Update: Not Exactly Spring, But It’s Coming

Well, it’s another week in which I’m a bit late for my regular posting, and I’ve been meaning since several days to write an update regarding this, but have been rather slammed. Lots of this has been for great reasons, though, such as children going back to school. This meant I had to temporarily tweak my schedule to accommodate morning rides, which will end when the snow and ice go away, and the feel of that is definitely in the air, but still a ways away here in the Great Land. In Los Angeles they have 80° and lots of Lower 48 states are already playing frisbee, though we get to go snowshoeing for a bit more. (It’s fun, you should try it!)

800px-Snowshoe2
Traditional snowshoe ~ Image courtesy Wikimedia

This weekend I’ll be hard at work cleaning up a project I’m finishing – more on that to come – and then I’ve got a big schedule next week. So I will probably be absent then as well, but have been making notes for lots of other posts, including the Image of the Month, some quirkage, book and product reviews, food, lovely-smelling magazines, music and more. I think I will be able to peep into Twitter and post a few archival links and reminisce a bit, plus check out what others are creating and talking about.

I’ll  leave you here with a selection from some of the music I’m currently listening to, plus links to a couple of my favorite blogs (including at least one book review). Hope you all are doing well and thanks so much for coming to check us out. See you soon!

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More from Before the Second Sleep….

My Tottering TBR: A New Life for Neglected Books

We all know what it’s like to sustain a TBR that gets bigger, then periodically smaller, then smaller, maybe a bit bigger, then smaller, and so on. What about the TBR that simply seems only to grow out of all proportion? You know, like when you leave the wonderful bookstore carrying a delightfully heavy bag filled with new titles, but have yet to finish reading so many at home that you already own? This type of TBR finds itself, well, more neglected than actually maintained, even though we keep our volumes dusted and arranged in an appealing manner and smell them on a reasonably regular basis. 

What about TBRs born on various docs or even lovely tablets, hanging around the house, found at a later date, maybe even [*grimace*] yeeeeeeears later? Would you say this is neglect? What if books were indeed steadily being read and discussed, but just not these? Is it possible to borrow a book from the library more than ten times but never read it, finally purchase the book and then find, five years later, it remains unread? (Might anyone guess how I came up with that particular scenario?) 

I suppose there are all sort of possibilities for how a pile might find itself left behind, its only company the other unfortunate books celebrated at purchase and then left alone when life gets too packed full of other obligations. In the case of the following titles, which I compiled in 2015 (I know, I know), most were simply overtaken by life, though I do remember well select titles. Food at Sea, for example, came home with me a number of times before I found it at a library book sale. However, time went by and, because I have a habit of shifting furniture, as well as by necessity storing and un-storing items, including books, this one may have fallen sad victim to whatever causes very visible objects to simply disappear. I had forgotten about it until I discovered this list, and even stopped typing to go look for it.

Some titles might still be patiently waiting on my shelf, while others are ones I’ve never actually owned, but saw spoken of somewhere and really wanted to read. I no longer remember how I came to know about others, such The Sleeping Dictionary, which utterly fell off my radar until I happened once more upon this list. Re-reading the blurb*, I decided it surely must stay with me. There are a few others I’d collected as I saw them reviewed, in the library, at the bookstore and wherever else the bread crumbs might have lead me, and I share them below. I’d still really love to read these, and hope you are getting into the groove of your neglected TBR ~

Enjoy!

Food in History by Reay Tannahill (Accidental find while browsing a used book store)

“An enthralling world history of food from prehistoric times to the present. A favorite of gastronomes and history buffs alike, Food in History is packed with intriguing information, lore, and startling insights–like what cinnamon had to do with the discovery of America, and how food has influenced population growth and urban expansion.”

Cinnamon is linked to the discovery of America? (I bet he answer is inside!)

The Sleeping Dictionary by Sujata Massey (My son brought it home for me from one of his library excursions)

“In 1930, a great ocean wave blots out a Bengali village, leaving only one survivor, a young girl. As a maidservant in a British boarding school, Pom is renamed Sarah and discovers her gift for languages. Her private dreams almost die when she arrives in Kharagpur and is recruited into a secretive, decadent world. Eventually, she lands in Calcutta, renames herself Kamala, and creates a new life rich in books and friends. But although success and even love seem within reach, she remains trapped by what she is . . . and is not. As India struggles to throw off imperial rule, Kamala uses her hard-won skills—for secrecy, languages, and reading the unspoken gestures of those around her—to fight for her country’s freedom and her own happiness.”

Food at Sea: Shipboard Cuisine from Ancient to Modern Times by Simon Spalding (Discovered in library’s new non-fiction)

Food at Sea: Shipboard Cuisine from Ancient to Modern Times traces the preservation, preparation, and consumption of food at sea, over a period of several thousand years, and in a variety of cultures. The book traces the development of cooking aboard in ancient and medieval times, through the development of seafaring traditions of storing and preparing food on the world’s seas and oceans.
Following a largely chronological format, Simon Spalding shows how the raw materials, cooking and eating equipments, and methods of preparation of seafarers have both reflected the shoreside practices of their cultures, and differed from them. The economies of whole countries have developed around foods that could survive long trips by sea, and new technologies have evolved to expand the available food choices at sea.

Changes in ship construction and propulsion have compelled changes in food at sea, and Spalding’s book explores these changes in cargo ships, passenger ships, warships, and other types over the centuries in fascinating depth of detail. Selected passages from songs and poems, quotes from seafarers famous and obscure, and new insights into culinary history all add spice to the tale.”

Galileo’s Telescope by Massimo Bucciantini, Michele Camerota and Franco Guidice and translated by Catherine Bolton (Scored when prowling library new non-fiction)

“Between 1608 and 1610 the canopy of the night sky was ripped open by an object created almost by accident: a cylinder with lenses at both ends. Galileo’s Telescope tells how this ingenious device evolved into a precision instrument that would transcend the limits of human vision and transform humanity’s view of its place in the cosmos.”

Introducing Infinity: A Graphic Guide by Brian Clegg & Oliver Pugh (Happened upon in the library’s physics stacks)

“A brand new graphic guide from Brian Clegg, author of the best-selling Inflight Science, Introducing Infinity will teach you all you need to know about this big idea, from mathematicians driven mad by transfinite numbers to the ancient Greeks who drowned the man that discovered an endless number.”

*All blurbs from Amazon unless otherwise indicated

Weird Wednesday: It’s St. Patrick’s Day – Be Sure to Don Your Blue!

Good day! We are delighted to welcome you to “Weird Wednesday,” a joint series, partnered with our friends at Layered Pages, that explores the quirky side of our universe. Presently many people across the world cannot access this fabulous place, and even in the best of times we often pass so much by in our haste to get wherever it is we may be headed. So sit down, relax a bit and allow us to bring some of our explorations to you. Here you may find things funny, outrageous, marvelous, fascinating, out of this world! Feel free to suggest topics and be sure to comment below and click to follow the blog. We’ll be having contests and lots of great content coming up, so be sure to stay tuned!

Over the years I’ve heard a lot of Irish people scorn American habits that supposedly reflect Irish ways or traditions, anywhere from corned beef cabbage to wearing o’ the green. “’Shannon,’” a Dubliner once told me, “is a name only Americans label their children with. This is not a truly Irish thing to do.” (Never mind that one of the nation’s busiest airports is called Sionainne, Irish for Shannon!) Well, did you know that even the St. Patrick’s Day celebration, which is yuuuuuuuuuge in America, is among that list of things the Irish don’t actually do? OK, they do it now, thanks to the realization that St. Patrick’s Day could be a great way to earn oodles of tourism dollars (among other reasons), but this fun and wonderful day, commemorating the life of St Patrick, is actually an invention of Ireland-loving Americans and immigrant Irish.

St. Benin’s Church, Kilbennan, County Galway, Ireland (Image courtesy Andreas F. Borchert, via Wikimedia)

Many people know these days that St. Patrick, famous for ridding Ireland of snakes and bringing Christianity to the island, wasn’t actually Irish. Additionally, the color originally associated with his day was blue, but because he utilized the shamrock, a three-leafed clover once considered a sacred plant, to teach about the Holy Trinity, the association with green caught on.

Following are some more fun facts about this special day, now beloved the world over, thanks to the Irish diaspora as well as the friendly relationship Ireland has with many nations. It’s not difficult to admire the beauty of Ireland, so it’s also not really a surprise that internationally so many people have adopted many of the traditions that grew from the American St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. On March 17, we’re all a little Irish!

  • While there seem to be some differences on the record as to when or who started St. Patrick’s Day parades, this one stands out: the 1601 celebration in St. Augustine, Florida, then a Spanish colony, was organized by an Irish cleric stationed there. Later celebrations sprang up in places such as Boston (famous today for its Irish population) and New York City, where Irish soldiers, immigrants and other ordinary Americans continued the tradition.
  • Research indicates there have never actually been snakes in Ireland: the water surrounding the island is partly responsible, as well as the last glacial period and weather too cold for such reptiles.
  • St. Paddy’s Day, as it is affectionately known in America, is widely seen the world over as a drinking holiday, but the day was once marked as a solemn one in which pubs across Ireland were closed to show respect to the saint. In the 1970s this changed, and the thing to do was attend mass in the morning and celebrate the rest of the day. If the holiday fell on Friday, the day’s non-meat restriction was lifted. Since St. Patrick’s Day falls during Lent, the days following the celebration were a return to Lenten observations.
  • The tradition of corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day is an American innovation. Back home, Irish tended toward ham and cabbage, but Irish immigrants, notably in Lower Manhattan, many of whom lived in abject poverty, purchased cheap corned beef off returning trade ships. They boiled the meat three times to remove the brine, the last go round adding the cabbage, presumably to infuse the flavor.
  • Relics of St. Patrick—the shrine of his jaw and a tooth—can be found today in the Dublin Museum, and his copy of the four gospels at the Royal Irish Academy.

More weird and wonderful facts about St. Patrick and his day, as well as history of the lovely island he made home, may be found here, here and here! It’s one of the most fun rabbit holes you may ever find yourself going down, and it may take a while, so perhaps grab a refreshment—green, if possible—and top o’ the morning to you!

St. Patrick’s Day is now celebrated in many nations across the world. Above, one of the annual celebrations held in Moscow, a parade at Old Arbat. (Image courtesy Wikimedia)

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Cover Crush: The Flower of Chivalry by Georges Duby

I first heard William Marshal’s name when I was about ten years old, though didn’t learn much about him, perhaps because our lessons at that time focused on Magna Carta, as opposed to individual figures. I wasn’t a gigantic history buff back then, though the medieval captured my attention on any day and I loved to listen to tales of jousting knights, well-dressed horses and beautiful standards that fluttered in the breeze. This sort of perspective lent very well to the cover of Georges Duby’s William Marshal: The Flower of Chivalry, which I think I first saw when I was perhaps fourteen or so. I have always liked it, this lovely cover image, registering various thoughts throughout time as to why something was placed or created as it was. Quite recently I began to put the pieces, in my head, together in a more formal, specific sense, beyond just that it is a beautifully constructed piece of art. We are so frequently told not to judge a book by its cover, though this is exactly what we do, and publishers know it. Nothing on a cover is accidental; it is created to attract particular attention, which this one does with grace and style.

Designed by Paul Gamarello with hand lettering by James Lebbad, this cover is a PR dream – the background pink and red horses are within the family of color most able to efficiently capture the human eye. Once the attention has been roped in, the clearly medieval image, Codex of 1028 A.D. from the Encyclopedia of Mauro Rabano, is one of action and pairs with the energy, passion and danger of the red horses. Lest it evoke a too-strong perception of brutality, the muted, rosy pink tempers this, with its feminine and romantic feel. Here is where the lettering also joins the duty roster, with its font evocative of a flowering vine, a visual to carry on the title’s floral theme. Its teal also contrasts remarkably with the background pink, even helping to bring out the medieval manuscript lettering of the more distant background, conjuring more of the Middle Ages that many are familiar with and even admire. The variety of lettering takes it all one step further by linking to the playfulness associated with pink and forming a smaller O in between the L and W of Flower, sort of superscripted, bestowing upon it a lively, spirited sort of feel matched only by the dot in the center of of’s O, perhaps to remind that even the serious Middle Ages had a frisky side to it. We don’t often see this in the many drawings we are shown in school, the style of which is also not quite that of this cover’s. Like many of its day, this battle drawing lacks depth, but with its round-headed horses and soldiers that appear to be of more modest stature, it doesn’t strike the eye as quite so distant. This could also be because we see their faces, unlike so many other drawings, which show helmeted knights, whose thoughts, intentions, worries and dreams—their humanity—we so often cannot look into on so many images. Here we can gaze upon their being to get a better idea that they are not quite so distant or different to us as we often are led to believe.

Book Information and Blurb:

 William Marshal: The Flower of Chivalry by Georges Duby

Published 1984 as Guillaume le Maréschal by Librairie Arthéme Fayard

Translated from the French by Richard Howard, 1985, Pantheon

Georges Duby, one of this century’s great medieval historians, has brought to life with exceptional brilliance and imagination William Marshal, adviser to the Plantagenets, knight extraordinaire, the flower of chivalry. A marvel of historical reconstruction, William Marshal is based on a biographical poem written in the thirteenth century, and offers an evocation of chivalric life—the contests and tournaments, the rites of war, the daily details of medieval existence—unlike any we have ever seen.

“Behind the silhouette of his hero, Georges Duby re-creates the whole theater of chivalry—the splendor of its rituals and its decorum, the strength of its moral code. Through this code, to which William Marshal clings with all his strength, all his immense energy, Duby tells us of the last glories before its decline, the vestiges of a world coming to an end, and we quickly understand that the best of the knights will also soon be the last.” –Le Nouvel Observateur

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Browsing Books: 35 + Books Everyone Lies About Having Read

People lie about reading books!!??

Ha ha, yes, books seem to be nearly a number one topic to lie about, and what’s even funnier is that so many totally dig in even when their discussions begins to reveal signs of major fibbery, such as buzz words or phrases that come off as parroted without the ability to elaborate, or being unable to talk even a little bit about what they liked or didn’t about a particular story.

Books also seem to be one of the best topics for quickly making one’s way into a rabbit hole, and this interweb excursion was no exception. I came across a page called  “35 + Books Everyone Lies about Having Read.”

It turns out there are waaaay more than thirty-five here, so apparently lying about numbers is a thing as well. OK, so it says “+” but when the list just keeps going with no apparent end, the “35” becomes  a little misleading. No worries, it was fun looking through them anyway, and I decided to share some because I wanted to chatter about them a little. Of course, when you see the list, you’ll understand why I had a limitation, which I decided to be fifteen. I also realized that if I chose titles I really loved, I’d end up with a list of books that would be little more than reading recommendations, with no added color, funny memories, poignant call backs or any of those associations that come with remembering the background behind books in your past.

I may do this again, but for now we’ll see where it takes us. I wonder what books on this list you all have read, and what memories they kick up?

And without further ado, the fifteen, with the titles I’ve read in green font~

To Kill a Mockingbird* (Harper Lee) † – I’ve heard people say it’s overrated. That may or may not be true, I only know that I read it in elementary school, and remember very little. I believe I was in sixth grade (I remember the classroom), and at that point in our lives I don’t think was too young to be teaching us about the book’s subject matter, so I’m wondering if the style didn’t really suit me. Or maybe I was just a lazy reader. In fourth grade we were required to summarize book reports on those giant index cards, and I recall at least one book I liked (The Cricket in Times Square), though toward the enterprise as a whole I must have been mostly indifferent, because I don’t recall any great love of picking up a book. In fifth grade The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe pretty much rocked my world, though I still have no recall for rushing home to be able to read (although Nancy Drew might have been at about that time). To be honest, I never really loved school itself until about seventh grade (or was it eighth?) English class, so while the message was important, I might have just been unready for the vehicle in which it was delivered.

Diary of a Young Girl* (Anne Frank) † – Eighth grade English class covered this book and its context in great measure. Our teacher was Jewish and when I look back at this time I marvel at how she was able to present all this as objectively as she did. It definitely played a role in my later choice (in high school) to choose World War II as my specific historical era of concentration (everyone had to choose one), and after graduation I continued to read oodles of books about it, complete with topics that shot off in many directions, including those such as Hans and Sophie Scholl, nucleus of an anti-Hitler group called the White Rose, who remain an inspiration to me today.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer* (Mark Twain) Oh my gosh I love this book! I can still remember our seventh-grade English teacher beginning her discussion about this story, which I was sure I would hate, probably because I perceived it as a book for boys. She read most, or perhaps even all, of it aloud to us, doing the voices really well and inserting perfectly co-ordinated commentary at key moments. I didn’t love in Huckleberry Finn, quite so much, which really bummed me out because the love I had for Tom Sawyer was so unusual for me—as I said, I hadn’t been a great lover of books at that point.

 Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (J.K. Rowling) Read it! Who hasn’t? Well, I know a lot of people aren’t into Harry, which I just don’t get. Who knows, maybe they say the same about my ideas re: vampires, but whatever the case, I have read and re-read this series multiple times, including just recently. I can still remember my sweet little Turtle dumpling at three years old, the day after we had gone out at midnight to collect the newest—I think it was the last book, and he was still excited about “livin’ life large,” being out so late the night before. He was sitting up on my bed, his adorable little legs stretched out in front of him and pleading with me, “Please, Mummy, please, can we speed up our reading lessons, I want to read this book by myself soooooo baaaaaad!” Heh heh, yeah, he called me “Mummy” back then. Not really sure why, but it was kinda cute.

Lord of the Flies (William Golding) – Heard of it, sounds boring, read the blurb, completely uninterested, change my mind.

Of Mice and Men (John Steinbeck) – This is the book set in the dustbowl era, is it not? Jeez, I’ll  feel really stupid if I’m wrong about that! I have no clue what it’s about but I do recall wanting to read it not too many years ago. Push me, somebody!

The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald) – Ohhhh, I own it but haven’t yet read it. Someone recommended it to me and in a recent re-read of Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran she discusses going over it with her students. It doe sound a bit mid-century-ish, a time from when not many authors really grab my attention and it even seems rather dry. But I’m game for this particular one because the discussion amongst Nafisi’s students—whose fight for the freedom to discuss literature as mature adults made me weep, for their own situation and the idiotic descent my own country is engaging—brought to the fore angles that are at play today. I’ve never met Nafisi’s students, but I love them, and feel I owe it to them to read a book they fought to hard for their own right to read—a fight that may one day even favor our own similar struggle, brought on if we don’t start acting like adults once more, capable and willing to discuss challenging ideas.

The Scarlet Letter (Nathaniel Hawthorne)Oh gads, yeah. I believe it was sixth grade? I remember our teacher, Mrs. Smith, who had beautiful black and silver hair, and she was the first teacher who really made the effort to get students to be aware teachers were normal beings just like us. Sometimes she got tongue tied when she read aloud, but just kept going, which also cued us into the idea that, wow, teachers aren’t perfect creatures either! We loved her all the more for it. Anyway, in college I built up a beautiful collection of Hawthorne for my at-home library, though I no longer have them. Lost to a thief, sadly.

1984* (George Orwell)I remember watching the movie long after I had read the book, going into it thinking, “Really, I just remember a razor shortage. Nothing else.” If memory serves, they didn’t mention that in the film, but Julia had hairy armpits, which I guess was meant to hint at that tidbit. I wasn’t aware at the time of anything called dystopian fiction, and when I later learned what that genre was, it never really occurred to me to remember 1984 as under its umbrella. In fact, for a very long time I avoided it because, truth be told, it’s a little terrifying to contemplate living the lives some of these books depict.

The Lord of the Rings (J. R. R. Tolkien)Never read it, which surprises my son to no end, given how much I love Narnia. I fell asleep watching the first film and have had an instinctive aversion to it since then. He’s slowly working on talking me away from that, so we’ll see where this leads.

The BibleI’m embarrassed to confess I’ve never read the whole book cover to cover. Also, that some of it is so very dense I get discouraged. I don’t know all the history or culture of the different eras, either, so at times something indicative of some particular circumstance flies right over my head. I do try to read a little every day, though, and confess I get hung up reading John a lot. He’s my fave.

Catcher in the Rye* (J.D. Salinger)This story is an example of why we should give books a second chance, as I once hated it with a passion. Then I was shamed into re-reading it and, although it still didn’t get me super excited, I could appreciate it a lot more than I did when I first read it, which was in eighth grade.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll)I no longer recall what brought me to be as obsessed with Alice and Lewis Carroll as as I was in my young years. Nevertheless I love this book. I love this book. Did I mention how much I love this book? Was absolutely addicted to it and everything Alice as a child and, to a certain extent, still am. My poetry and even drawings I once did were heavily influenced by it. Carroll has lots of other offerings as well, so especially for those who only know about Alice, I highly recommend you check out his other work. There’s also a very fascinating book by Anne Clark, The Real Alice, that lays out the actual lives of the historical people, how they knew each other, what their relationships were like and how and where they got on in life. Totally not to miss. By the way, on a visit to New York City I saw a shop, whose name I forget, that is everything and anything Alice: of course tea sets, but also playing cards, stationary, bed sheets, backpacks, decorative boxes, dishes, shoelaces, tissues, scarves, hats, posters, lamps, tee shirts, puzzles, lockets, soft toys, dolls, pillows, mirrors, clocks, spoons, bookmarks, herbal teas, diaries, glasses, candles, make-up brushes, cake toppers, tapestries, stickers, socks, blankets, night lights and so much more that you could imagine!

Little Women (Louisa May Alcott)Avoided it for years. Why? Because I’m stupid, that’s why! I could probably have been talked into reading it but there were too many others before it on my list of “want to read.” Then I saw the movie a couple of years ago and realized what I’d been missing. I was instantly captured. I now own the book and it’s on my 2021 Reading Challenge list. I even want to sew little Little Women clothes for dolls and have collected a few Little Women themed books that my son jokes are really just fan fiction.

The Odyssey* (Homer)Not a great big fan of The Iliad, though it was ok. But when I got to The Odyssey I could barely stop reading. It is very thrilling and I know some of my poetry came from this. When my son was little he, like everyone else, loved to be told a story, and did make a request one day in the car. I told him the cyclops portion and he was so intrigued he wanted immediately to go to the library to find a book with more! It turned out Mary Pope Osborne did indeed have a kids’ edition of The Odyssey (abridged, perhaps; I don’t recall). I loved the translation even better than how I told it: for instance, when the other cyclops demand, “Who did this to you?” the blinded one says, “No man did this.” (I had said “nobody.”) “Well,” they conclude, “if no man did this, then it must be the gods’ doing and therefore is meant to be.” (or something like that – the point is the difference between “no man” and “no one/nobody”). I was so charmed by it!

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I Wouldn’t Dream of It

Well, we’ve gone all week without a blog entry and here we are on Saturday morning, which is a marvelous place to be. This past week was a little more taxing than others—learning some new stuff at work (I like it), working with a teenager doing school from home (he loathes it) and trying to keep it all in order: my mind, my house, thoughts about where I might be going from one hour to the next. Friday was bookended with two different types of weariness, and all day I just wanted it to be over. It actually wasn’t a bad day—in fact, there’d been marked improvement by this last business/school day—but I was just so tired that the whole time I dreamed of going home and kicking my feet up.

Impression, Sunrise, 1872, by Claude Monet (Image courtesy Wikimedia)

As  indicated earlier, my day began with fatigue—actually a rather strong grogginess, which is rather unusual; the last time I remember opening my eyes to such a state was when I used one of my melatonin tablets, which was maybe a year or two ago. But you know, it could have been related to the really bizarre dream I had.

At around 03:00 (Thursday night-Friday morning) I woke up, which is not unusual, and I remember thinking it was such and such time, which it was. Unfortunately, it was the opposite of when you wake up and see you have glorious hours and hours of sleep ahead of you. Even then I felt a weighty sleepiness on myself, and recall sighing what now reminds me of the sort of sigh you hear people in the movies sigh when they’ve somehow been wronged and you, the movie watcher are like, “How do they just sigh? I’d be screaming and pulling hair!” But at that moment the sigh reminded me of those that ghosts emit and I recall thinking, Who cares. Not Who cares? Just Who cares. I was far too tired for such exertion.

When next I opened my eyes, they were so heavy I could barely lift them, and I was also super irritable. I had just been in a room, some room in an institutional type of setting, with three or four other people, all males whom I knew to be military types, but not because they had the obvious look, like the buzz cut or silver eyeglasses. These men all wore civilian clothing, laughed a lot, had laid back attitudes and I seemed to know them, as if we worked together, perhaps. Also: this room was in a building about ninety miles from Iran.

Someone was buzzing to be let in, and it fell to me to go do it. I was reluctant, staggering ever so slowly as my colleagues urged me on with their words, assorted ranges of laughter punctuating their prodding. It annoyed me not only that I had to go open the door for them, but that to do it I had to do something more than just make that movement. As I neared the side this door was on, I grumpily asked the men how to do it. “What the hell do I have to do to open this wretched thing?” Laughing, they explained, and it turned out there was a code phrase and it had to be spoken into an intercom. “Why do I have to say anything into a speaker? It’s not me trying to be let in. I’m already in!” My increasingly sour mood apparent, they and those wanting in laughed, not unlike the way I might too if I wasn’t so…angry. Why was I so angry?

A Dream of a Girl Before a Sunrise by Karl Bryullov (1830–1833) (Image courtesy Wikimedia)

I don’t know, maybe because, as it turned out, the phrase I had to say was something to do with an expletive and the great toe. I hissed, What? But they just kept laughing. On any other day, I might have joined in, but this one was just too much, though I really wasn’t sure why. But I was quite clear on the reality that the annoying buzzer, like those when people call and say “I’m downstairs!”, wouldn’t stop. I yelled at those outside to knock it off but they paid no heed.

Eventually I slapped at it, trying to make them stop, it stop, anything to relieve me of this infuriating, peculiar entry that seemed to be requiring such a larger effort than it really should. I found myself slapping at anything within my range until I was slapping at my phone, prone and somewhat infuriated as I looked, seeing but unseeing, directly at the phone as it lay next to me on bed, and I hissed once more. Oh my—what the—shit, shut UP!!

 As I settled back down onto the pillow and tried to absorb the utterly bizarre experience, I understood immediately where the buzzer had come from—I have memory of a childhood dream in which an unceasingly ringing telephone became my dream state’s ambulance siren—and even being so close to Iran didn’t entirely puzzle me. I am, after all, interested in that country (especially their poetry); I don’t read about it as much as I used to, but it still happens. Still, though, why? And which bordering nation were we in? Iraq? Perhaps Turkey? I have been re-reading The Chronicles of Narnia lately, having recently finished The Horse and His Boy, which has a decidedly Turkish feel to it, following on from the earlier books’ introduction to the lion Aslan—“aslan” in Turkish means “lion.” Turkish Delight, Jadis, etc. Could that be the source for “ninety miles from Iran”? And how did I know this? No one in the dream told me; it was just something I was aware of.

What  about all those people? Were they actually military, or did I just assume they were because I associated their demeanor with the military people I’ve known? Either way, where in the world did they come from? The room kind of reminded me of a smaller version of our boot camp barracks if it were bunkless, and perhaps a little more green, not quite so much of the very light, mustardy yellow I recall striping along the walls. But I saw the room before I thought of those barracks—seeing it is what brought back the memory, not the other way around. I couldn’t answer any of these questions.

The only thing I knew by the time I left the house for work was that I wanted to write a blog about this very weird dream, and as the morning went by I kept making myself think about it, then wrote down the details on my morning break. The grogginess had, for the most part, faded, but was replaced with a very static-feeling mood receptor; it went neither up nor down with slower measured beats, not even with erratic or extreme ones, like someone who can go from quite upset to very happy in just a few moments. For me, I just sort of emotionally flatlined all day. I was exhausted.

A little anticlimactic, I suppose, but what a very strange dream! Once back home, I was drawn to do a little exploring, which I found to be quite intriguing, though that isn’t a surprise as I’m pretty fascinated with the brain. Specific brain functions, working in conjunction with individual memories, experiences, awareness and so on create a combination not entirely understood by the scientists who study it. Because it is such a large topic, only a small portion of which can be presented, and it truly is so captivating, any kind of discussion on dreams deserves its own entry. Moreover, I’m late to the party again, as pandemic dreaming has already shown itself as a thing: people are dreaming more and theories abound, including those linking the bizarre dreams people have been having to lockdowns. I’m planning to look into this a little more and see what we uncover.

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Image of the Month: Edward, the Black Prince

Not long ago I wrote of my determination to finally read Michael Jones’s biography, The Black Prince, which details the life of Edward of Woodstock, son of King Edward III of England. Having owned the book since 2019, I’d been really ancy to get going, and not too long ago, at last, I made a start to it.

One thought that often lingered in my mind regarded how Edward appeared, probably because I didn’t know much about him. Seeing someone, whether in real or by way of an image, gives us an idea of their personality, what they are (were) like, or at least we seem to think so. Having none of this—at the time I found only dozens and dozens of sites with images of his tomb—then pushed me toward the book, and here we are.

My copy’s cover has only a drawing of the Prince’s effigy (though I hasten to say it is beautiful), but another edition carries a painting of Edward: Edward, Prince of Wales, 1330-76, The Black Prince by Benjamin Burnell (c. 1820).

Edward looks to me like a serious man, which fits in with how I had begun to imagine him—humored, perhaps at times, with some of life’s peculiarities, though never really showing it. I thought the image was a little bit attractive, and I especially liked his nose and beard. Still, it is halved, perhaps for dramatic effect, and I really wanted to see it all. Without the entire picture, something seemed unsettled, not quite right. I found the full painting in a few pages, such as here and, for a fuller image, here (scroll down at link).

I was right to wonder about it. On Jones’s cover, the prince appears to be focused, even “contemplative,” as this blogger notes; in the full painting he looks, well, sort of steely. Oddly, this rather fits in with the divisive portrait of him within society, at least that segment of modern society that knows enough about him to ask: warrior hero or villain? According to History Extraeven Edward’s contemporaries challenged his hero status, and one of the theories as to his sobriquet lays the blame on his brutal treatment of civilians at Limoges in 1370. Victorian children’s author Meredith Jones referenced his “angry flashing eyes,” which may or may not have been influenced by Burnell’s treatment of the Prince, itself perhaps born of historian Jean Friossart’s embellished records of Edward’s career.

Ostrich-feather crest ~ Early 17th-century painted carving on the main gate of Oriel College, University of Oxford. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

On the other hand, he was said to be generous to a fault, and seemed to have well learned the lessons taught to him by his father, who endured a four-year regency overseen by his mother, Isabella of France, and her lover, Roger Mortimer, after they drove Isabella’s husband, Edward II, off the throne, brutally executed his abusive gatekeeper and brought England dangerously close to civil war. In his own time he is also perceived as chivalric, and he famously adopts the motto of the blind Bohemian King John, whom he fights against at the battle of Crécy in 1376. It reads, Ich dien, “ I serve.”

So if we ask, “Who was Edward of Woodstock?” and are presented with the same image of opposing perspectives, it leaves us with as much mystery about who he was as when we started. A little bit of knowledge, however, could go  long way, in this case after having a look at the black armor Edward wears, and French historian Dr. Guilhem Pepin provides this in the article linked above. Black being rare in heraldry, he reasons, it then would be “completely feasible” for such a nickname as “Black Prince” to arise. After all, with so many Edwards—and so close together—to name, it also makes sense that at some point someone would have come up with something else to call him in order to avoid confusion.

For me it seems telling that Edward is said to have adopted King John’s motto, a piece of history that Jones writes of in The Black Prince. Edward defeated the blind king at Crécy, but seemed to have no barrier to speaking his admiration for John’s actions. From the small amount I have read about Edward in Jones’s book, he does indeed seem to have been contemplative by nature, however sneeringly the blogger above uses the word, and this may be his state of mind in the painting after all. Given that I’ve come across very little on Burnell thus far, it’s nearly impossible to say. What I can relate with accuracy, however, is that the Black Prince’s image gives nothing away, paving a path for further necessary investigation into this remarkable historical figure.

Previous Image of the Month: I’m Just Gonna Leave this Right Here

See also Stephanie’s Image of the Month: Proserpine (Persephone)

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The Conduit of My Record Player

If there is one thing many of us have in common this past year of staying home, it’s the new hobbies. It goes without saying that this has been a tough year for so many, but one thing that has helped me personally is to take an interest in what others are doing, in terms of new hobbies they have picked up, or perhaps made new commitments to. I’ve been doing this mostly in a more passive sense, as opposed to joining in or leaving comments and so on. It reminds me a bit of how I’ve always liked looking at décor, even if I’m not in the market for it in my own home. I love to see the different things people can come up with, stylish and cozy ways in which to create a retreat away from the world, to decorate a space of their own that reflects their personalities, interests or passions.

As for myself, I have a few projects going, but the one I love best doesn’t provide tangible results. This is because it involves the sharing of conversation with my teenage son, who has for years been a very devoted film aficionado, and recently had begun to invest in television. I’ve always said he is an old soul, and he continues to prove it with his love for shows such as Friends, Cobra Kai and Stranger Things—and that this last one’s Blu Ray case is designed to look like a VHS tape. Our shared watching experiences have provided absolutely endless conversation on too many topics for a small blog entry such as this, so suffice to say, to aim us in one direction: storytelling.

One of the stories I’m in the midst of seeing is within the visual pages of a show called Mad Men, which I never heard of until about a month ago. I agreed to give it a shot—Turtle didn’t think I’d get into it and, to be quite frank, neither did I—but there was something about it that intrigued me. Perhaps because it is set in the 1960s, an alien world of people who drink way too much and dress in a manner I wish we still did today. To be honest, I’m not a fan of the time, but I was also a little curious about getting a glimpse into the ordinary: not just the famous music festivals, protests or political shenanigans. Ordinary. What people wore; how they interacted with one another in everyday lives, not only specific occasions; products they owned or wanted to; what was perceived as good or not so good; how much things cost and so on.

Continue reading “The Conduit of My Record Player”

For the Record: The Day the Music Died

“For the Record” is a series dedicated to music
and the personal experiences that surround it.

I have an older brother who, when I was a child, I absolutely adored. It was through him I came to like the Beatles and he filled my information bank with trivia on the Fab Four and other musicians and bands he liked. He was given to talking about song lyrics, and I can recall him discussing with his friends the meaning behind Don McLean’s song “American Pie.” The conversation actually went on for years, at times including me, and the intrigue never left.

I happened to hear “American Pie” on the radio this afternoon and decided to write about it—at least as much as I know of or can recall being told. While many see the 1960s as an almost mythical period, others mark it as a time when the rise of rock and roll coincided with a decline in culture and society, symbolized, with reference to the 1959 plane crash that killed singers/musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper, as “the day the music died.” The song’s lyrics also reference various other events that occurred throughout the subsequent decade in the land that birthed rock and roll. The music was majestic, often poetic and awe-inspiring, but what accompanied it was as frequently unholy and depraved, and the consequences were too often dire. Some say this is the flip side of the influence and authority the music held, and perhaps they are not too far off, given music and other celebrity lifestyles’ connection with politics and power.

I didn’t experience watching or hearing about any of these events as they happened, so none of them are personal memories, but I do recall the feel of first hearing the song, how poetic and terrible and wonderful it was at the same time. Like our earlier conversations, people are still discussing today what the song is all about, and what qualities it possesses that enabled it to succeed, despite being an eight-minute song at a time when three were the max. Below is a song breakdown of sorts, and I’d love to hear from anyone who has information to add to or correct something I’ve written below, especially if you’re someone who does know from the experience of living in the late 1950s and/or through the 1960s.

“American Pie” by Don McLean

Buddy Holly and the Crickets in 1957 (top to bottom: Allison, Holly and Mauldin) Image courtesy Wikimedia. Click for details.

A long, long time ago
I can still remember how that music
Used to make me smile
That of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper, pioneering acts of rock and roll in a time of greater “innocence” within American society. Their popularity was changing the face of music
And I knew if I had my chance
That I could make those people dance
And maybe they’d be happy for a while
But February made me shiver
With every paper I’d deliver
Bad news on the doorstep
I couldn’t take one more step
I can’t remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride
Maria Elena Santiago, the pregnant wife of Buddy Holly, who died along with Valens and the Big Bopper in an Iowa plane crash
Something touched me deep inside
The day the music died
As a young teen McLean delivered newspapers, and on the morning of February 4, 1959, as he folded newspapers in preparation for delivery, he saw the news

Chorus:

So, bye-bye, Miss American Pie
Apple pie was used as a metaphor for things American
Drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry
Chevy, short for Chevrolet, was the car to have because it was American made ~ a dried up levee indicates the end of production or an era, possibly the beginnings of shifting American production and jobs elsewhere, depriving Americans of the ability to make a living in an America that itself is no longer American made
And them good ol’ boys were drinkin’ whiskey and rye
Possibly references the Depression and Prohibition eras that would have influenced Buddy Holly’s family life and upbringing, as well as that of Valens and Big Bopper. Valens, at 17, was the youngest of the three and not born until around 1940, but he still would have been influenced by the deprivations his family suffered during the time.
Singin’, “This’ll be the day that I die
This’ll be the day that I die”
References the final line in Holly’s song “That’ll be the Day”: “That’ll be the day-ay-ay, when I die.”

Image courtesy Wikimedia. Click for details.

 Did you write the book of love
“The Book of Love” – 1958 song by the Monotones
And do you have faith in God above
If the Bible tells you so?
References a 1950s song with a similar name, but also alludes to the reality that people were beginning more openly and often to behave in ways not sanctioned by the God their (larger) society worshipped, and the religious heritage their country was founded upon
Now, do you believe in rock ‘n’ roll
Also references a song, this one from the 1960s that asks, “Do you believe in magic?” The line itself referred to the magic of music, specifically rock and roll, that was able to stay with the listener, conjure up memories, be a part of their consciousness in a way that study of other art froms did not, at least for the common man
Can music save your mortal soul?

Continue reading “For the Record: The Day the Music Died”

Bucket List Map of the World: Giant Sequoia National Monument

Today’s entry opens up a still somewhat newish series for the blog, inspired by a book called The Bucket List: 1,000 Adventures Big & Small. I know I’ll probably never make it to most of these locales, but I love to learn about them anyway. I like places, love to see them on maps and discover what they are about.

So this series doesn’t necessarily represent my bucket list, per se, hence the addition to its name as mapping out across the world, settings worth learning even a little about. One such exploration years ago brought me to this: When Russians are preparing to travel, they sit down for a few minutes in one spot. For contemplation, perhaps, prayer, maybe a little decompression before their travel whirlwind. I also like to do this: reflect on life for just a few minutes and think about where I am heading, and where might any bit of knowledge carry me.

With that said, let us embark.

The Proclamation Tree of Long Meadow Grove in Giant Sequoia National Monument, California. Image courtesy Jason Hickey via Wikimedia Commons.

Locale: Giant Sequoia National Monument, southern Sierra Nevada (mountain range), eastern central California

Hemisphere: Northern

Latitude:        36.13040N*

Longitude:     118.81790 W*

Time of Year: All year*, though roads are subject to snow closures in winter months, per the Giant Sequoia National Monument page of the USDA Forest Service website. Consult park pages for current visitation schedules and protocols.

About the Destination: Located in the Sierra Nevada, the Sequoia National Forest includes about half of the giant sequoia groves currently existing; each contains anywhere from one to tens of thousands of the trees. The giant sequoia is the largest tree in the world and grows naturally only in the western band of its mountain range home, at an elevation of 4,000-8,000 feet. To clarify, these are those trees, gigantic in diameter as well as height, you see pictures of with tiny spots at the bottom that you realize are people acting as size marker. For a few breathtaking images, click here, here and here.

Continue reading “Bucket List Map of the World: Giant Sequoia National Monument”