history, writing

Discovery in the Desert – WIPpet Wednesday

It’s my second week as a member of WIPpet and I almost forgot to post today. *whips self with wet noodle* I will skitter off to add Wednesdays to my Google calendar as soon as I’ve made this post, since I apparently can’t remember anything that I don’t have online reminders for. So, for today …

Today in history, on November 28, 1529, Magellan reached the Pacific. According to History.com, he traveled from the Atlantic to the Pacific:

His fleet accomplished the westward crossing of the ocean in 99 days, crossing waters so strangely calm that the ocean was named “Pacific,” from the Latin word pacificus,meaning “tranquil.”

Apparently, at the end of this journey his men had no food and were reduced to cooking the leather of their equipment. But, he had discovered the now-named Straits of Magellan, facilitating travel from the Old World to the New.

So, I suppose I will focus my snippet today on some sort of discovery. This is yet to be revised, but hopefully it is not too hideous. It is from my Dark Ages adventure, in which Justus, the reluctant knight, must guide a barren woman (Richende) to Jerusalem on a pilgrimage.

Arriving in Jerusalem was not like Richende had pictured it in her mind, as she had done so many times over the long course of the trip. She did not feel the rise of spiritual ecstasy as they trod the earth packed by countless generations, sanctified by the presence of so many saints and by the Son of God himself. Rather, sensations of the purely physical kind overwhelmed her: the sight of the warren of squat brown buildings, the city walls broken in places, repaired clumsily in others, the arches and towers and chapels, synagogues and mosques, the stalls of vendors interspersed with beggars holding their cups and old women clinging to the arms of their granddaughters. Sad-eyed donkeys and bleating goats and gobbling hens added to the clamor. Over all of this the oppressive, burning heat, hot breezes churning about the stewing mass of people. The rising din of voices and the sounds of daily activity hung like a pall over the city.

Here, in this place, could be found the hill where Christ was crucified, Golgotha, the stations of the cross that chronicled his journey along the Via Dolorosa to his death, the famed Garden of Gethsemane where he spent the night before. All this was here, and more, yet all she could think about was Justus, a man who she had no right to hold in such affection. But, oh, such a precious man, who had fought for her honor and her desires, and who even now lay weak and insensible on a travois, head jostling with every bump and dip in the road. Justus, whose body was pierced in the side even as Christ, too, was pierced in the side as he hung on the cross. Blasphemy, she knew, to think such a thing, though now, as ever, she could not seem to halt the contrary path of her thoughts.

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history, writing

A Visit to Dark Ages Rome

I realize that I’ve been rather miserly with the “history” portion of this blog, instead focusing on travel and cats and so forth, so consider this a mea culpa of sorts. I just discovered this wonderful weekly blogging event hosted by K.L. Schwengel called WIP Wednesday (Work in Progress, for you non-writers), which encourages bloggers to post a snippet of the project they are working on. The snippet should have something to do with the date, 11/20. As such …

On this day in history (November 20, 269 AD), according to Today in History, Diocletian was proclaimed emperor of Rome by his soldiers. He had previously been commander of the emperor’s bodyguard. How does this relate to my WIP? The hero in my historical novel is both a commander and a bodyguard, and in this piece he and the woman he has sworn to lead to Jerusalem on a pilgrimage are visiting Rome. However, they are about four centuries after Diocletian.

The moon shone luminous upon the ruined buildings and tumbled columns, lying this way and that, broken, abandoned, and lost. Justus left Richende seated on an upright stone drum as he made his way around the area, wondering about the many festivals and law proceedings and parades that had taken place here, and reading the engraved letters on the marble everywhere. The words shouted their messages, clear and bold, to eternity: justice triumphs here; may this flame burn eternally; hush and hear the sacred words spoken.

Little gatherings of some farmer’s cattle stood huddled together just beyond the Forum, evidence anew of the way rural life was creeping back into the capital after it had been sacked by the barbarian hordes one too many times. Justus noticed, then, that Richende had not moved from her seated place, so he made his way back to her. She sat, back erect but chin tucked low, silvery tears tracking down her cheeks.

“My lady?” he asked, his heart clenching. “What is wrong?”

She looked at Justus as though seeing him for the first time, and gave a little shudder. She sniffed, and hiccupped, and spoke only after working to regain her composure for a moment. “Oh, Justus. I have dreamed of coming to this place, so filled with glory and power. How wondrous and terrible it is to know that thousands once flocked here, that they lived and suffered and loved, that they created such grandeur. And all that effort and work, all that passion and purpose and lawful attention has now fallen into this. Ruin.”

Her hair gleamed straight and golden under Hera’s glowing moon; her cheeks were smooth and unlined, her eyes dark and shadowed, but beckoning nonetheless. He did not think. In one motion his calloused, overlarge palm cupped her soft cheek. How like a sculpture she was at that moment, perfectly formed and unutterably beautiful. She inclined her face into his touch. Her tears felt cool and thin on his skin.

The chanting of the procession, now receding into the distance, carried the words of blessing clear on the night breeze. Somewhere, a dog howled in strange accompaniment.

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general wackiness, humor, travel

San Diego Comic Con Madness: Part II

San Diego Convention Center (7584114534)

In Part I of my Comic Con write-up I gave you a brief taste of the packed-to-the-rafters scene inside the 2.6 million square foot San Diego Convention Center. What? 2.6 million? Am I serious? Yes! But apparently it’s not enough to contain the greedy entrepreneurial marketers who cannot resist the specter of hundreds of thousands of high-earning (or future high-earning) nerds descending on downtown San Diego. And good for them. I mean these people are performing a valuable public service. They offer true value. What fan doesn’t need gobs of flimsy cardboard signs, $.02 luridly-colored gee-gaws with the names of various TV shows, movies, books and games splashed across them, and thin plastic or cloth bags the size of the side of a barn to lug around said crap. You do!

Swag giveaway by the Discovery Channel in the Gaslamp District.

Honestly, a weird kind of fever comes over fans who attend Comic Con. Even if you normally don’t care about said nick-nacks somehow you will wait in a line for 6 hours to obtain one while you are at Comic Con. Or snatch one by chasing down one of the hapless half-clothed model-types who appear on street corners to dispense them, not an easy task since you must also push through the maddening crowd like a housewife grasping after a bargain price on bras. Same thing, really.

Over the years these marketers have set up shop in the Gaslamp District directly across the street from the Convention Center. Some movie or TV studios take over whole businesses, draping them in advertisements or completely transforming them into dens of iniquity/fantasy wonderlands like the recruitment hall from Ender’s Game or a mysterious maze/encounter with Godzilla or a free cereal bar with dozens of types of cereal and five kinds of milk to promote King of the Nerds.

Costumed man on stilts in the Gaslamp District of San Diego
Just your regular Comic Con attendee. On stilts.

Mobs of people, most of them under 30, descend on the Gaslamp district to experience this one-of-a-kind sight. Many of the crowd are dressed in incredibly complex, creative and tight costumes of any sort of obscure comic book character you can think of. The advertisements are only one facet of the place, which also hosts numerous parties – some of them star-studded – movie premieres, game lounges, fan gatherings, zombie apocalypse stock-up shops, food trucks, and so on. One year I was walking along the sidewalk in the Gaslamp District and a bakery van pulled up beside me and delivered a HUGE, freshly baked cupcake. In 2013, I waited in line for autographs from the cast of the History Channel’s series Vikings, which were held at a water-themed mock up with racing kayaks, of all things. A group of about 25 Viking re-enactors showed up and had a grand time posing for pictures and shouting out, “For Odin!”

Group of people costumed as Vikings.
Random Vikings at Comic Con 2013.

One of my favorite Comic Con activities is a free, family-friendly event outside the convention center: the San Diego Zombie Walk. Where else can you be placidly enjoying your glass of wine and dish of pasta at a sidewalk cafe when hundreds of gorily costumed zombies shuffle by in search of brains? Nowhere else, my friends!

The “Con on the Lawn” is a relatively new phenomena located between the convention center and the Hilton Bayfront hotel. There are games, giant Lego creations, stages, tents, lines and events in the bay such as the TV Guide yacht, which evidently is only accessible via special pass, and the Jackdaw from Assassin’s Creed III, an authentic ship from bygone days (a loaner from the nearby San Diego Maritime Museum suitably decorated).

Tall ship decorated as the Jackdaw from Assassins Creed III.
The Jackdaw from Assassins Creed III.

The hotels are incredible, an one of the best parts of the con experience, in my humble opinion. Competition for hotel rooms closest to the convention center is intense, not to mention expensive, even at con rates. However, when you share with friends it becomes affordable. It’s nice to experience a little luxury every now and again. One friend, when confronted with the beautiful decorations and high end expensive touches, blurted out: “I’m not worth this!”

Steampunk man on trolley in San Diego.
You can definitely tell who’s headed to Comic Con, such as this gentleman on the trolley.

Hanging out in the hotel bars in the evenings is a fun way to relax, and the potential for celebrity sightings is high, since many of the celebrity attendees stay at these hotels. I’ve seen Robert Downey Jr., Chevy Chase, and Tyler Posey. I even rode up the elevator with the last two. Very exciting, let me tell you! Speaking of celebrities, there are plenty of them outside of the convention center as well. Some are just walking around the streets, taking in the spectacle for themselves, and others are attending special events like the charity panels put on by Nerd HQ every year.

The drama and frustration of securing tickets to Comic Con and downtown hotel reservations every year could fill another entire entry, but I won’t go into the particulars of those right now. Suffice it to say that although it’s not the easiest thing in the world to access, Comic Con is definitely one of the best. I’ll be headed there again, God willing, in Summer 2014!

cats, humor, travel memories, writing

Traveling With Cats

Okay, the subject line of this post is perhaps a little misleading. The only traveling WITH cats I’ve done is short jaunts from home to the vet’s office, which invariably results in an unhappy moaning type noise coming from the cat carrier both there and back. Although, before we actually owned a plastic cat carrier, our vet advised us to stuff poor kitty in a pillowcase and carry her that way. That actually worked better than the carrier – it was quieter, in any case. The vet said they tend to feel safer that way. More secure, I suppose? But, I digress.

These two really bear little resemblance to Uncle Joe and Aunt Gladys, so I have no actual excuse for putting this picture in here except that I’m twisted that way.

The title of this post should more accurately be “Traveling AND Cats.” The first travel adventures I can recall which involved cats occurred when our family took one of several jaunts in the family Datsun (complete with an outrageously huge overhead camper), from Arizona to Wisconsin, at the home of Uncle Joe and Aunt Gladys, two sturdy Mennonite dairy farmers. They lived in a rambling wooden house shaded by huge oaks. Across the yard stood the Barn (yes, it has to be capitalized. I was a little kid – the Barn was a humongous, utterly fascinating, rather odoriferous place), where the dairy cows spent their evenings mooing away in contentment. Or whatever they were doing – to be honest I really didn’t pay that much attention to them. Why? Because there was always – and I do mean ALWAYS – a litter of kittens in the barn. My brother and I delighted in spending hours playing with the kitties, giggling and running around and accidentally dropping a kitty or two into the running channel of water that flowed into the barn, attached to some mysterious milking apparatus. Every time we visited the farm we ran for the cats, and spent many happy hours amusing ourselves with them. I have vague memories of clambering all over tractors and seeing goats standing atop the roofs of storage sheds, and shelling peas in the yard when we were there as well, but the cats stand out above all else.

Farmers and cats – a smooth, well-milked machine since the dawn of time.

Barn cats were a necessity on farms, to keep the rodents at bay. Hardy, intrepid souls, the last barn cat I saw was a few years ago on a horse ranch in Southern California. It ran by me with a loudly shrieking baby bunny clamped in its jaws. Ah, nature. How you suck sometimes.

As is to be expected by someone who wrote a book entitled The Cat’s Guide to Human Behavior, I tend to notice cats where ever I go.

Cats are everywhere in Rome – running along the sidewalks, jumping in and out of trash cans, sleeping in view of ancient buildings, kicking back on the seats of motorbikes; like I said, everywhere. People usually just ignore them and that seems to be fine with the cats, who are naturally independent anyways.

Forum of Caesar, site of Caesar's murder.
Site of the cat sanctuary … er, I mean, Forum of Caesar.

When our family visited Rome a few years back, my daughter was 12 years old. We, of course, dragged her around to museum after museum, but we also made sure to do some activities that she found interesting. The main one seemed to be eating gelato every day, but in addition to that, we visited a cat sanctuary located in the heart of Rome.

It turns out that Rome is home to around 300,000 feral cats. Because the archaeological sites are occupied, people who find themselves wanting to rid themselves of cats often dump them at such sites. At one of those sites, the forum at which Caesar was murdered in 44 BC, volunteers established a sanctuary to care for homeless cats. Called Torre Argentina, it is sunken beneath the street level. At first, when approaching the ruins, you see nothing but columns and tumbled stones and weeds sprouting, as weeds do, where ever they please. However, looking closer, you begin to see the cats roaming among the columns, sitting on stairs, sleeping and playing and doing miscellaneous feline things. Quite a lot of cats, actually. At least several dozen. The sanctuary itself is located down a set of stairs and inside a small underground area filled with medical facilities, cages, and storerooms for food. Dedicated Gattare – Italian for “crazy cat women” – see that injured and sick animals are helped and spayed and neutered whenever possible. Volunteers sell shirts such as the one my daughter is wearing in the photo to support the organization.

Girl with Roman cat sanctuary shirt.
Photo of young Brandy taken with a slightly defective but beloved Canon AE-1.

You can visit the sanctuary yourself by watching this video. In recent days the sanctuary has been threatened with closure, as detailed here. If you’re interested in a visit yourself, learn more about the sanctuary and the plight of Roman cats here.

We did not spend a lot of time at Torre Argentina, but it was a memorable visit nonetheless. In Rome there is always something to do, some other centuries-old architectural wonder to behold. Perhaps sometime I will be able to live in Rome and explore its many nooks and crannies. What was my daughter Brandy’s verdict about the visit to the cat sanctuary? “Awesome!” she enthused, in no uncertain terms.

Since that trip to Rome, we’ve seen cats in Turkey, and Greece, and Spain, and the Caribbean. I don’t doubt that I will also look for them at our next destination, where ever that might be.