Behold, gentle reader! Here you witness the start of an intermittent series of blog posts designed to feature those subjects that are dear to my writerly heart. Namely, the quirks of history, which is called, descriptively enough, Hiccups in History.
The very first of such posts is a reblog by TwistedSifter. It’s just too good to pass up. More hiccups to come soon!
Photograph via Library of Congress In this old law enforcement photo from 1924, we see a police officer trying on a ‘cow shoe’ used by moonshiners to disguise their footprints. In the United States alcohol was banned from 1920-1933 in an era known as Prohibition. Moonshine (a type of strong, homemade whiskey) was often…
Like many work-for-hire writers, I usually find out when my book’s cover is done by checking Amazon.com. The other day I was thrilled to see the cover for my upcoming nonfiction release Cleopatra: Queen of Egypt. I absolutely love it! Just like I absolutely loved writing the book – ancient history is the jam in my jelly roll! I believe it’s coming out in August.
If I had unlimited time, I would probably spend several hours a day, every day, learning Latin and perusing old newspaper articles. Alas, I do not have unlimited time, but in my research for various fiction and nonfiction projects I do come across some interesting bits now and again. You may recall my rampaging monkey post. This is another post in the same vein.
First we will start with the wild. Bears! I do believe this has the makings of an American nursery tale.
Goodness gracious, great balls of fire! Hyenas can be pretty dangerous, too.
Dogs in danger always pulls at the heartstrings! It seems that Jack London’s Call of the Wild may have inspired some unsavory people:
And last, but not least, apparently dogs have been accompanying folks on car rides for quite some time.
You will notice that these articles are from around the turn of the 20th century. That’s the setting of my latest project, a quirky romance between a dog musher/postman and a bicycle-riding pastor in 1911 Alaska. Check out my newsletter to keep apprised of its progress and to read free flash fiction while you are at it.
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.
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.
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.
Recently, I had one of the most wonderful experiences of my life. A transcendent, awe-inspiring, utterly magnificent experience.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Looking out from the walls, you see the city below, and the thick bricks.
The road paralleling the wall leads to the church, standing proud and distinguished at the city center.
What treasures do the towers and thick walls hold? The most valuable things of all.
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 …
Searching for the yellow shell at every intersection, and walking onward.
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.”
The hillside is beautiful with purple heather, and quiet mountains.
In the folds of the mountains lie little Spanish towns.
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.
If you are lucky you may see a pilgrim that carries a staff and wears a heavy wool cloak.
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.
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.
The peace and solitude may be glimpsed by this short video, which features a the call of a cuckoo bird.
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 …
Vaults upon vaults in the claustro (cloisters)
With incredible detail everywhere you look
And shrines in the most unlikely places. This one sat high above a city street, in the wall of an ancient building.
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.
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.
More walking, afterwards, took me past the ever-vigilant storks
to the Museo de Leon and the gorgeous Paradore (state-run luxury hotel housed in castles)
With beautiful details
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.
The splendor soon petered away, into city parks
And bodegas (wine cellars built into the sides of hills, right off the streets)
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.