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"Alas for Mexico--so far from God, so close to the United States!"--Porfirio Diaz The region of Mexico has been the birthplace of several pre-Columbian civilizations, including the Toltecs, the Mayas and the Aztecs. In 1520 the Spanish under Hernan Cortes vanquished the Aztecs in a conflict where their strongest weapon was smallpox, and installed the Viceregal colony of New Spain for the next three centuries, exploiting the land's gold and silver resources and creating large hacienda land holdings. Mexico became an independent republic in 1821, after a decade of rebellion, combining First Nations, Criollo Spanish and Mestizos with common roots. In the first generation the nation came to be dominated by the Napoleonic general Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana, but he lost Texas to American colonists in 1836 and the northernmost region to the US itself ten years later. In the 1860s France under Emperor Napoleon III tried to establish a puppet regime in Mexico under Maximilian, but was ultimately defeated by the guerrilla campaigns of President Benito Juarez. Later Porfirio Diaz became Mexican president, combining some economic modernizations with familiar autocracy. In 1911 the Mexican Revolution broke out, forcing Diaz into exile, with a new emphasis on land reform. New insurgent leaders emerged, including warlord "Pancho" Villa and peasant general Emiliano Zapata. After a long chaotic period, stability returned under the Institutional Revolutionary Party (an oxymoron!), which would dominate Mexican politics for most of the 20th Century. Only recently have opposition parties challenged the PRI's grip over the nation's political system: in 2000 Vicente Fox of the National Action Party became the first non-PRI president since 1928, and Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador was elected president last year on the National Regeneration Movement ticket. For background reading, you can try Lynn V. Foster's A BRIEF HISTORY OF MEXICO. Our location is the Dora Keogh Irish pub.
Vainglorious French emperor Napoleon III (Claude Rains) installs Hapsburg Prince Maximilian (Brian Aherne) as puppet emperor of Mexico, but Mexican president Benito Juarez (Paul Muni) launches a guerrilla campaign to restore national sovereignty. Benito Juarez is often seen as a Mexican counterpart to Abraham Lincoln, another 1860s leader guiding his nation through a savage conflict. The 1939 production JUAREZ is one of three prestigious Warner Brothers biographies in which William Dieterle directed Muni, along with THE STORY OF LOUIS PASTEUR and THE LIFE OF EMILE ZOLA. (Future director John Huston co-wrote the script.) Bette Davis has an unusual role as Maximilian's unbalanced wife Carlota.
"What is a woman that you forsake her, And the hearth-fire and the home-acre, To go with the old gray Widow-maker?" --Kipling, "Harp Song of the Dane Women Scandinavian raiders hit ninth-century Europe like a cyclone. Starting with the English monastery of Lindisfarne in 793, they struck as far east as Russia (whose name originated with them!), stealing and murdering and creating a trade empire built on slaves for the Byzantine and Arab markets. They were particularly notorious for their gratuitous violence: the word "berserk" is originally Norse. Along with corsairs from the south and Magyars from the east, they did much to undermine the region's post-Charlemagne order and bring the Dark Ages to their low point. The evil that men do outlives them always. And yet the Vikings left an important legacy. They dominated the northeastern half of England for decades--Alfred the Great united England in response to their menace--and the Danelaw transformed the English language, particularly northern dialects. (Words that start with "sk-" tend to come from Norse, as do place names that end in "-by" and "-thorp.") They had a longer presence in nearby Ireland, the Isle of Man and especially the Scottish Highlands. Of particular note are the Normans, Norse adventurers who settled down in France along the English Channel. In the 11th Century, under William the Conqueror, they overran England in 1066 and remade the whole nation to fit their increasingly centralized order. Among other things, they prompted the development of Middle English, introducing many French words, particularly military and legal ones! Other Normans went south and took over Naples and Sicily, at the crossroads of Latin, Byzantine and Islamic civilizations. The Norsemen also sailed westward, colonizing Iceland permanently and southern Greenland for over four centuries. And they went further west to the mysterious Vinland in present-day Canada: saga descriptions of the place, in one historian's view, fit what's now northeastern New Brunswick! The Spanish expansion into America under Columbus, for better or for worse, follows the precedent that the Vikings had set. When Jacques Cartier explored and named Canada in the 16th century, he sailed in Norman ships that would have looked familiar to the earlier adventurers. (Trivia note: the heraldic term for the Norse ship in New Brunswick's flag is "lymphad," which comes from the Gaelic for "long ship.") For background reading, we can try Oliver Neil's VIKINGS: A HISTORY. Our location is the Dora Keogh Irish pub.