Music of the Night

Ah, Michael Crawford as the Phantom of the Opera. I had such a crush on him when I was in my “I love darkness and dead trees” teenage years. Enough so that I memorized the entire soundtrack of the musical, and learned the piano version of four of the songs. And discovered that holding that last note against the accompaniment is bloomin’ hard, especially if you are seated and playing the piano as you sing. Mom took me to LA to hear Crawford live as a graduation present when Phantom was still touring. We also went to the La Brea tar pits, and got to experience a small earthquake. It was a fun long weekend.

I even read the novel, which is… probably not something that fans of the musical really want to do. The Phantom was not a nice character. The original silent movie shows that, and it is more of a horror story than a romantic love story. Romantic in the “Romantic” overblown emotion sense, yes. Kissing, cooing, and love? No.

Continue reading


Medieval Recycling

We moderns like to bewail how earlier generations looted even older cultures. How could they not see the beauty in the ancient buildings? Why did they not know how much knowledge we lost when they mined chamber tombs for gold (or stone)? How dare they cut up old manuscripts and use them to bind other books?

Um, it’s called recycling. Continue reading

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

You Don’t Need the Whole Tree…

Medieval Europeans would have been flabbergasted by modern forestry practices. We cut down the entire tree, every time. People in the ancient world, Late Antiquity/ Dark Ages, and on until the early 1900s (in some places) tended to cut down whole trees on far fewer occasions. Instead they coppiced the trees, trimming the trunk down and letting it regrow. Or they pollarded, cutting off branches on a regular basis but not touching the lower trunk. They also took entire trees, but not as often as we do today.

A pollarded tree in southwest Poland.  Author photo.

Continue reading

Odd Vibes

Blogger note: I’m still out of internet access, so if you are in moderation, I’m sorry, but I can’t “free” you for a while yet.

I should not have gotten the creeps at Kutna Hora. It’s a lovely old mining town with an amazing parish church – St. Barbara’s – and a nice cathedral. The old town is a bit vertical but well preserved, and the place has a lot of fascinating history. The day started sunny, a few showers rolled though, then the sun returned. But still… Continue reading

Book Review: Megafauna

Fariña, Richard A. et al, Megafauna: Giant Beasts of Pleistocene South America.(Indiana University Press, 2013) Kindle Edition

Short version: Neat book, skim the arguments about Darwin and Intelligent Design.

Longer version: The book looked interesting, and the price was better than for a lot of similar texts, so I decided to give it a try. If you are interested in the strange mammals that roamed the Americas south of Panama, this is a fascinating and very well written book. It helps to have some biology background, although the first two chapters go into detail about how paleontology developed in South America and how the animals are organized and classified. Although most of us in North America know at least a little about Ice Age mammals (giant hairy elephants and friends), far more kinds of critters existed in the south.

Continue reading

Some Thoughts on the Damage to Notre Dame de Paris

Well, to paraphrase, since this is a PG-rated blog, “nagdabbit!” Followed by, boy I hope this was not arson. Then, medieval churches’ greatest enemy strikes again. Then I cried.

I’ve only seen the outside of Notre Dame. The line was so long, and the day so hot, that I opted to go to the Roman site under the church rather than stand in line for two hours in the sun. I’ve seen a number of other Gothic cathedrals, and didn’t feel the need to get heat-stress just to view this one along with thousands of strangers. (I got heat stress the next day, after going back to the Louvre. It was near 100 F on the city streets, with a hot wind and dust swirling from the park near the museum.)

One of the single greatest causes of, ahm, unplanned urban renewal in the pre-modern era was fire. Without pumps that could move water and apply constant pressure to it, the only thing to do was 1. bucket-brigade, 2. tear down buildings closest to the fire to keep it from spreading, 3. pray, 4. all of the above. Some of the earliest building requirements, such as a tile or slate roof, or covering the facade with plaster to cover and protect beams, or “cover fire hours,” (curfews) came from those fires. Multi-storey houses often kept ladders under the eves of the first floor, along with buckets, in case the fire tocsin rang in the night. Certain church bells would be designated as the fire bell, and when that note sounded, everyone stopped what they were doing and hurried to fight the fire. Continue reading