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Lunch today with George Pfau at African Burial Ground

July 31, 2013

George Pfau is an artist previously mentioned by ZombieLaw. He recently contacted me and said he would be in New York and wanted to take me to lunch. What zombie would turn down a meal? So we coordinated to meet today and as a meeting spot I suggested the African Burial Ground National Monument.

I liked this location idea because it was convenient to where I would be but also because of the zombie connection to Haiti and the African slave trade. Also, it’s federal land and holy ground. As it turned out, this location was even more appropriate then I could have possibly hoped.

cyrus foreman african museum monument baron samedi

George was there first and after introductions we briefly walked the monument together before Park Ranger Cyrus Foreman approached to offer a sort of personalized tour. I told him we were interested in zombies and he said there was no evidence of zombies at this gravesite but then showed us symbols on the monument that represent Baron Samedi and of the Baron’s wife, Maman Brigitte.

Ranger Foreman explained that Brigitte enjoys rum infused with hot peppers, whereas the Baron enjoys tobacco. The same information can be read at Wikipedia but I really enjoyed the Ranger’s informal tour (along with information about his own life as Park Ranger and how he got into slave history) and am sort of eager to return to this park in the near future. He also said we could arrange to have our ashes scattered on the site (or at any Federal Park) and that it does sound like a nice idea for final resting spot. And he mentioned, members of Congress sometimes visit the site during faith related junkets, Eric Cantor was recently there.

In the middle of the monument, at the center of a spiral symbol for progress, the Park Ranger demonstrated a fabulous acoustic phenomenon in which you can face North, speak, and hear your own voice echo back but no one else hears it. It’s a sort of architectural metaphor for spiritual prayer but also seems appropriate for Congressional politics (and blogging – and lunch with strangers). The Monument itself is designed to face due East (toward Africa) but the echo effect works because of the way sound bounces off the ramp’s glass handrail; Ranger Foreman jokes that this wonderful effect is courtesy of the Americans with Disabilities Act (a 1990 law signed by George H.W. Bush, who referred to “voodoo economics”).

Ranger Foreman also suggested a few other important connections for zombie fans. First, Yellow fever. This is very important for late 18th and early 19th century America (see Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793 and Timeline of New York City events, crimes and disasters 18th century and 19th. Yellow fever is a bloody disease and it’s spread by insects, it’s a disease epidemic, and it came from Africa by way of the Caribbean. It’s totally zombies!

I thought yellow fever in Pennsylvania might be a connection for Benjamin Franklin zombies and Ranger Foreman noted that Alexander Hamilton, New York’s founding father, instrumental in creating federal banking, was born and raised in the West Indies. It is potentially possible that Hamilton would have encountered voodoo zombies in his youth (?) but there is no particular evidence (contrast the clear connection of zombies to FDR while Assistant Secretary of the Navy in Haiti over 100 years later).

Ranger Foreman recommended “Graveyard Shift: A Family Historian’s Guide to New York City Cemeteries” by Carolee Inskeep.

But then on the main event. George and I left the national monument and walked to Little Italy for lunch and to talk about zombies. Aside from treating me to a delicious lunch, he also gave me a copy of a new book of zombie essays “Zombies in the Academy: Living Death in Higher Education” edited by Andrew Whelan, Ruth Walker, and Christopher Moore. See also the wordpress blog for the book Zombies in the Academy. The book is about zombies in education and features an essay by George entitled “Feverish homeless cannibal”, inspired by a line from the movie “ZombieLand”. The essay is in a section entitled “The post-apocalyptic terrain” also including an essay from Professor Sarah Lauro entitled: “‘Sois mort et tais toi’: zombie mobs and student protests”.

Lauro’s reference to the May’68 student protests is highly appropriate because at lunch with George we discussed French phenomenology – lunch included obligatory references to Deleuze’s body without organs and Haraway’s cyborg theory & animal companions; George cites Mikhail Bakhtin:

The grotesque body, as we have often stressed, is a body in the act of becoming. It is never finished, never completed…

We also discussed embedded marketing and the difficulties of knowing whether a message is paid advertising. George Pfau’s essay concludes:

Therein lies their [the zombies] power to promote the complexity of the liminal zones between life and death … individual and group, other and self.

And finally, Park Ranger Foreman also mentioned Anthony Janszoon van Salee, one of the first Dutch colonial settlers of New York, a Muslim from Morocco. And so let me end this post as with the end of “Casablanca”:

I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

african journey progress

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