeastern U.S., after Miami and Atlanta.  Tampa was ranked as the 5th best outdoor city by Forbes in 2008. Tampa also ranks as the fifth most popular American city, based on where people want to live, according to a 2009 Pew Research Center study.  A survey by the NYU newspaper Washington Square News ranked Tampa as a top city for “twenty somethings”.

Where the Bucs play.  Tampa will host its 4th Super Bowl in 2021

We have a baseball team, the Rays, who play in St. Pete and desparately need a new stadium.  They are looking to cross the Bay to Tampa.  .  We have a hockey team, the Lightning, playing really well so far this season..  We also have the Buccaneers, having another mediocre season after going 9 – 7  last year.  We had such hopes.  The Bucs are owned by the same folks who own Manchester United.

The pirates are coming to take the city!  Gasparilla!

We are the lightning capital of the U.S.  Lots of thunder and bolts in summer.  We are also among the leaders in strip clubs.  We have a pirate festival (Gasparilla) and a Halloween party – Guavaween.  Tampa International Airport is one of the finest airports in the country.   St. Pete and Clearwater have some of the finest beaches in America.

Guavaween!

We also have minarets and domes.

When railroad magnate Henry Plant was building railroads, he mused “When you are building a railroad to nowhere, how do you make the journey worthwhile?”

If you’re railroad magnate Henry Plant, in the midst of the sand swamps that would be Tampa, you construct the most astonishingly magnificent hotel of its day, then fill it with treasures from around the world.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/a/ab/Sitting_Room_at_Tampa_Bay_Hotel.jpg/640px-Sitting_Room_at_Tampa_Bay_Hotel.jpg

The Tampa Bay Hotel, was a 500+ room resort hotel opened in 1891 near the terminus of the rail line.  The construction cost over 3 million dollars. The hotel itself covered 6 acres and was a quarter-mile long. It was equipped with the first elevator ever installed in Florida. The elevator is still working today, making it one of the oldest continually operational elevators in the nation. The 511 rooms and suites were the first in Florida to have electric lights and telephones.  The poured-concrete, steel-reinforced structure of the building was advertised as fireproof.

The grounds of the hotel spanned 150 acres and included a golf course, bowling alley, racetrack, casino and an indoor heated swimming pool.  In all, 21 buildings could be found on the hotel’s campus. The “Moorish Revival” architectural theme was selected by Mr. Plant because of its exotic appeal to the widely traveled Victorians who would be his primary customers. The hotel had six minarets, four cupolas, and three domes. In the early 90’s, all were restored to their original stainless steel state.

Colonel Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders were at the hotel before sailing for Cuba. The Spanish – American War was very popular in Tampa with thousands of Cuban cigar makers about to realize the long held dream of a Cuba libre.   Other visitors of note during the hotel’s heyday were Sarah Bernhardt, Clara Barton, Stephen Crane, the Prince of Wales. Babe Ruth was also a guest of the hotel and signed his first baseball contract in the Grand Dining Room. In 1919.

Today the old hotel buildings and grounds form the campus of the University of Tampa and Plant Park.

Come visit us!  Keep Florida green!  Bring money!!

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The beginning of Gasparilla as the pirate ships lands and there is a parade into downtown.  The party and parade continue all night in Ybor City.

Posted in history | 8 Comments