freelance, history, nonfiction, research, travel, Uncategorized, writing

The Worst Trip Ever: Francisco Vázquez de Coronado

Like most fiction writers, I have a day job. Mine happens to be as a writer. Of nonfiction for kids. What can be better than to research, write, and edit nonfiction for kids? Especially when my writing projects are historical. Let me tell you, it beats my past jobs with a stick: project manager, administrative analyst, administrative coordinator, accounts payable clerk, and some others that have faded into the past like a rancid odor.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful for the ability to support myself and my family at past jobs, but they’ve all been stepping stones to where I am today. Which is in my home office with my dogs all around me, my hair in disarray, dressed in yoga pants and sweatshirts, and wearing away at the paint on my computer keyboard.

It’s glamorous, all right.

I’m a freelancer and happy with the independence it brings me. Sure, there are downsides, too, but I can’t see myself headed back into an office environment any time soon. Or any time at all.

Last year I wrote a fun historical book on Francisco Vázquez de Coronado (2017 publication date). He’s that failure of a 16th century explorer who set off to find the Seven Cities of Gold. That didn’t exist. But at least he had fun along the way, leading a motley crew of soldiers and missionaries across the broiling hot deserts of northern Mexico and southern Arizona. They stumped across rocky defiles and cactus-choked deer paths in their heavy plate metal armor (which they evidently scattered here and there, to the delight of archaeologists), and abused American Indians at every opportunity. You see, if Hernan Cortes and Francisco Pizarro could overtake gold-rich Central and South American civilizations, then certainly Coronado could too. When he heard the “credible” tales of the Seven Cities of Gold that lay north of Mexico from a wily and perhaps demented friar, Marcos de Niza, he seized upon them.

Francisco Vazquez de Coronado conquistador explorer 16the century

Perhaps Coronado should have fact-checked de Niza’s reports a little closer. Because he and his men traveled hundreds of miles north, then east, then north again, following rumors and pipe dreams. They crossed from Arizona to New Mexico, into Texas, the Oklahoma panhandle, and finally central Kansas. Poor Indian villages were all they found, no wealth other than the clear air and endless grasslands.

The revelation that de Niza lied about these gold and jewel-bedecked cities deterred the group only temporarily. The hints and lies of another man, an Indian slave nicknamed The Turk, kept them traveling on into Kansas. The Turk hoped that a local tribe would slaughter them. Alas, The Turk ended up being the one slaughtered when his deception was uncovered. At last, Coronado determined to turn back, but he would have gone on if his men and the Spanish government would have given him more support. He and his men slunk back to Mexico in disgrace. He did not receive the riches and fame he sought, but he did penetrate a previously unknown land and pave the way for later explorers and settlers.

Coronado Expedition Conquistador Explorer
Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=146759

The Spanish left behind horses, which the Indians bred and used to legendary utility. Before the coming of the Spanish, Indians only had dogs as pack animals. They also left behind diseases that the biologically separate Americans had no natural immunity to. Such began the Indian’s long decline and eventual near-extinction.

You can still hear echoes of long-ago drumbeats and see the crumbled remains of Indian dwelling places on the Coronado Trail Scenic Byway, a stretch of narrow, winding highway in eastern Arizona. This section of US Route 191 is said to have 460 curves, which make it “exciting” or “terrifying” depending on your perspective. Perhaps you, like me, find yourself drawn to remote historical adventures, though, and if so you may enjoy the 120-mile drive.

I just hope that my own life’s adventures do not end in infamy like Coronado’s.

history, research, travel, Uncategorized

Peeling Back History’s Layers

Recently, I had one of the most wonderful experiences of my life. A transcendent, awe-inspiring, utterly magnificent experience.

An orgy.

No, not that kind of orgy, you naughty thing. Rather, an orgy of artistic and historic wonder. A plethora of beauty and splendor as can only be seen in Italy. Rome, in particular. My husband and I celebrated a significant anniversary in La Bella Italia. We’d been a number of years ago, but it is Italy – one could spend years discovering its treasures. More than 2,000 years of history leaves lots of remnants behind. During this trip we concentrated on places and experiences we had missed during the last one. So we visited innumerable churches, cathedrals, quaint hilltop villages, and packed-to-the-gills museums.

One church in Rome stands out among the others. It lacks the gold- and jewel-bedecked opulence of others such as St. John Lateran or St. Peter’s Basilica, but has something in abundance that the others lack: mystery.

Here it is, the Basilica of San Clemente, a rather non-descript spot, though quintessential what with the cigarette-smoking Italian out front. It sits near the Colosseum.

Front of the Basilica of San Clemente, Rome, Italy Roma
By Berthold Werner via (Wikimedia Commons)

Inside this 12th century church you will find incredible mosaics well worth a visit. The Official Site provides a virtual tour.This drawing gives you an idea of its insides.

Basilica of St. Clemente 12th century Rome Roma Italy

In 392 AD, St. Jerome spoke of a church in Rome that preserved St. Clemente’s memory, and this was thought to be that church. In 1857, Father Joseph Mullooly decided to see whether that was true. Down he dug, and was rewarded greatly for his efforts. He discovered the original basilica underneath the current church.

stclementsallthree052-4

Statues, marble columns, Roman brickwork, fantastic frescoes, and a bubbling spring were all revealed to him.

But. What if? What if there was something beneath this lovely original basilica? The digging began again. And again, the effort was rewarded. This time with a 1st century sanctuary to Mithras, a mystery cult, about which little is known.

1st century building underneath Basilica of San Clemente Rome Roma Italy

Here you will find a plainer, more ancient structure, with close hallways and small rooms, arches, and concrete. And that spring, bubbling and cascading, refreshing. Before it was a sanctuary, the structure is thought to have been a private home, or perhaps a mint.

Down, down, down. Modern-day Rome bustles on the surface of the city, and rises into the blue Italian sky. But, oh, what lies underneath it all. Much more just waiting to be discovered.

~

This post lacks images, I know, partly due to a lack on my part to find decent ones of the magnificent mosaics, and part of which because the church prohibits photography in the lower reaches. But there is one remedy for that, dear reader.

Visit Rome yourself. The Eternal City beckons. Will you heed the call? I have done so long before actually physically going there, through reading and writing. Such influences saturate my fiction, in some pieces more than others.

challenge, hiking, history, photography, travel, travel memories, Uncategorized

Castles in the Air: Ponferrada, Spain – 170-178/200 Camino Photos

Much like a pilgrim stumping up a long, steep hill, I’ve slowed on my posting of 100 Spanish Photos series (now 200 Spanish Photos!), but I have vowed to travel onward! Next stop? Ponferrada. The name means iron (ferrada) bridge (pon). Alas, the bridge was unremarkable. But the castle? Quite the opposite.

long view

It is called the Templar Castle, built in the 13th century atop the remains of a Visogothic fort. Underneath this Visogothic fort lay the Roman one, which overlay a pre-Roman castro.

It was such a perfect day for exploring.

perfect day

sunny blue skies

Looking out from the walls, you see the city below, and the thick bricks.

tower

looking down

keyhole

The road paralleling the wall leads to the church, standing proud and distinguished at the city center.

city view

What treasures do the towers and thick walls hold? The most valuable things of all.

book

Lavishly illustrated, this book is the Cosmography of Claudio Ptolomeo from the 15th century. It is on loan from Paris. What is next? What is always next, on the Camino de Santiago …

yellow shell

Searching for the yellow shell at every intersection, and walking onward.

~

If you’ve missed any of the photos in this series, feel free to backtrack over here.

challenge, hiking, history, photography, travel, travel memories, Uncategorized

Topping the Misty Spanish Mountains – 159-169/200 Camino Photos

It’s been a little while since my last post in my 100 Spanish Photos series (now 200 Spanish Photos!), but I have much more to share. This section of photos has me traveling from Astorga to Rabanal, then beyond to Molinseca, which was the most challenging part of my Camino.

What do you do when you are walking the Camino de Santiago and it is a rainy day? Well, you walk right on through it, trudging up, up, up the hills. At the crest, you find these makeshift crosses. They are a celebration of sorts, declaring for all: “We made it. Our devotion has brought us thus far, and will take us further still.”

Camino 1213 (Copy)

The hillside is beautiful with purple heather, and quiet mountains.

Camino 1271

In the folds of the mountains lie little Spanish towns.

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And as you walk in the footsteps of pilgrims throughout the ages, a saxophone player fills the land with beauty.

The strains of his song carry for hill after hill, accompanied by birdsong. Messages of love and generosity occur all along the Way.

At the top of a challenging hill, soaked by rain and chilled by cold, I reached the famed Cruz de Ferro, an iron monument sacred for many since Celtic times. The tradition is that you carry a stone with you during the whole Camino, symbolizing something you wish to give up. Then, prayerfully, you place it at the foot of the cross. Thus unburdened, you carry on with your Camino.

Camino 1253 (Copy)

If you are lucky you may see a pilgrim that carries a staff and wears a heavy wool cloak.

Camino 1252 (Copy)

Speaking of the past, atop a lonely hill near Manjarin I visited a handmade outpost occupied by Tomas, who claims to be the last of the Knights Templar. He gives pilgrims a dry bench to rest on, and offers a rather precarious outhouse with a stunning view of the valley below.

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Heading onward to Molinseca I encountered the most difficult challenge of the way – wet slippery slate and large rocks underfoot, both of these made worse by sore feet and general exhaustion. Still, the beauty was undeniable, and I appreciated the vivid colors and grand views.

Camino 1281 (Copy)

Camino 1282 (Copy)

The peace and solitude may be glimpsed by this short video, which features a the call of a cuckoo bird.

 

If you’ve missed any of the photos in this series, feel free to backtrack over here.

Uncategorized, writing

Book of Kells Now Free to View Online

Awesome news for medieval history lovers!

The Library of Trinity College Dublin

MS58_fol_27vThe Library of Trinity College Dublin would like to announce that the Book of Kells in its entirety is now viewable in the Library’s new Digital Collections online repository, provided by the Library’s Digital Resources and Imaging Services.

Direct link to the Book of Kells online

The Book of Kells transparencies, originally captured by Faksimile Verlag, Lucerne, Switzerland in 1990, have recently been rescanned using state of the art imaging technology. These new digital images offer the most accurate high resolution images to date, providing an experience second only to viewing the book in person.

In addition, we would like to direct you to the new iPad app of the Book of Kells, with added functionality and commentary.

Have you seen the new volume on the Book of Kells by Trinity’s Head of Research Collections and Keeper of Manuscripts, Dr Bernard Meehan? It’s been receiving fantastic reviews. Available…

View original post 10 more words

challenge, hiking, history, photography, travel, travel memories, Uncategorized

Amazing Astorga, Spain – 148-158/200 Camino Photos

On April 23rd, 2015, I set out from Villaverde, Spain, on my way to Astorga. The hills, valleys, and red earth, were peaceful.

red earth

So peaceful that I decided to preserve the surroundings with shaky, dizzying video

Up I went to a squatter’s residence at the top of the hill, overlooking Astorga far below. David lives there in joy, peace, and simplicity. Here he is with my Camino friend Sarah.

Sarah and David

He maintains a little snack stand that is run off donations.

stand

On his free time, or during the slow seasons on the Camino, he makes esoteric art like this. He has made a humble home in the lean-to behind the tree on the left for six years.

swirl

Also atop a hill is one of the many crosses with mementos cluttering the base.

Camino 1123

In Astorga, a few Euros buys you admission to the cathedral, the museum, and the Gaudi house below.

gaudi

Inside, it is sacred, colorful, and playful. Signature Gaudi.

stained glass

inside

blue vines

The museum contained intricate, gorgeous illuminated manuscripts.

illuminated

beautiful

I could have stared at these manuscripts for hours. I had, instead, to get back to the albergue to wash my clothes and take a shower. A good night’s sleep and I continued on the Camino de Santiago.

If you’ve missed any of the photos in this series, feel free to backtrack over here.

challenge, hiking, history, photography, travel, travel memories, Uncategorized

Exploring the Splendor of the Past in Leon, Spain – 131-147/200 Camino Photos

Lest you think that León, Spain, a major stop along the Camino de Santiago, has only gorgeous Gothic stained glass windows to recommend it, let me assure you there is much more. Exquisitely fashioned bronze cathedral doors …

Cathedral doors Leon, Spain

Vaults upon vaults in the claustro (cloisters)

Claustro Leon, Spain

Claustro Leon, Spain

With incredible detail everywhere you look

Claustro Leon, Spain detail

And shrines in the most unlikely places. This one sat high above a city street, in the wall of an ancient building.

Shrine in Leon, Spain

Water features like this mesmerizing sculpture adorn the plazas

Then there was a visit to the incomparable Real Colegiato de San Isidoro. I could not take photos inside the Panteon de Reyes (pantheon of kings) that were painted in the 11th and 12th centuries.

Panteon de Reyes

Panteon de Reyes

frescoes detail2

The colors are as vibrant today as they were centuries past. This same building held a gorgeous illustrated bible from the Mozarabic period (Christian/Muslim period) from the Christian Dark Ages – 960 AD.

mozabaric

More walking, afterwards, took me past the ever-vigilant storks

Camino 1027 (Copy)

to the Museo de Leon and the gorgeous Paradore (state-run luxury hotel housed in castles)

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With beautiful details

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And the image of a pilgrim looking on … or up, as it were. Notice the yellow arrow in front of it. Such arrows guided me on my journey, kilometer after kilometer.

leon

The splendor soon petered away, into city parks

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And bodegas (wine cellars built into the sides of hills, right off the streets)

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I will leave Leon here, but my journey was not over yet. Stay tuned for more soon. If you’ve missed any of the photos in this series, feel free to backtrack over here.

challenge, hiking, history, photography, travel, Uncategorized

Cathedral of Light in Leon, Spain – 108-130/200 Camino Photos

 

Little needs to be said about my visit to León, Spain as I walked the Camino de Santiago. As one of the largest cities along the French Way, it is a highlight of the trip. The cathedral in the old part of town is rather plain on the outside. But the inside! It is a marvel. I believe you will agree …

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~

If you’ve missed any of these photos, feel free to backtrack over here.

 

challenge, hiking, history, inspiration, photography, travel, Uncategorized, writing

Discovering the Spirit of Burgos, Spain – 108-121/200 Camino Photos

The historic heart of Burgos, Spain, is chocked full of shops, tourists, clergy, and workers. Buildings are joined in a continuous wall, and the daytime is alive with motion and sound. One place is different, though. You can see part of it on the right hand side of the photo.

crowded

Here is a better view. It is Divina Pastora, a chapel and albergue just steps away from the great Gothic cathedral in Burgos. Look closely at its design. You can see the oldest part, with light stone, and the more recent brick floor added atop.

Camino 864

It is a humble, quiet place. Simple. The complete opposite of the cathedral I will detail below. The albergue occupies the upper floor. It is small, but clean and warm. Alicia (Al-ee-see-yah) staffs it. In the evenings she sings in the chapel. In the morning she serenaded us awake with gentle guitar music and her sweet voice singing “Good morning, good morning, good morning.” The sound of her voice, the beauty of it and the sweetness, makes it my favorite memory from the Camino.

There, I encountered the Italian man I met in Santo Domingo de Calzada.

“Are you going to the cathedral?” I asked.

“No, I don’t like that you have to pay admission. A church should not profit from admission.”

I had heard this sentiment before. The admission price didn’t bother me, though, because the churches and historic sites that charge it must care for their collections, and this can be costly.

“You can tell me how it is,” he said.

I had never been to a Gothic cathedral before. The outside is nothing less than spectacular.

cathedral2

The interior can be just as overwhelming

interior

Vaults, arches, marble, sculptures and more. All of it designed to draw the eye upward, to heaven, to the Light of the World

up

Works of art meet the eye in all directions

pediment

 

closeup

detail

Even stairways are fantastic

stairway

But pathos lurks amidst the beauty. Note the upper right hand corner of the below shot, just above the chandelier.

stainedglass

It is known as the Flycatcher. A figure made in Germany, it rings a bell on the hour, and its mouth opens as if to catch flies. Forgive the blurry picture below.

clockguy

It is, dare I say it? Creepy. But it is not the only creepy thing in the cathedral. There are crypts, because medieval people wanted to be as close as possible to the sacred in cathedrals, hoping it would wear off on them, even after death.

crypt

That is why the bones of saints were kept and revered, like this piece of an arm

creepy

 

Still, the opulence all around can leave one flat. How many mouths would have been fed from the cost of this incredible place? It is clear that while it was created ostensibly for spiritual reasons, it was also meant to communicate worldly magnificence. Burgos was the capital of Castile and Leon.

Back at the Divina Pastora, the Italian man said, “Well, how was it?”

“Just fantastic!” I gushed. I handed him my camera so that he could look at the photos.

“What do you think?” I asked when he was done.

“I should have gone,” he said, frowning a bit.

I could not argue with him there.

~

If you’ve missed any of these photos, feel free to backtrack over here.

 

challenge, hiking, history, photography, travel, Uncategorized

The Unexpected Beauties of Burgos, Spain – 100-107/200 Camino Photos

With a restless need for travel, I have been to a number of countries in Europe. That, combined with a master’s in history, has given me the conceit that I am fairly well-educated and well-read. Why, then, had I never heard of beautiful Burgos before walking the Camino de Santiago? True, it is not a huge city – the entire metropolitan area numbers about 200,000 people. And the approach through industrial areas and barren airfields can be dismal. I was coming from the east, and pre-warned about the dull walk, I opted to take the river route. Placid streams, strolling couples, and floating waterfowl were better companions than choking smoke and the whir of machinery.

The outskirts of the city were crowded and dense, and for a while I despaired of enjoying myself in this city. But as I made my way into the old quarter, I was pleasantly surprised.

First, the view of the spectacular Gothic cathedral from the river

cathedral

Then, drawing closer, statues of El Cid, the ever-popular Spanish hero:

El Cid1

A noble medieval knight

knight

And a weary pilgrim, nearly naked. I was better clothed than he, but I could identify with his fatigue.

Camino 871

Monuments stand tall

monument

Though if you look closely you can see that storks have taken them over as well.

nest

Until at last you come to this castle-like gateway, which leads to the cathedral and the old squares and gathering places.

castle

Further wonders awaited me, as did the bittersweet parting of my traveling companion. I will save these for the next post, though.

~

If you’ve missed any of these photos, feel free to backtrack over here.