Book Review: Lightning Bird

Watson, Lyall. Lightning Bird.

If you read archaeology reports and anthropology from, on, the late 1800s through the 1960s, one thing that strikes you is how strange some of the theories were. At least, to us they seem strange. One that cropped up again and again was that at some time in the distant past—perhaps before the Great Flood—a more sophisticated culture lived in North America or in places in Africa or in South America, and then disappeared or was wiped out by later primitive peoples. Or had a disaster and “degenerated” into far more primitive cultures. A different variation held that some cultures were incapable of progress. Later, archaeologists found things that were obviously made by people, and found large numbers of them, but could not suss out what they were for or what they did. Continue reading


Telc, Czech Republic

It started with a fire…

As so often happened in history, there was a fire. Telc was built in the 1200s as a royal road-fort, with an extensive moat, to protect a major road intersection. By 1359 it had town right, and the municipal records began, or at least the preserved copies go back to that date. In 1386 a fire began in a brewery’s malting house and burned down two churches and 27 houses. Welcome to life in a medieval city. A new suburb, still called New Town, developed in 1543. But the most famous bit of the city, what everyone comes to see, dates to the 1530s.

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Luxury Good without a Trace

No, this isn’t a how-to for sneaking things in or out of the US without paying customs or other fees. It’s about something that led to a few major dust-ups in the archaeology and anthropology world.

A little background before I launch – Europe’s population has changed composition several times since “In the Beginning G-d created.” Migrants from the east, or north, or south, moved in and brought their cultures, technologies, livestock, and genetics with them. Cro-Magnon replaced Neanderthal, Neolithic farmers and herders gradually pushed the hunter-gatherers to the fringes of the continent and the uplands, then various groups of horsemen drifted in and out, culminating in the migration of the Proto-Indo-European speaking horsemen around 3000-2500 BC/BCE. Next were the waves of steppe horsemen that appear in recorded history, and the Slavs. Everyone agrees on that sequence, although exact dates are negotiable.

However… Continue reading

Distinctly Familiar now Available

Lelia and Tay stumble onto a haunted sewing machine. Or do they?

Something strange is scaring the seals, and making George wonder if his Familiar, Gus, has been in the beer-fridge again.

A shadow mage ventures out beyond the sea dikes and finds something older than she imagines.

And eight-hundred-fifty kilos of Familiar starts looking through the Polish want-ads, trying to find a job, as her mage sorts out a family problem.

Four stories of high adventure and humor, with a dash of danger and a few sprinkles of folk-lore just for fun.

Classical Knowledge?

So, my mind was wandering the other day, or more accurately, fleeing the truly obnoxious and depressing “morning show” blaring in the waiting area of the eye doctor’s office, and I started thinking about a book that I didn’t buy. I was in line at a very, very unusual bookstore, and they had a shelf of Loeb Classics editions, all ten percent off. One of them was Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy. This was a book I’d been wanting for a while, mostly because of the connection between it and King Alfred of Wessex, Alfred the Great. However, even at ten percent off it was a little spendy, so I didn’t get it.

Those thoughts led me to recall a story in Roy Bedichek’s Adventures of a Texas Naturalist where he was at a cocktail party and referred to “Thalassa, thalassa!” one associate caught the reference instantly, but a young woman did not. She had never heard of the Anabasis, could not discuss Xenophon’s prose style, was not familiar with the Greek classics in translation or in Greek. Bedichek wondered what had become of the schools. This was in the 1950s.

So, I started going through my mental list. Which of the Classical classics have I read, either in the original or in translation? Continue reading

Chick-pea Fish in Berbere

The Coptic church has well over a hundred fast days per year. Some are only meat-free, some are meat and fat free (no dairy), some are meat, fat, egg, and fish free. As a result, Ethiopian cuisines contain a large number of non-meat options.

This one uses chick-pea flour to replace meat. You make a dough of chick-pea flour and mold it into little fish shapes, then deep fry them and serve them with bread and a berbere-based sauce.  Again, the basic recipe comes from the Time Life Foods of Africa cookbook. I would advise a well-ventilated kitchen, because you are going to be chopping and grating a lot of onion. Continue reading

Berbere – Mild

Back when I had more time on my hands, I used to make Ethiopian food from scratch. The hardest part was the day required to make the two main condiments, niter kebbeh (spiced clarified butter) and berberé. But both made large batches, and they keep for months, so it was worth it to make up a batch of doro wat (chicken stew) or other food on short notice.

I’m going to give you my recipe for berbere. It is relatively mild, with a lot of flavor but not so much heat. The commercial version I’ve tried is far too hot for my taste, and this is closer to what I’ve had in Ethiopian restaurants. The recipe originally came from the Time Life Foods of Africa cookbook. It is a bit like curries, in that once you have the theme, you can vary it to suit your preferences. Tomorrow I’ll post a fast-day recipe using the berbere.

So, you need a bunch of spices, some red wine, and an hour or so of time. I prefer to use a moderate paprika, since you need two cups of it. Once you’ve gotten the basic idea down, feel free to experiment with hot, sweet, smoked, and different dry spices. Continue reading

Boskovice’s Past

Boskovice’s past goes back to the 1000s, possibly farther. It sat on a minor trade route, and appears in documents in the 1000s. It is in Moravia, south of the larger city of Brno, in a lovely highland region. And it has one of the best preserved synagogue’s in the Czech Republic, the Big Synagogue. The map above shows the Jewish Quarter, including the Big Synagogue (H) [the prominent black building in the cluster of structures in the center of the map] and Little Synagogue (I).

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Who Are You?

One of the historical themes of the Early Modern Era in Central and Eastern Europe is definition of identity. Who comprises the Polish nation? Who is a Magyar/Hungarian? What does it mean to be a Bohemian? Since only the people who had political status counted as members of the nation, only the nobility bothered with the idea until 1792 and the rise of Romantic nationalism. Until then, us and them were the more important distinctions.

To Slavs, “we” were the people who spoke intelligible languages. “They” did not speak, and to this day the word used to mean a German once meant someone who could not speak—just like the ancient Greeks and “barbarians.” Over time, especially once the Ottomans and Tatar Hordes became major threats, “we” also included Russian Orthodox Christians (Russia) and Roman Catholics (Poles). Germans had Catholicism, a tradition of having been mentioned in Roman writings, and not being Franks or Slavs or Vikings.  For the bulk of the population before 1792, that was pretty much what mattered. Continue reading