Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue
My Something Old today is not all that Old--only 17 years. I figure nearly twenty years ago can count as Old.
It's Guy Ritchie's movie Snatch.
Ritchie is a British filmmaker whose wheelhouse is farcical crime films that, to me, look closer to traditional American screwball comedies than anything else: improbability stacks on improbability, crazy shit on top of more crazy shit, with great comedic effect, until it all improbably ties together and resolves. It's Bringing Up Baby with a body count. Ritchie has combined the screwball comedy with gangster films.
Debuting with Lock, Stock, and Smoking Barrel, a movie which introduced him to his future wife, Madonna, (because they released the soundtrack on her label, not because she was involved in the film), Ritchie went on to create the much more wonderful movie Snatch. If every filmmaker gets to make one perfect movie (Kevin Smith's Clerks, John Huston's The Maltese Falcon, Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers), this is Guy Ritchie's. It is, as far as I can tell, without flaw.
But then, I'm a sucker for narratives that play with time and perspective, and, in Snatch, Ritchie tells his crime story in bits and bobs, from different perspectives, and not in the right order. Of course, this is not new; Quentin Tarantino did the same thing in Pulp Fiction. But I like Ritchie's film better. It's a lot funnier, for one thing.
So why is this my Something Old?
Because of one scene. It features the character Bullet-Tooth Tony, played by former footballer (and tough guy) Vinnie Jones. Here's a clip just to introduce him to you (those who dislike foul language shouldn't partake):
And here's the actual scene:
It's comedy gold to watch the hardened assassin reach a moral limit.
It's also a really good metaphor for my response to the state of the world.
That's a bit strong, innit?
In truth, this New thing isn't New, but possibly billions of years old; it's only new to us.
The first RECORDED interstellar asteroid--as distinct from comet-- sailed through our solar system this fall, making such a perfect arc around the sun it kinda looked like the Enterprise deployed a probe. The most notable thing about it, though, was its incredible speed:
the object is about 1,300 feet wide and is most likely an asteroid. It came from the direction of the constellation Lyra. Which doesn’t mean it came from there, just that it came from that general direction. It passed through inside the orbit on Mercury and then took a sharp turn, because of the Sun's gravity. After making this turn it passed within 15 million miles of Earth and exited our system and is now headed in the direction of the constellation Pegasus.
Almost like it used the Sun to make a sharp right turn. (Yes, I know it's just a space rock. Let me have my science fiction moment).
Omuamua--a name given the object by the first observatory to spot it, in Hawaii--apparently picked even more speed as it approached and then slingshotted around the sun:
'Oumuamua slingshotted around the sun on September 9 at a speed of 315,000 kilometers an hour and is now traveling out of the solar system. As of Monday, its speed was 138,000 kilometers an hour .
196,000 mph? Holy acceleration, Batman!
Other unusual things about the space rock include its variation in brightness, so far unique among recorded objects:
Combining images from the various telescopes, an international team found that the asteroid varies in brightness by a factor of about 10 every 7.3 hours, matching its spin about its axis..
This variation that Oumuamua possesses indicates that it has a long, somewhat convoluted, cigar shape. We've never seen an asteroid with that shape before. Most space rocks are failed attempts at a sphere. Insufficient gravity leaves them not spherical like planets, but rather like big rough boulders.
This is pretty cool, even though what's actually New is almost certainly our ability to see such things, not the event itself.
Oumuamua means "messenger from afar who arrives first." Or, more reductively, "scout."
Here's to Scout!
Maybe I should call this section "Something Stolen" today, because anything brought into the culture by African slaves was not exactly borrowed, was it? But I really want to tell the story of how rice arrived on this continent. I had no idea how early that happened, and I thought it came from the East, not the West. Wrong on all counts! I've been learning the history of rice as I write this section:
During slavery, people were plucked from rice-producing regions. Casamance, a region in the South of Senegal where my parents are from originally, is one of them. There were several raids there to find slaves who knew how to cultivate rice and they were shipped to the Carolinas or Mexico.
There's something a little weird about slavers going after people for their rice-growing abilities, but I suppose agriculture--of a sort--was the main driver of the slave trade, so it actually makes sense. I guess they had figured out they could make rice into a cash crop.
Hmm, turns out that was an understatement:
By 1700, rice was established as a major crop for the colonists. That year 300 tons of American rice, referred to as "Carolina Golde Rice," was shipped to England. Colonists were producing more rice than there were ships to carry it...By 1726, the Port of Charleston was exporting about 4,500 metric tons of "Carolina Golde," which later became the standard of high-quality rice throughout the world. When America gained independence 50 years later, rice had become one of her major agricultural businesses.
This is a bit of a bombshell for me:
Rice farming’s extremely high hand-labor requirements Even with ox and mule-drawn equipment of those years, rice "farms" or plantations of only a few hundred acres required from 100 to 300 laborers to prepare the soil, plant, harvest and thresh their production—all by hand.
Holy shit. Rice farming, by itself, started the plantation system in the continental U.S.? Is this true?
Well, rice certainly made the Carolinas and Georgia a lot of money. And it's undeniable that the entire rice trade collapsed after the Civil War, indicating that rice was economically unfeasible--at least for the purposes of amassing fortunes--without slave labor, and lots of it.
Inadequate food, housing, and clothing, malaria, yellow fever, venomous snakes, alligators, hard labour, and brutal treatment killed up to a third of Low Country slaves within a year. Not one child in ten lived to age sixteen. However,
Emancipation in 1863 freed rice workers. Increasing automation in response came too late, and a series of hurricanes that hit Carolina in the late 1800s and damaged levees put an end to the industry.
Profits fell. Gee, that's too bad.
How is it that I've always known the history of cotton, but never the history of rice?
Borrowed grain, stolen labor.
Chef Pierre Thiam was my inspiration for this section. This is an interview with him:
What was your contribution to this year’s commemoration of the International Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade?
I presented a menu that showed just how much the eating habits of African slaves influenced the food culture in the US and the Americas in general. The ingredients and recipes came from Africa during the transatlantic slave trade. I served five dishes that were inspired from that tragic moment in our history – slavery. One of the dishes is called “rice pudding” by the Haitians but in my native country Senegal we call it sombi.
Why specifically the rice pudding?
The rice pudding is symbolic. I chose it because many do not acknowledge Africa’s contribution to the American cuisine. Can you imagine America without rice? Most of North Carolina’s economy is based on rice production. This grain used to be called the “Carolina Gold” but the real story of how it arrived in the Americas is very interesting. During slavery, people were plucked from rice-producing regions. Casamance, a region in the South of Senegal where my parents are from originally, is one of them. There were several raids there to find slaves who knew how to cultivate rice and they were shipped to the Carolinas or Mexico. The grain never existed in these regions before the arrival of slaves.
Well, after that this should be a welcome relief. Meet Jodhpur, India's Blue City:
More of this. Less opening of dogs.