Kipling and . . . Dante?

The textbook I use to teach history has a picture of Dante in the section about the Renaissance. This year (September 14 to be exact) is the 700th anniversary of his demise. He is most famous for a series of three epic poems detailing a soul’s journey through Hell and Purgatory into Paradise, and then back to the world.

The third chapter (Canto) of The Inferno describes souls and angels who are tormented, but are not in either Hell or Heaven, because the angels would not choose between G-d and Satan, and the people were neither good nor evil. They can’t go up because they lack virtue, but they will be lorded-over by the truly damned in Hell, which isn’t just (and would reward some of the damned, so that’s not acceptable, either.)

For some reason, this year I was skimming over bits of the Inferno to use in a lesson about education and the Renaissance, and thought of someone who was neither good enough for heaven or bad enough for the infernal realm.

Now Tomlinson gave up the ghost in his house in Berkeley Square,
And a Spirit came to his bedside and gripped him by the hair —
A Spirit gripped him by the hair and carried him far away,
Till he heard as the roar of a rain-fed ford the roar of the Milky Way:
Till he heard the roar of the Milky Way die down and drone and cease,
And they came to the Gate within the Wall where Peter holds the keys.
“Stand up, stand up now, Tomlinson, and answer loud and high
The good that ye did for the sake of men or ever ye came to die —
The good that ye did for the sake of men in little earth so lone!”
And the naked soul of Tomlinson grew white as a rain-washed bone.

“Tomlinson” by Rudyard Kipling.

The poem is much longer than the excerpt above, but Tomlinson, the newly dead, can’t get into heaven or you-know-where because he never did anything. Now, [spoiler] since Old Scratch is a lawyer at heart, he finds “the roots of sin” in the unhappy Tomlinson and sends him back to go, you know, actually commit a sin and earn his place among the damned.

Both Dante and Kipling are riffing off of Revelation 3: 14-22, the letter to the church in Laodicea. Because the Laodiceans were neither hot nor cold, they are rejected. “Go do something!” Preferably good, of course, but anything is better than nothing. Dante finds himself in trouble at the beginning of the Inferno because he is guilty of acedia (sloth). He knows what is good, what he ought to do, and . . . can’t be bothered. He’s spiritually lazy. He doesn’t do any good (” . . . those things which we have done and those which we have left undone,” as one confession puts it.) That’s Tomlinson’s sin as well. Acedia, “sloth,” not doing what should be done. In Tomlinson’s case, he hadn’t bothered to do anything but read about other people’s activities. Dante . . . spent a wee bit too much time on politics, but he claims sloth/acedia.

I’m sure that Kipling had read Dante. Everyone did, in those days. I know Kipling knew the Biblical reference. And he probably had met more than one Tomlinson, people who lived only in books, and never thought for themselves. “This I thought that another man thought of a Karl in Norway,” Tomlinson claims. But he, himself, never did.

Be either hot or cold, a saint or a sinner, choose G-d or Satan. But don’t just sit there!

Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, begins at sundown today. For people of the Jewish faith, it is a day of very solemn contemplation and prayer, for fasting and sorrow. It is a day to consider one’s failures, and to bewail them, acknowledging where one went wrong, and how one failed to do his or her duty to the Most High and to his fellow men. It was the day of the scapegoat, the animal that bore the sins of the people into the wilderness. It is still for apology to G-d and remembering errors.

“Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa,” to mix liturgical languages.

There is also a sense of being close to the presence of the Most High through worship and prayer. Yom Kippur truly is the holiest of the High Holy Days.

To my Jewish readers, may you have an easy fast, and may you find that your name was inscribed in the Book of Life.

https://torahportions.ffoz.org/portions-library/images/as-shofar-tallit-man.jpg

Image from: https://torahportions.ffoz.org/portions-library/weekly-torah/head-of-the-year.html

Howdy, hawk!

A lady Merlin.

For some reason, allll the other birds were really quiet. The dove on the birdbath didn’t move for a good 15 minutes, until the merlin departed.

It’s been a busy week for urban wildlife. LawDog’s avatar stopped by to visit.

I zoomed way in, while standing away from the window. I didn’t want to spook the fox. At first I thought it was the neighborhood not-a-stray cat, but the ears were too big. So I put on my glasses. That’s not a red tabby cat.

Corvus Corax, the Carmina Burana, and Hip Hop?

Let’s face it, a lot of popular culture is, and has always been, about the, ahem, ars amatoria. Admiring the opposite sex, pursuing the opposite sex, enjoying the company of an enamorata (or enamorato), and on occasion insulting people by publicly declaring them to be incapable of, or less skilled in, certain recreational pursuits.

The group Corvus Corax is among a few that have no problem with celebrating the medieval popular culture, and do it with gusto. In Latin, old Low German, old High German, and a few other dialects, with a blend of period and modern instruments, and mostly modern tunes based on the surviving medieval bits that we have. Some of the songs they do in English, songs that mirror what was sung in the Middle Ages. Let’s face it, partying, drinking, flirting, are pretty much European universals (and Russian, probably lots of Asia as well.) I like their stuff, although I blushed hard the first time I really listened to the words on a few of their songs. Good thing they are not in English, or I’d be a lot warier about listening to them while at Day Job.

Those of you who have sung, or really listened to Orff’s Carmina Burana, and other settings of the poems those are drawn from, know what I mean. Every time we’ve done the Carmina locally, we had to be careful that the kids singing the boy choir part stayed unaware of what is sung around them. It’s not . . . OK, parts are, but only if you know the subtexts of the Latin. Or have heard a certain setting of one number in particular, where the baritone leaves nothing to the imagination. Joyfully leaves nothing to the imagination.

I have no problem with this music, oddly enough. I say oddly, because so many modern songs on these themes make my stomach churn, or my hackles shoot up to my ears. I don’t mind reading the Roman grafitti from places like Pompeii, or seeing pictures of Classical and Medieval erotica. They are not titilating, I guess because they are historical images and artifacts. That’s what people back them liked, or how they insulted each other, and so what? The human race would not be here today if boys hadn’t chased girls until the girls caught them, going back to . . . um, a very long time ago. I enjoy Corvus Corax and some of the other medieval rock groups. (Not the purely pagan things. Those often give me cold chills.) OK, they are singing what today would NOT get radio play. Since it doesn’t get radio play as it is, no biggie.

Modern stuff isn’t fun, or joyful, especially the hip-hop I’ve been forced to listen to. Granted, it is not a large sample, but it is what is on the internet and satellite radio. Male or female lead, there’s no play in it, no sense of mutual chasing and catching. The singers are all about controlling others, not “enjoying a light evening of mutual pleasure” as Master Saldovado phrased it. The medieval stuff I’ve heard or sung is fun. The musicians enjoy the earthiness of it, and enjoy each other’s company.

“Bring a beer here!”

The following is Corvus Corax having far too much fun with a drinking song.

Twenty Years On

I’m not really sure what to say. Most of what I’ve been thinking has been shrouded in cold anger laced with sorrow. The abyss has been looking back at me recently, and that part of my personality needs to stay quiet and under control. Meditating on September 11, 2001, and events since then inclines me to loosen the chains binding that . . . anima . . . and allow her free rein. Those around me don’t need to see that.

The United States was attacked. In the years that followed, Great Britain (London bus bombings) and Spain (Madrid train attacks) were also hit. Almost 3000 people died on September 11, 2001 in the World Trade Center towers, the Pentagon, and on Flight 93. Others likely died because organ transport flights were grounded with all other air traffic. Air ambulance flights were permitted on the 12-13th, under very, very strict limits, then other types of aviation returned to the skies. The Hudson River corridor even reopened, much to the surprise of a lot of us in aviation. the DC area remains in effect a no-go-zone for the average Sunday flyer.

The United States was attacked. Don’t forget that. No matter what the current pundits claim, or insinuate.

We’ve been critiquing and rehashing everything that came after ever since. “No Blood for Oil.” “Not in my name.” “Don’t Invade Iran.” (That one always left me scratching my head – no one WAS talking about invading Iran.) Now . . . I’m staying away from current events for a reason.

Don’t forget. Tell younger people where you were, what you were doing, what you thought. Tell them the truth as you remember it. Tell them about the bravery and courage, the sacrifices and the efforts that followed. Tell them also about who celebrated the attacks, and why.

Lest we forget, lest we forget.

[Actually, I think I can say one thing I’ve decided on. I’m not one of the Winged Hussars. I’m one of the ones inside the Gates of Vienna, doing everything I can to hold onto civilization and what’s of value, and to help the defenders, so that there’s something left when the relief forces arrive.]

Those who know will know.

Overheard in the Halls: Episode 29

*cue “Morning” from Peer Gynt Suite*

A teacher strolls down a long hallway, savoring the relative quiet. She raises her can of soda pop to her lips . . .

Voice from Around the Corner: AaaaaiaiiiiEEEEEEEEEEE!

Me: [races down the hall, cuts the corner and skids to a stop]

Jolted Junior: Spider! Spiderspiderspider Biiiiiiiig spider!

Me: [studies wolf spider heading for the outside door] You are quite correct. I’ll get the door for him.

The spider went in peace under his own power. Headed for the van used by the teaching sisters to commute to Day Job.

* *******

A confused soul wanders into my classroom during chapel hours.

Me: Can I help you?

Confused Soul: Um, I think this is my first period class?

Me: You are?

C.S.: Mumbles name

Me: No, you are in Brother Vector’s math class next door during first period. This is chapel period. Which chapel are you in?

C.S: Um, Protestant Two? I think? I left my schedule at home?

Me: Let’s go check with Mrs. Hutchinson.

C.S. [As we go up the hall to Mrs. Hutchinson’s room]: This is kinda my second first day. I’ve been sick.

Me: That’s quite alright. Some days are like this.

Indeed, she was in Protestant Two, and Mrs. Hutchinson took over.

********

I was being invisible behind the desk, covering a study hall while Sister Scholastica was on retreat.

Frazzled Freshman [sprawled in chair at study carrel] Uuuuugh, I’m doooomed.

Sober Senior [looking up from calculus book]: It’s only the second week of school. No one is doomed until the fourth week.

Secular Senior: Unless you are among the reprobate, not the elect. But that’s only if you’re Protestant. The rest of us are safe. [returns to history book]

Frazzled Fresh: I skimmed the stuff for English and I still busted the quiz.

Sober: There’s your problem.

Frazzled: But that’s what you do, right? Find something on the ‘net, answer the questions, get an A. That’s what we did at my other school.

Sober: You went on the net? For English? How do you think you can learn it without actually reading the story?

Frazzled: Magic?

Sophomore Standing at the Printer: Just read it. One short story won’t kill you.

Secular Senior [muttering from behind history book]: No, but Sr. Mary Conjugation will.

I stayed where I was, invisible, and trying hard not to laugh.

*******

Sister Scholastica (aka The Dean) returned from her retreat refreshed and out of the loop. We crossed paths in the secondary workroom.

Me: Good morning, Sister.

Sr. Scholastica: Good morning, Miss Red. [stirs coffee] How have things been?

Me: Mostly quiet.

Sr. Scholastica: Mostly quiet?

Me [counts off on fingers of hand not holding tea mug]: First hairy spider of the season, two misplaced student laptops, major communication lapse between here and the usual place so Señora Piñata is rather irked, and the junior students have been counseled about how to return to class when they come back from off-campus chapel.

Sr. Scholastica [sips coffee]: Generally normal, in other words.

Me: Yes, ma’am.

Nocturne or Matins?

There are days when you wake up earlier than you need to, and just know that returning to sleep is impossible. It was one of those nights/mornings. Two texts, both sent hours before they arrived, had kicked my fight/flight overreaction into gear, and midnight had passed before sleep arrived. At 0430 I woke from a rather odd dream – dreaming that I was dreaming about something – and after ten minutes gave up. At 0530 I tied my walking shoes and headed out, walking staff in hand.

A mild breeze stirred the cool, damp air. Not quite humid enough for dew, the morning still felt misty, enough that I could see the beams of headlights. Clouds, the remnants of storms overnight in New Mexico, hurried across the sky, hiding then revealing the waning moon and Orion. False dawn faded into true dawn, but sunrise would not come for another half hour or so. No colors save silver and dark, dark blue-black graced the sky. The air smelled of growing things now tired, of sweet flowers, a whiff of fresh asphalt, and moisture.

I had the sidewalks and roads to myself, more or less. The early-shift people had already departed, and the people who need daylight to labor were not yet on the road. I heard a few dogs, and a motorcycle or something else with a high-pitched engine racing along the straight stretch of road where people do that (much to the irritation of everyone else.) One bicycle commuter hurried past, his headlight flickering with each pedal stroke. A solitary jogger plodded along, thudding his way through the quiet morning.

Two or three birds chirped their opinion. The doves sleep in this time of year. A few cardinals are early risers, and anything that disturbs the grackles is greeted with loud, harsh dismay. The kites have begun moving south. I saw one toward the end of my stroll, warming up in a tree and waiting for heat and thermals. The cicadas stayed quiet. They favor afternoons and evenings for their conversations, harsh and whirring and loud, louder than lawn equipment, rising and falling in the heat, the droning sound of summer. A western kingbird perched on a road sign, waiting for cars to stir up the bugs in time for breakfast.

A bat fluttered past, darting and dodging ahead of my path. I see one or two bats a month during the summer, if I’m out early enough. The fox, another early riser or late-goer, crossed my trail last week. We avoid each other, after the little surprise as I was moving the neighbor’s newspaper. The fox was on the front stoop. I froze, he froze, I backed away, he departed. A bit like the Cooper’s hawk perched above the neighbor’s door two weeks ago. A younger hawk had found something in the chaos of ivy flowing down the front of the house. The senior hawk observed from the dormer peak. I opted to leave the paper on the windowsill and return later to put it in the basket.

Enough sunlight rounded the curve of the earth by 0630 that grey-white cloud towers appeared in the southern and western sky. Only a little paler than the fading night around them, they warned of another showery day in the offing. No one is complaining, not this year. The wheat is in, the cotton needs the rain, as do other crops, and the ranchers almost always want rain – at least until the first hard freeze. The southwest breeze, taking strength from the pending sunrise, teased my hair and face as I rounded the corner for home. As I unlocked the front door, I glanced over my shoulder. Orion had faded away, leaving the slender moon alone in the blue-grey sky.

You Can’t Get There From Here: Aviation Version

“Where’s the access for the oil drain?”

“Down there. You have to reach past the engine mount, around the back of the supercharger, don’t hit the whatsis, and don’t forget to cut off the safety wire before you try to remove the drain plug. Hanging upside-down helps.”

Except that it’s hard to remember which is right and left when you are half-inverted on the work platform, trying to get to everything while the oil is still warm enough to drain quickly. I really, really disliked the designer who put that thing there.

Oh, and you have to replace the safety wire, which has to go around the plug in a certain way, and be twisted in a certain direction. If you don’t twist the wire tail and bend it so that the end is smooth and blunt, the Crew Chief or next person to work in that area will have WORDS with you. Trusssssst me on this.

I think every airplane and almost every other type of vehicle has one of those things – something you can’t get to easily, or quickly, or that is in a compartment so tightly crammed with expensive and fragile stuff that you are afraid to breathe and more afraid of dropping a hand tool or the gizmo you are trying to troubleshoot/repair/replace. Hellholes are found on all large aircraft, and someone always has to put the battery waaaaaay back in the tail-cone for weight-and-balance purposes. Unless the battery is just in a place that requires removing part of the interior of the plane to get to. Not an easy part, either.

Merlin engines and other in-line designs are infamous, because the designers made as tight a package as possible in order to squeeze everything into a very streamlined design. Trying to get to the starter, or oil drain, or certain other accessories takes slender hands, long arms, and bones like Plastic Man or Gumby. I once looked at a Japanese engine that appeared to have been draped with spaghetti or linguini. All the wires for the spark plugs, all running down the outside of the engine, and getting in the way of, well, finding anything else.

Electronics bays are notorious. Many jets and some turboprops put the guts of the electronic stuff, back in the pre-solid-state days, or when the plane has a radar unit on-board, up front in the nose near the oxygen tanks*. You cannot get to this bay from the cockpit. You have a separate hatch that opens into a dark, cramped, and either hotter than the blazes or colder than a well digger’s hip pocket space that is about as wide as most men’s shoulders. OK, not that cozy, but it feels like when you are trying to do any work in there that requires more than “remove box, slide in new box, close hatch.” Granted, airline-sized planes do have more room, but it’s still dark, and too warm or too cold, and when you drop things, they fall farther. I can pretty much guarantee that the more expensive the [thing], the louder it sounds when it hits the cement, no matter the size of the thing or how many steps on the ladder it hits on the way down.

I have had the privilege of squeezing myself into electronics bays, tail cones, wing roots, and aft fuselages of a number of aircraft. It was fun, and were I still that limber, I’d do it again. But I’d wear much better ear protection.

*In some biz-jets, the emergency oxygen bottles are in the nose. As you pre-flight the plane, you check the bottles, open the valves, and remove a long red “remove before flight” streamer that flaps outside the O2 compartment like a tongue. If the plane is taxiing “with its tongue out,” you’d better park, shut down, get out, and turn on your emergency O2 system. There’s some suspicion about a certain biz-jet crash and the bottles getting overlooked during preflight. Nothing is proven, though, but the super-long crimson streamer stems from that time.

Owl, or Vampiress?

The painting is “The Owl” by Valentine Cameron Prinsep.

Pure pre-Raphaelite, of course, but that’s not what caught my eye when I saw this on the cover of a catalogue. You see, in the Balkans and a few other places, owls are associated with vampires. Not bats, although bats abide in the same places as (fiction) vampires and everyone knows that Dracula can turn into a bat or multiple bats. At least, movie producers do, based on what I’ve seen. The Latin “strix” (screech owl) became the Romanian strigoi, meaning a vampyric ghost. The term is also a nod to the Greek fear of owls as a form of the bird of ill omen that accompanies witches and other evil-doers.

When you start digging into the actual folklore of Transylvanian vampires, and Balkan vampires in general, the more often you notice that owls are connected with the undead. Also, a person with red hair is automatically suspect. He or she may well be predestined to become a vampire, the same as if he or she had been born on an inauspicious day. It doesn’t matter if the man becomes a priest and lives a saintly life – the odds are strong that his body will leave the grave and steal the lives of his relatives. Better to sneak back to the cemetery, stake the corpse and behead it, or cut out the heart and behead the body, then destroy the heart. (This still happens in some places, even though it is illegal. What’s a few months in prison compared to saving the life of a family member?)

So when I saw the painting, my first thought was “Is she a witch, or a vampire, or was the artist just playing with Greek mythology?” Probably the latter, since Prinsep was a member of the pre-Raphaelite school of painters.

If Arthur and the other Hunters saw the painting? They’d suspect vampire. Had the giant raven that bothered Riverton been an over large owl, the Hunters would have dealt with it post haste.

The Hunters use strigoi, morioi, and nosfiertu to differentiate between different types of vampyric entity. At least, they do in the Old Land. The Hunter clan near Riverton doesn’t worry so much about the nice distinctions, because among other things, they don’t encounter the succubus-like form of cursed undead.

In fact, when an owl lingers in the wrong place, Arthur gets . . . concerned. When Arthur grows concerned, Lelia and Tay start reaching for silver, holy water, strong coffee, and headache powders. Not necessarily in that order. Because it’s going to be a looooong night.

I Don’t Think She Noticed

A hummingbird was checking out a female Mississippi kite after the rain last Monday evening. Well, pestering and trying to intimidate looked more like it. I chuckled. The hummingbird finally settled on a not-to-near bare branch tip and kept an eye on the kite as the kite preened and dried out a little bit while waiting for the cicadas to emerge from hiding.

It was remarkably quiet out, actually. Quite nice. We’ve been getting about one good to decent rain a week, more or less, for a few weeks now. It’s not the average pattern for August, but rain is rain, and this part of the world almost always wants more. This rain came with a very strong cold front that dropped the temps into the low 60s as well as bucketing down rain. Low clouds hugged the tops of the trees. In other words, good weather for a natural redhead who wanted to take a walk before sunset.

As I returned from my stroll, I saw the hawk first. She was hard to miss, perched on the tip of a bare branch on the top of one of the tallest trees on the block, black against the slivery-grey sky like a bird-book illustration. The kites like this branch, so she wasn’t a surprise. I stopped, waiting for a car to creep through the intersection, and saw a dot of motion. The dot stopped and hung in mid-air, then backed away at the same elevation, advanced again, and darted around to the other side of the kite. She started working on one wing. The dot returned to its earlier spot in the middle of the air, then settled onto a lower branch tip.

The dot, a hummingbird, lifted off two or three more times as I watched, then settled in to stare at the kite, or do whatever he was doing. I smiled, laughed a little at the show, and finished my walk.