Eagles all the Way Down?

Poland, the Habsburgs, Hungary, the Byzantines, Russia, you can’t go anywhere save Bohemia without tripping over an eagle. Bohemia, just to be different, has a two-tailed lion.

The Hungarians claim descent from a steppe princess who was seduced by an eagle and bore five sons. They were the founders of the five major clans that went west and eventually took over the Pannonian Plains. This was recorded in the early Middle Ages, by churchmen, so any influence from Greek mythology… However, given the traditions of totem animals among steppe peoples, I wouldn’t bet against there being some pre-Christian core in the legend.

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Castle, Festung, Burg

A re-run from 2015. I’m still somewhere without internet.

“Well, it’s really more of a schloß than a burg.” One of those lines that make no sense out of context, unless you speak German (or the NATO version of Deutch-lish). The building in question happened to have a medieval core with extensive Renaissance additions, to the point that it really had become more of a palace than a castle, although it still had -burg in the name. Confused yet? Continue reading

Towns that Time Forgets

Krakow, Poland is rather like Bruges, Belgium, in that a lot of history bypassed it. For those of us interested in seeing actual old things rather than reconstructions and museum dioramas of old things, this is wonderful. For the people who lived in the cities during those periods of neglect, it wasn’t so wonderful.

The good news is that, unlike Warsaw, the Nazis didn’t level things out of spite, with the Soviets following up just because they were Soviets. Krakow lost its status to Warsaw during the late Middle Ages, much like Bruges, and a lot of things bypassed it. Also unlike Lemberg/L’vov/L’wow/L’viv, it wasn’t in between two armies times three offensives.

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D-Day plus 75

Grandpa Carl’s first visit to France began with the emergency bail-out signal. His plane had been hit by flack and the pilots could not keep it in the air (it was sort of on fire.) Windy, loud, dark, and dangerous was his impression of Normandy on June 6, 1944. He landed in a hedgerow, upside-down. Not the best way to begin an all expenses paid walking tour of western Europe.

He said he was lucky – he wasn’t in one of the gliders or in a tank. Tanks attracted unwanted attention. Continue reading

Soviet Jokes…

no, not just their leadership and cars (although I think the Lada was better than the Trabant. Which is praising with faint d-mns, I know.)

Last month, RES over at According to Hoyt posted a link to Jay Nordlinger’s piece about jokes from and about the Soviet Union. I immedeatly got both of the ones RES copied, and laughed fondly. I’m a child of the Cold War, and “Russkie” jokes were common when I was growing up. Watching the planes from SAC Headquarters launching every day probably had something to do with that.

One of my favorite political cartoons from that era showed a table, with a banner over it labeled “Politburo Central Committee.” Behind each chair was a parking meter. Several of the meters read “Expired,” and the occupant of the chair was obviously deceased (feet sticking up and the only thing visible, body sprawled out on the table, and so on). This was from the time when the Soviets went through three First Secretaries in four years (Brezhnev, Andropov, Chernenko, then Gorbachev).  This led Pres. Reagan to complain that he couldn’t get anything done with the Soviet leadership because they kept dying on him. He was older then they were, which says a lot about the hard lives of the Soviet leaders before they became leaders, and about the quality of Soviet medicine, even for the elite. Continue reading

Too Much History and Too Many Flavors

I believe it was a commenter at According to Hoyt, a woman from Romania, who observed that you don’t want to live where a lot of history happens. The more I read about certain parts of the world, the more her words ring true. Central and Eastern Europe have a lot of history, and the historians, populists, and general population all interpret that history in all sorts of ways, sometimes at odds with each other and their neighbors. Continue reading

Vikings and Leaders

Alfred the Great of Wessex is one of my heroes. I imprinted young, with the book by Alf Mapp, The Golden Dragon. The book is for kids, and is hagiographic, but it’s hard to diminish just what Alfred managed to do. I returned to him in grad school, when I read a historical fantasy novel based on his life. That got me looking for academic biographies, and I found one. Wow. Justin Pollard’s Alfred the Great draws on Alfred’s own writings, the biographies written at the time, and draws in archaeology and other things to paint the picture of someone who refused to quit, even though his own body often failed him at times of stress.* There’s a very good reason he is the only monarch in English and British history to be called “the Great.” Continue reading