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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

Bamboo Ballots and More

I'm sorry, but my mind can't help picturing Republican consultants slapping their knees and howling with laughter as they witness the continual gullibility of their target audience.  You probably have seen that their latest game is convincing naïve folks in Arizona that thousands of ballots for Biden were flown in from Southeast Asia and can be identified by bamboo fragments in the paper.  Guys in MAGA hats have stirred up Phoenix's election office, making a mess as they examine ballots for bamboo.  Some state Republicans regret that they authorized this "audit" -- but consultants make money from such nativity and nonsense.  I'm sure they laugh all the way to the bank.


The credulous never seem to remember that they have been deceived before.  Remember all the warnings about Obamacare?  Remember the threat that Grandma would have to appear before a rationing board to stay alive?  Instead, the health care situation is better than ever – especially for us elderly.  (Yes, I do fit into that category.)  Even right wingers have learned that the Affordable Care Act works.  With almost no publicity, a million new people signed up during a recent open enrollment period.


Yet many of these same people continue to accept whatever warning comes from Fox or other sources that are in it for the money, not for truth telling.  They still deny climate change, even though coastal residents regularly witness sea rise and the consequent shrinking of their beaches.  We Floridians are having virtually no winters.  I can't tell you how long it's been since I took a coat out of the closet, and I've decided that I'll have to grow tropical orchids and gingers instead of the annuals and bulbs I used to enjoy.  My amaryllis once were show stoppers, but there were no blooms at all this year.  With 90-degree temps in January and February, they didn't get their needed cool period.


Local governments – cities like Miami Beach – try to plan for climate change, as they cope with flooding even on sunny days without rain.  The legislature, however, knows better, and the guys in Tallahassee increasingly grab power from elected mayors, city councils, and school boards.  It once was a Republican principle that the government closest to the people was the best government, but no more.  There's more money in obeying the consultants and their clients, so watch out for bamboo fragments.




Regular readers may remember that I wrote recently of Martha Coffin Wright, one of the five women who organized the first call for women's right to vote.  She had defied her Quaker upbringing to marry a professional soldier and came with him to Tampa in the 1820s, during earliest days of Fort Brooke – the area now called Channelside.  He died, and she and her infant daughter returned to Philadelphia, where Martha was strongly influenced by her older sister, Lucretia Coffin Mott.


A star in the Quaker, abolitionist, and feminist movements, Lucretia was politically liberal but culturally conservative.  The theatre and especially women on stage still were fairly new to America in the 1830s, when Englishwoman Fanny Kemble took audiences by storm with her Shakespearian roles.  Martha "had a great desire" to go a play and see Kemble, but after mentioning it to Lucretia, Martha wrote, "I had to haul in my horns because she made such a fuss."


Much later, in 1868, Martha finally did see Fanny Kemble.  By then Kemble was making more money by doing one-person readings that required less expensive venues, remarkably using her voice to convey various characters.  Martha enjoyed that, but also was shocked by Kemble's dress.  She wrote that the neckline was "impressibility low, a thin worked lace which by no means concealed a remarkable fullness, considering the over mature years."


That inspired me to read another book that had been on my shelves during the years when I was too busy.  I once shared a book signing with its author, Catherine Clinton, and the title is Fanny Kemble's Civil Wars.  I was aware of Kemble and had written a little about her anti-slavery views, but I did not know her in detail. 




Not all of her wars were civil.  Kemble learned this habit from her mother, an actress who dominated their London home with histrionics.  The whole family was in the acting biz, including Fanny's pioneering aunt, Sarah Siddons.  Born Sarah Kemble, she began her career when acting was only barely respectable for women.  Even her parents did not initially approve, but she achieved international fame.  Siddons' niece, Fanny, did not share her enthusiasm for the stage, but debuted as a teenager to help her father, who was constantly in debt.  She was immediately acclaimed.


He had invested in extravagantly new Covent Gardens, and when Charles and Fanny Kemble sailed for America in 1832, it was largely to escape his debtors.  As she had been a hit in London, so she was in New York, Philadelphia, and even Boston.  Both critics and the populace fell in love with her – as did several men.  She chose Pierce Butler, who spent his summers in Philadelphia and winters in coastal Georgia, where he owned nearly a thousand slaves.  (An aside:  if we had time, Hubby and I always liked to get off the interstate and take alternate routes.  One of the things we looked for on US Highway 17 in Georgia was the remains of Butler Plantation.)


Fanny Kemble thought she loved Pierce Butler, but that began to change immediately after their Philadelphia wedding in 1834.  He had said that she could continue her career, which she needed to do to help her father.  A contemporary wrote, however, that Butler "could not consent to her continuing on the stage."  He made good on his threat by pointing out that in every state in the nation, "any money his wife earned was rightfully his."  At age 24 and with a promising profession, she had no choice except to become an obedient wife.


That was not in her nature, and her rebellion became complete after moving to Butler Plantation and seeing the cruel reality of slavery.  Her husband was known as a better master than most, but the institution nonetheless was horrifying, and many slaves appealed to her for justice.  Laws in every state automatically gave custody of children to the father, but by 1840, she was so discontented that she accepted separation from her two daughters and left him. 


It was not only slavery that bothered her, but also his constant philandering with women both white and black.  The sexual double standard was routine everywhere, but was especially evil in the South.  Many – even most -- white men had sex with slave women, which meant pregnancies, and more money for the master.  Fanny wrote, "there is not a girl of sixteen on the plantations but has children, nor a woman of thirty but has grandchildren."  She added, "A woman thinks, and not much amiss, that the more frequently she adds to the number of her master's livestock…, the more claim she will have upon his consideration and good will."


Yet after the Civil War, some former slaves considered Butler to have been such a fine master that they returned the plantation after liberation.   One elderly couple even gave him gold they had saved from years earlier, coins that Union soldiers gave them as compensation for confiscated chickens:  the couple reasoned that the chickens belonged to Butler. 


He died soon after the war, however, and one of the daughters tried to manage the family lands, which stretched out over the mainland and several islands.  Various factors caused her to fail, and when an Anglican missionary appeared, she took the opportunity to marry and move to England.  Butler Plantation disappeared into the misery of the postwar South.


After she was financially secure, Fanny lived in Lenox, Massachusetts – a town with many literary figures.  Her published journals sold very well, and she enjoyed many trips to England, Italy, and Switzerland.  Aristocratic friends offered their estates, and her daughters and sons-in-law often joined her.  She also enjoyed the frequent companionship of famed novelist Henry James.  He was much younger than she, but their intimacy was intellectual, not sexual.  There is no evidence that she ever shared a bed with anyone other than Pierce – despite Martha Wright's disapproval of her low neckline.




Hubby and I tried to make it a point to learn something new every day, even if the new thing was less than dramatic.  I still aim to do that.  Often it's something from the New York Times, which I read on the day it is printed.  A recent edition featured a non-newsworthy item in the travel section that nevertheless was news to me. 


I'd never heard of the island named Stromboli, which is off the coast of Sicily.  It's an active volcano rising from the sea, with regular fire and minor eruptions.  A few hundred daring people live on its lower edge.  I guess they plan to jump into the water and swim if there ever is a serious hot lava pour.  It's called the "Lighthouse of the Mediterranean" because its sparks are spectacular at night.  I'd like to see that from a boat, but I don't think I'd risk stepping ashore.


The only time I knew of the word "stromboli" was when John Iorio, Mayor Pam's dear father, made it for her campaign crew.  It's basically rolled-up pizza, baked in the shape of a bread loaf and then sliced.  I liked it so much that I emulated it for my Girl Scouts.  They liked it so much that they nagged me to go to the store with them and get the ingredients we used:  refrigerated dough, salami, mozzarella cheese, fresh spinach, and tomato sauce with Italian spices.


So I've tried to research whether this recipe (and its variations) originated on the island of Stromboli, but I can't find any connection.  Is there someone in our Sicilian community who can tell me?



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