The last time I dug into the early history of the Holy Roman Empire 2.0 (Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, which starts with Henry the Fowler and Emperor Otto I), I skipped most of the politics. I was far more interested in the cultural and spiritual aspects of the period (roughly 875-1100 or so) than the politics. Oh, I knew that there was a lot of fighting, both for the title of King of the Germans/Holy Roman Emperor and with outsiders (Magyars, Magyars, Wendish/Sorbish Slavs, the First Crusade). But I ignored the internal strife for the most part.
Alas, because of a number of factors I’m having to wade into the politics of the Empire, Poland, and Bohemia, and Hungary. Oof. Part of the difficulty is the repetition of names. Not just Otto I, II, and III, but multiple Henries, Boloslavs of both Poland and Bohemia (some of whom fought each other), Stephans, and lots of Matildas. For a while, Matilda was as common as Mary, Barbara, Ann, and Catherine. Henry the Fowler’s second wife was a Matilda, as was Henry II’s wife. Oh and Henry II’s father was Henry, but not Henry the Fowler. Confused yet?
One thing I have to force myself to remember is that, unlike later periods in England and elsewhere, the Holy Roman Emperor was in some ways first among equals when north of the Alps. And an often unwanted outside interloper south of the Alps, at least unwanted by those who felt that their candidate for the papal throne was the real pope. So someone like Duke Henry the Lion could be a real political threat to Frederick Barbarossa, but was also a critical supporter and ally of Frederick — when Henry stuck with his feudal vows. Within their own territories, the various dukes of Saxony, Bavaria, Austria, and so on had total control, as much as a Germanic warlord had control of his knights and clerics. The Imperial Diet was a real necessity as far as mediation and problem solving between the various nobles, high church leaders, and the Emperor. It didn’t always work, but it probably kept things from being more violent than they were. Add in the Church trying to channel all that aggression into more socially useful directions, and the Empire, Poland, and Bohemia were probably about as calm as was possible for the time.
I have to know this stuff inside and out, in order to clarify it and distill it for other people. This is also taking me into some new research directions, like the roles of women. I knew about the women of the Hanse cities and how some of the merchant patricians widows and daughters earned full citizenship, acting as men in all legal ways. The women of the Ottonian and Salian periods of the Holy Roman Empire could be as independent and powerful, especially some of the abbesses of places like Quedlinburg. Others, also within the church, scolded their male “superiors” about immorality, lack of attention to duty, and the need to clean up some problems in the Church. There was a reason why St. Francis was needed, and the preaching orders in general. Women like Matilda of Canossa could have strong political influence on even the papacy. She also could nurse a grudge well enough to get a Red Cross life-saving award, but that seemed to be true of a lot of the nobility of the early and high Middle Ages. Legally, women had rather limited rights. In reality? It depended on the individual, her situation, and her location. Germanic and western Slavic women seem to have had more traditional as well as legal independence than those south of the Alps. At least during this time.
There’s only one “textbook” for this region, the one written by Lonnie R. Johnson. It wasn’t exactly meant to be a textbook, but it can be and is used as one for college classes. It’s good, but it skims some of the earlier material that I need. Trying to pull all this sort of stuff together and to keep it from bogging down is an art, and one I suspect very, very few people have. I don’t. So I’m borrowing a little from here, and a lot from there, and my vacation slides and notes from over here, and trying to make sense of all of it, in chronological order. It must be good for me, because it makes my brain ache. It’s one thing just to read German and get the material. It’s another to translate it accurately for other people.
And I just know that some of this will leak into my fiction. Especially Henry the Lion of Bavaria and Saxony. I first met him as “Oh, yeah, the guy who was a PitA for Barbarossa.” Except Henry was a lot more than that, and he connects England (Henry II Plantagenet) to Saxony and places like Lübeck and Brunswick/Braunschweig. No, I have no idea what Henry’s going to do, or how, but I have this sinking suspicion . . .
Cream Early Grey, Persian (Earl Grey with cardamom), New Mexico Breakfast, Scottish Breakfast, Ginger Black, Sandia Spice, Monks Grenadine, Bengal Spice, Kama Sutra Chai.
It was time to re-stock the tea cabinet. I get a lot of teas locally, but there are some “treat” teas that I buy from New Mexico. I first encountered New Mexico Tea Company in a small shop in an office-park area in Albuquerque, and was taken by their melon black tea (Monk’s Grenadine). They have expanded their offerings since then, and it’s always interesting to see what new things they offer. They have a wide range of straight black, green, and white teas from China and India. I prefer to get those locally, and buy the flavored teas and tisanes from New Mexico.
Cream Earl Grey is one of my go-to flavors. It is strong, black, and really has to be drunk with a little milk or cream to soften the heavy tannins. The tea itself has a creamy under-flavor to it even black. It’s pretty high-caffeine, although not as stout as Scottish Breakfast. Scottish Breakfast is a solid, mellow black tea that fights back. It’s not for your “just before bedtime” cup, unless you have a lot higher caffeine tolerance than I do. The nice ladies at the shop warned me about Scottish Breakfast on my first visit. They were right.
New Mexico Breakfast is a milder, slightly spicy Earl Grey variant that was blended to stand up to very hard water and to multiple steepings*. This is your “keep adding water to the pot for an hour or so because it’s that kind of morning.” It reminds me of Lady Grey tea, but with a stronger flavor and less citrus. I will probably end up getting this in the bigger bag, like Cream Earl Grey. Persian is another Earl Grey variant that has cardamom in it, not enough to turn it into chai, but enough to produce a slightly sweet, mild cup either with or without milk. I wasn’t sure about this one, but it is a very smooth tea that’s good in the morning or evening.
Ginger black is strong. The ginger almost overwhelms the tea flavor, and it stands up to multiple steepings. I like it, but it’s probably not for the purists. Or don’t steep it as long, and use fewer leaves.
Sandia Spice, Monk’s Grenadine, and Bengal Spice are all black teas with pretty heavy secondary fruit or spice flavors. Monk’s Grenadine has a clear melon (cantaloupe) flavor and tends to be tannic if it steeps too long. Sandia and Bengal spice teas are both dessert teas, or good on cold, wet nights when you want something spicy that isn’t a chai. Sandia Spice on occasion causes me a slightly sour stomach, especially on an empty stomach, even with milk in it. I’m not sure which component causes the problem, and it’s intermittent, so I don’t worry about it.
Kama Sutra chai is a bright, mild chai. It has to be drunk with milk and a little sweetener to get the full blend of flavors. It is lighter than Sandia and Bengal, but has a slight peppery bite like most chais. I like it despite the name – it is not an aphrodisiac.
Please note: I get loose tea and brew it in a teapot with boiling water. New Mexico Tea Company does offer bagged teas if you prefer that. (They are also a little left of center and heavy on the organic and Fair Trade, but they don’t rub your nose in it like certain spice purveyors.)
*Two heaping teaspoons in the pot, add water. Pour a cup, add more water. This can go on for an hour or so. I’m not a gourmet who makes “proper” tea. This is the method I grew up with and I like the results. You may prefer a different preparation style.
FTC Notice: I purchased these teas for my own use and received no product or other remuneration from New Mexico Tea Company for this review.
Enchanted Rock is one of those things that you don’t want to climb at mid-day in summer. Ask me how I know . . . It also requires reservations, one of a few state parks that are so popular that overcrowding and overuse is a serious concern.
Waaaaaaaaaay back before the dinosaurs, a batholith, an enormous buried intrusion of granite formed. The visible parts of the rock are a tiny fraction of the actual mass. Over time, erosion removed the overburden on the rock, revealing parts of it. The reduced pressure and exposure to the elements also caused spalling and cracking. Technically, the visible part of the rock is an “exfoliation dome,” meaning a lump with pieces cracking off due to freeze-thaw and to pressure release. The large boulders in the photo above are some of the pieces that have flaked off the visible rock.
As you can see, once you get above a certain point, the rock gets steep and very bare. It tends to have a breeze that increases as the air heats up, but the rock is warm, the sun is warm, and the day was humid. Mom and Dad Red, and Sib, took a slow, thoughtful approach to the rock. This is only in part because of concerns about knees, hips, and balance. Sib-in-law, yours truly, and Red 2.0 scrambled ahead. The younger ones went straight up. I made switchbacks, because I didn’t have a walking stick for once, and falling was not on my to-do list for the day.
As you climb, the views are quite impressive. So is looking up-slope and realizing that that’s a thunderhead lurking in the distance. Perhaps loitering on the summit isn’t such a good plan.
The name Enchanted Rock comes from stories about the location being a place of medicine power for various Indian peoples, and because it makes sounds at night. Some people have reported odd lights and glows from the mass. The sounds are plausible, especially when the rock is sum-warmed on a cold, clear night. I didn’t sense anything odd, but I was only there by daylight.
There are a number of hiking and nature trails of differing lengths and difficulties. Going up and down the dome is not technically challenging in terms of finding a route or dealing with obstructions and scree. However, it is steep, bare granite, hot as the blazes in summer, and you need a lot more water than you think you do. If there’s a storm in the area I would not go up past the camel shown in the pictures above. I made it 2/3 of the way, and decided that since I was already feeling a little strain, I’d better stop. Down is always harder for me than up is, and required much more care in terms of footing and balance. The heat also wore me out. I’m not built for sticky heat, and certainly had not adapted to it (we’d been down there for less than a week.) Red 2.0 got a little farther before parental intervention.
Enchanted Rock, when we visited, had no running water aside from a bottle-filling station drawing filtered well-water. The storms of Snowvid 21 had taken out their water and sewer along with the power, and they hoped to have everything back by July 1. The port-a-lets got changed every other day, and weren’t bad, but it was dry camping, and they strongly encouraged you to bring your own water. Because so many people from Austin and San Antonio flood the region for hiking and the like, reservations are required. The on-line system is . . . not intuitive, but it works. I’d like to go back in fall or winter, or in spring before the heat really cranks up. Mornings are better because of both heat and storms. I suspect some personal speed records have been set getting off the top of the dome as a storm approached.
What happened to the grass? That’s an odd question, or perhaps Odd*, to ask while driving on the Edwards Plateau. Most people ask about “missing” trees on the Great Plains and High Plains, but grass in the Hill Country? Hasn’t it always had trees, even if many of them are a little short and twisty? Mesquite, lots of shinnery oak and other oaks, some cedar, elm, cottonwood, and a few other trees cover the land. The shade is nice, but not the stands so thick they block the wind and mosquitoes wait to gang up on you. This year, there were also a lot of broken trees and deadfalls laying around thanks to the ice and snow from Snowvid 21. I kept muttering “My kingdom for a chainsaw. And bulldozer. And burn permit. And firewood sale stand. And . . .” You get the picture.
If you don’t know the history of the region, it looks a bit overgrown but not bad. Trees are good, right? The National Arbor Day Foundation and others are strong encouragers of tree-planting. Trees soak CO2 out of the atmosphere, they produce shade (most of the time, mesquite and some oaks aside), some produce things people can eat, birds like them . . . More trees are good, right? Especially native species, because those fit the landscape and climate better than do exotics, and don’t harm the ecosystem.
Um, well, sort of. The problem for me is that I’ve read about the pre-Anglo environment of Texas, and . . . Grass. Grass covered large swaths of what is now Texas, far more so than today. Much of the brushy land was grassy land because of pyro-management by the Indians, and by lightning, and intensive grazing by bison. Trees tended to be confined to stream and river courses, where they were protected from fire and heavy grazing until they grew big enough to tolerate creeping fires and the occasional nibble. When the German settlers moved into the area, they found more grass than trees, although trees certainly existed, enough for a sawmill or two.
The problem was thin soil and drought. And no one understood the need for fire management. European forests are 1) very different from North American, and 2) have not been fire managed since, um, well, I have yet to find anything in the archaeology records about controlled or otherwise burns. The grasslands were steppe or wetland, or both (Hungary), and trees tended to be managed, either by property owners or the state. So the new arrivals plowed, planted, grazed heavily, didn’t burn, and farmed as they best knew how. Some techniques worked, others didn’t. In wet years, all was well.
Then there’s the rest of the time. Overgrazing of the grass allowed brush to move in. Drought favors brush, as does fire suppression. As early as the 1890s, extension agents reported problems with good pasture land becoming brush choked and weedy. Toss in the dry years of the 1917-18, then the 1930s, and especially the 1950s, and grass retreats ahead of brush and then scrub forest. Deer, wild hogs, and some other game species do well to OK in brush, so ranchers shifted to farming game as well as cattle and horses. Even so, you can have too much of a brushy thing.
Given my personal preferences, if I won the lottery and could buy property, I’d do what I could to bring back the native grasses. But that’s just me, and I’d have to buy lottery tickets first. It takes a LOT of work and on-the-ground knowledge to do a good job of clearing out enough trees and brush for grass to return, and then manage things properly after that. Large infusions of cash are also required in the beginning. The benefits can be great, including increased stream flow and ground water, greater species diversity, fewer weeds and noxious plants, and healthier livestock and crops. All it takes is cash, sweat equity, knowledge, and labor.
For a few academic generations, we thought that ecosystems had a “climax state,” an end-goal that once reached, was the ideal final equilibrium point for any given ecosystem. Turns out that’s not true. Land use, climate fluctuations, geologic and weather events (think back to the enormous storm that leveled huge swaths of trees in England) . . . They all cause changes. Fire as a land management tool goes way back in human history, and is partly responsible for the savanah’s in Africa and is very responsible for the grasslands of North America, as well as for some of the forests of North America. The brushy Hill Country is just one possibility, brought about by climate shifts (end of the Little Ice Age) and human land management. A grassy Hill Country is another possibility, with large meadows and pastures ringed by fringes of trees, and tree-lined watercourses.
*Over at AtH, it has become common to use Odd to describe those of us who are eccentric in eccentric ways, inclined toward individualism (“just leave me alone to do my thing, please,”) often bookish, and frequently very knowledgable about unusual and fascinating fields, even if they are not our every-day vocation.
I had no idea quite what to think when I discovered that Tuomas Holopainen, the composer and keyboardist for Nightwish, had done an album based on the adventures of the Disney character Scrooge McDuck. Or more correctly, inspired by a series of comic books that became a graphic novel about Scrooge McDuck.
[For my readers who are wondering, Scrooge McDuck is the richer than rich character who has a bin full of gold coins that he swims in, and who is a bit of a skinflint. The “McDuck” is a clue that he’s one of those Scotsmen who watches every coin that goes out or comes in, and dies richer than Croesus. He earned all that gold.]
The album starts in Scotland, with McDuck describing where he came from, and then “follows” him to the goldfields of Australia, the Yukon, and the American West. It is a bit of a cross between a movie sound track and one of those New Age “landscape” albums (without the ambient sounds.) It uses uillan pipes and other folk instruments appropriate to the setting (I get the feeling that Highland Great Pipes and an orchestra don’t always get along) along with a full orchestra.
The music is fun, and the vocals are not too bad. The last piece is a meditation about time and wanting a little more of it. The entire work forms a life story, full of adventure, hardship, beauty, danger, and wonder. In several interviews, Holopainen said that the graphic novel had a lot of character depth and made him think fairly deeply about some things. That shows in the music.
If you are a Tuomas Holopainen fan, are a Nightwish buff and curious, or enjoy soundtracks and “epic music”, this is for you. The MP3 comes with a booklet download with more information. The album cover was done by Don Rosa, the same artist who did the graphic novel.
A sample (some tracks have vocals, this one does not):
FTC NOTICE: I purchased this recording for my own use and received no remuneration from the composer or record company for this review.
I discovered that I have to add a story to Nominally Familiar in order to fill a time gap and set up some things for the future. So expect the book in August, if all goes well.
I will resume work on White Gold and Empire as soon as I finish the short story.
After that? I will have a short story in an anthology tentatively slated for an autumn release. Then it depends on what Day Job looks like. I don’t know for 100% certain how many classes I will have, what my schedule will be, or how many students I have (yet). One of the classes will be brand new, and those always take more work than something I’ve taught before.
If Day Job is full, then the next thing will be a Familiars book, then probably a second Familiars book or Elect novella. If Day Job isn’t too overwhelming, I may take on the novella first, for an autumn release, then Familiars, then maybe that Indus Valley thing. I’ve already got the next Elect story sketched out. Paulus and an as-yet unnamed lady are the PoV characters. After that will come a story from Magda’s PoV.
As it stands at the moment, there will be three André-Lelia stories in N- Familiar, the one about Morgana, one about Ned Oescher (the jeweler), one Rosie and Mallory, and Sharrie’s story. I’ve already started pulling some of the story excerpts off the blog, so if you have been looking for something and can’t find it, don’t worry. You’re not losing your mind.
I was walking on the treadmill the other morning at the gym* and listening to Sabaton. “Lost Battalion” came up, which sent my thoughts to WWI, then WWII, and Grandpa Carl. He covered a lot of Holland-Belgium on foot, and was one of the Battered Bastards of Bastogne.
His office had various and sundry memorabilia in it, including a small, very simple framed item hanging on the wall. The frame was plain, dark-brown wood. It was perhaps eight inches long by five inches high. In it was a set of black and silver shoulder boards and a collar patch. And a neatly typed note card, smaller than a three-by-five index card. The card read “From an SS officer who no longer needed them.” If you looked closely, you could see brown stains on the silver and black. They hung where he could see them as he turned the light on and off when he came and went from the office.
The first time I ventured into his office (up a steep, narrow flight of stairs, one of two rooms under the roof, plus a tiny washroom), he told me about some of the things there. He nodded to the patches and just said, “After Malmedy we were a little mad.” I nodded in turn and that was that. He knew that I knew what he meant, and it needed no further discussion.
I sussed out very quickly that some topics were not open for discussion or query, as I’ve mentioned before. Bastogne and the Bulge, his first marriage. If he made an observation or said something, then I locked it into my memory because I assumed that he’d never tell the story again. The only time he talked in any detail about Bastogne, he spoke to himself and perhaps the TV, not to me. I sat where he couldn’t quite see me, slightly behind him to the left, and I’m not sure I breathed for ninety minutes. I sure as heck didn’t move.
I never asked if he regretted killing the SS officer. It wasn’t an appropriate question, and not mine to ask. That was between him and G-d. I suspect at the time the answer was “[rude word in GI] no!” Later? It was a different time, different place, and one he preferred not to return to.
If I could go back, or he were still alive, I still wouldn’t ask. I wish I’d gotten to see Saving Private Ryan with him, if only to hear him grouse about the stupidity of some of the things in the movie as compared to what he did. He said that the first fifteen minutes were the only time any film has ever come close to catching what D-Day was like. I’d ask about D-Day, and probably ask more about Market Garden and Wesel, but not the Bulge.
He was a Southern gentleman, for all that he grew up poorer than dirt in the Ozarks and considered Boot Camp to be gourmet dining (and the first time he’d had enough to eat in quite a while). Some things are not discussed around ladies, even ladies who like military history and study it. I tried to be that Southern lady, and did not press. Some questions are not mine to ask.
*Yes, I drove to the gym to go walking. It’s hard to find an incline around here otherwise. And I was safe from inattentive drivers, especially on a dark, rainy morning at 0630.
The last time I’d been to this museum, in Fredericksburg, TX, it had been “the Nimitz Museum” and consisted of the Nimitz Hotel building, and the mini-sub in the new annex. This would have been the early 1990s. Today, it is much, much bigger, and has four main components. I saw one of them, because we ran out of time.
Short version – anything you want to know about the war in the Pacific: background, how it started, the Army as well as Navy’s contributions, US civilian experience, the atomic bombs – is here. Plan on at least five hours if you go through every display in the main building, eight hours if you do all the main building and the gardens, Pacific War Zone, and Nimitz Gallery. And the gift shop is great.
Longer version below.
Admiral Chester Nimitz began his career in submarines, which is why a submarine holds pride of place as you walk up to the main entrance. The garden sweeps over the sub, like waves of water. This is not your usual military history museum. Because it is part of the Smithsonian, which is Federal, you are supposed to follow current mask and social distancing guidelines. In reality, once you are past the main desk? Common sense. It wasn’t all that crowded, or at least didn’t feel crowded when we were there, because it is laid out in a twisting, turning fashion that packs a lot of displays into a small area, without feeling claustrophobic. There are attendance caps currently in place, so I’d suggest buying tickets on-line, or going early. Once they hit their cap, that’s it.
The museum begins with a video/map outline of the chronology of the War in the Pacific, from 1940-1945. If you have no idea what happened, this is a good introduction to the raw dates and places. Then you move back in time, to China and Japan in the 1840s, and follow events in those countries, along with the US. This provides a lot of background, including things I wasn’t aware of. If also focuses on the Kuomintang/Guomindong and the Nationalist government. Since they were the official government of China during the war, this makes perfect sense. US isolationism following WWI is also discussed. I’d say almost 20% of the museum is prelude and pre-December 1941.
I won’t go through every single display, because I’d overload the blog and my readers. All the major events are highlighted and discussed, with oral histories, models, excellent maps, video projections of the action, life-sized displays of a picket ship’s bridge, an actual Australian tank from the New Guinea campaign . . . It’s very impressive. While the US Navy is the central focus of the museum, as one would expect, the Army and the Allies get lots of coverage as well. It was refreshing to see displays about the ANZACs, Coast Watchers, British, and so on.
If you follow just the main displays, you will get a wonderful chronological history of the Pacific Theater. If you also look at the side displays, you get information about women’s roles, war work in the US, life in the US during the war, internments, the Japanese home front and Japanese government, and other things.
I come from a Navy family, grew up reading naval history, especially Pacific War, and so a lot of this was familiar. Even so, I learned an amazing amount. It took my folks and I over five hours from start to finish, and we didn’t go to anything but the main museum building. If you are not familiar with the war, it may take longer, or you might choose to skip some of the side displays in favor of an overview approach.
I’d almost recommend a day and a half for this. One day for the main building, then buy a second admission the next morning and go to the rest – Pacific War Zone, Japanese Peace Garden, Nimitz Gallery, and so on. And come back to the main museum and hit what you skipped the previous day.
The gift shop has lots of books, prints, books, toys, maps, books, videos, books, tee-shirts, glassware, ball-caps, flags, “tasteful” Hawaiian shirts with subs, planes, and aircraft carriers on them, books, and kids costumes.
If you are at all interested in WWII in the Pacific, Admiral Chester Nimitz, naval history, and related topics, I highly recommend this museum. It has not been too badly afflicted by the current deconstructionist trends (yet), and I suspect the governing board keeps a close eye on things. It is unabashedly pro-sailor and soldier. It doesn’t glorify war, but it doesn’t run down any of those fighting in the Pacific. There is enough about the atrocities and horrors to give visitors a sense of how bad things got, but it is suitable for kids. Parents can explain or not as they choose. Don’t be surprised to hear veterans elaborating on “their war” if one is visiting. The displays are very well done and can be skimmed or read in detail. It is one of the best military history museums I’ve been to, and probably one of the best museums in the US period.
Highly, highly recommend if you are at all interested in the topic. Oh, and if you just want to hit the gift shop? There are two – one in the main complex, and one up on Main Street beside the Nimitz Hotel building. Those are free to go into.
This is a throwback recipe, one that dates to when cocktail parties were more common, and having a small, fatty nibble in order to cushion the stomach wasn’t seen as death-by-heart-attack. The way I made it served 20, with a little of the herbed butter left over.
2 T butter
2T sesame seeds
1/4 teaspoon each marjoram, rosemary, and oregano
very thinly sliced bread
Melt 2T butter over medium heat, add the sesame seeds, and brown the sesame seeds. This is a bit like making a roux, in that it quickly goes from “not quite ready” to “dang it, start over,” so watch closely.
Heat the oven to 250 F (a moderately slow oven)
As the hot, seedy butter is cooling a little, cream the remaining butter and add in the herbs. The exact blend is up to you, as are the amounts. Be sure to use minced rosemary or powdered – fresh won’t work. Now blend in the sesame seeds, or stir them in if you’re leery of the mixer sending greased-up sesame seeds flying across the kitchen.*
Depending on your creativity, you might want want to get out cookie cutters and trim the bread slices into shapes suitable for the occasion, making sure to omit the crusts. Or just trim the crusts off the bread, saving them for a different use, and spread the butter on the bread. Set the bread on baking sheets and gently toast for 20 minutes or until crisp. Let cool.
These are rich and buttery. I used commercially made, mid-range brown bread, and had good results.
*No, I didn’t use too-shallow of a bowl for creaming the butter. Not at all. Nor was I trying to find errant sesame seeds on kitchen counters and backsplashes that exactly matched the color of lightly browned sesame seeds.