Search

J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

Tag

History

So, I just wanted to point out……

……that I’m aware that a few of my posts regarding women transforming their lives are primarily white. I intend to correct that – I’ve read several books by women of color, like Alice Walker, Amy Tan and Maya Angelou, but it’s been awhile. I also plan to read and share more about men of color, like Sherman Alexie and Richard Wright.

I believe that strength comes from diversity and that representation matters, but I can’t espouse that and not show it. So, with your patience, I will be presenting posts that hopefully will be more diverse and representative of the world.

I would love it if you were to offer suggestions on writers and artists that you feel need more attention and their work showcased.

Thank you!

 

Recommended*:
The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
The Lone Ranger & Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie
Native Son by Richard Wright
The Color Purple by Alice Walker

*To be updated.

IMG_20160227_115204-2-2-2

 

Advertisements

An American Tourist in Ireland (3)

After Jerpoint Park, we traveled on to Waterford, where we would get a tour of the famous crystal factory, called Waterford Crystal. However, our tour didn’t start until three in the afternoon and we had arrived just before two. This gave us an hour of free time to do with as we pleased. I was in need of a restroom and technical assistance with my cellphone, as it had shut itself down and refused to start up.

Across the street from the factory was a what I assumed was a professional building, but ultimately turned out to be the Georgian museum, one of three museums within five minutes walking distance of the crystal factory. Right next to the Georgian museum was one dedicated to the Medieval era, but I opted for Reginald’s Tower. At four euros, how could I pass up any type of museum?

Reginald's Tower and replica viking ship.
Reginald’s Tower and replica viking ship.

Reginald’s Tower is the oldest civic building in Ireland, as well as the only urban monument to retain a Norse or Viking name (1). Had I more than one spare hour before the tour of the crystal factory, I would have made a point to visit the Georgian and the Medieval museums as well as the Tower. Something to look forward to when I plan my next visit to the Emerald Isle.

Once inside the museum, you are greeted by the relations desk and shop. The stone stairwell leading to the top of the tower is worn down by centuries of people climbing them – it’s a little unnerving to realize that you’re stepping on the same paths others had taken years earlier or decades or millennia, even (2).

In addition to being worn, the stairwell is narrow to the point of being claustrophobic. There is no railing, only a rope and that is tied off onto the wall, not the empty space opposite. I often found myself holding onto the steps themselves in order to keep my balance (narrow, worn and, fortunately, practically steep enough to be a ladder).

I was able to climb high enough to reach the third floor, but mild claustrophobia and vertigo convinced me to turn back. It’s not bad enough to keep me from attempting climbs, but it does make it uncomfortable to the point where I need to make decisions about continuing on or going back.

After my tour of the Tower, I made my way to First Street and was able to find a cellphone shop that took care of my phone. I realize this sounds incredibly mundane (I’m in Ireland!), but this was on a Sunday and most businesses are closed on Sundays. So it was a stroke of luck to find one that was open.

I also found a bookshop (I have an unnerving ability to do that), browsed through their displays of books about the Easter Rising of 1916 and got a cup of coffee (one of three cups the entire time I was there – I drank more tea than coffee).

I was back at the crystal factory with a few minutes to spare. This tour of the factory showed us how the crystal is made, from sports trophies to the panels that go on the New Year’s Eve ball in Times Square, New York. It is an amazing experience and one I highly recommend.

By all means, visit the more well-known cities, like Dublin or Galway or Belfast, but if you don’t make the journey to Waterford, you’re missing a lot.

*****
(1) Quote from the Wikipedia article.
(2) This is true regardless of what part of the world you’re in – I live in a valley that had been inhabited by Native Americans long before the Europeans arrived.

An American Tourist in Ireland (2)

On Sunday, my second day in Ireland, my tour group left Dublin shortly after breakfast. We then traveled to Co. Kilkenny see the lost town of Jerpoint Park and the church of St. Nicholas.

Artist rendition of the the village; lower right hand corner shows infrared outline of the original village.
Artist rendition of the village; the lower right hand corner shows the outline of the original village.

This was a fun and unique experience, as a family owns not just the sheep farm and house (originally to be servants quarters), but the lost village itself is located on the property. The family live in what is called Belmore House, a stately home that was originally designed to be the servants’ quarters, according to our guide. But the gentleman building the house ran out of money, so the house remains as it is.

The old road that led us Belmore House actually ran through the original village of Newtown Jerpoint, population 250. There a number of pubs in this village, more than one would think could be sustained by a such a small population.

Church of St. Nicolas. In the background, to the right, is Jerpoint Abbey.

How many pubs were there in this village? Fourteen. That’s right, folks, there were fourteen pubs to satisfy the thirst of 250 villagers.

Well, actually, not just the villagers – it was designed for the many tourists that came through to visit the Church of St. Nicholas and Jerpoint Abbey. You know, people like me, who like to lollygag and take pictures and write blog posts about their experiences. Although, I am not sure there were such things as travel guides back in the day, when St. Nicholas was re-interred in the churchyard he currently resides in.

Tomb of St. Nicolas.

And who is this St. Nicholas chap, anyway? And why was this an important stop, you ask? Well, St. Nicholas is St. Nicholas of Myra and he was buried in that churchyard over 800 years ago. Allegedly brought back to Ireland by two crusaders, he has remained in the churchyard ever since. If you look carefully at the grave slab, you can see their faces inscribed on either side of St. Nicholas in the photo to the left.

It wasn’t unusual for the crusaders to bring back the remains of an alleged saint – the Normans were keen collectors of religious artifacts and brought what they found back home. Whether the items in question should have been moved in the first place is up for debate. (1)

This is St. Nicholas.

As with many other historical figures, we are lucky to have physical descriptions of them recorded in written form. Even luckier are when there are sketches or paintings made, generally from life. Most often, however, we are left with an artist’s rendition of what the written word describes.

And to the right is a very stylized rendition of what St. Nicholas may have looked like, back when he was hale and hearty, very much alive and practicing his faith among his flock and blessing those around him.

 

But thanks to the myriad paths of myth and fantasy, we have come to know him as this fellow in the photo on the left.:

So, in essence, I know where Santa Claus is buried.

 

 

 

 

(1) Given that many museums are now finding themselves in an awkward position of being in possession of artifacts that technically should not have been given to them and are making efforts to either return or make reparations, I wonder if the caretakers of St. Nicholas’ church have ever had that question put to them. I regret not asking.

So, I’ve been working on my speakeasy tale……

……and I’m enjoying the interplay between the hero and the heroine. I like how they’re getting to know each other, how she gives herself permission to be bold with him and how gives himself permission to be vulnerable with her. The banter they engage in as they build a relationship of trust and mutual respect is amusing and reveals a lot about who they are and what they both desire, for themselves and for each other.

It sounds like I’m describing real people, doesn’t it? Well, it helps, when writing, to treat your characters as if they are. As you get to know them, their thoughts and feelings, the more real they become within the context of you story. If they are real to you, the stakes get higher and the resolution far more satisfying and authentic. This makes them real to the reader creates a memorable and emotional impact, which is exactly what you want.

The rough draft is so far eighty pages long – I am not sure what the ultimate page count will be until I get there. I expect it to be less than two hundred pages, not a full novel, but not a short story, either. There is a seven page scene written that has yet to find its place within the narrative. I’m not worried – I know where it’s going to go, I just haven’t gotten there yet. As far as an ending goes……well, I’m not sure which way it’s going to go. Do they go their separate ways or do they pursue a life together?

The answers will show themselves as I write it, I suppose. In the meantime, I need to follow them as they tell me their story.

prohibition

So, I had written something for my history class……

……and it turned out that I had misunderstood the purpose of the theme I had chosen. It’s a good piece, however, so I’m sharing it here:

In the fictional future as described by Star Trek, there’s a rule about first contact that our intrepid heroes have to follow and abide by, with no exception. Called the Prime Directive, it is defined this way: no interference by Starfleet or any member of the Federation upon cultures that are thriving, but not yet technologically advanced or aware of life beyond their world.

Members of the Federation/Starfleet are forbidden to interfere and impose their beliefs, way of life or views on said cultures. Regardless of how technologically advanced the culture might be, First Contact with the Federation does not occur until the alien culture has proven that they are capable of interstellar travel.

Granted, this is from a TV show about an ideal future, but many of the fictional characters that inhabit the show are human. They were either born on Earth or on a space station or starship, but they are connected to our very real history. This kept coming to mind while reading the assigned chapters and handouts regarding the first contacts between the Native Californians, the Europeans and the Spaniards.

Looking at that part of our past from the 21st century, we (hopefully) can see where things went wrong for everyone in those disastrous first contacts. The Europeans and Spaniards viewed the Native Californians as little more than backwards children at best that needed to be corrected or primitive apes at worst to be dominated and controlled. This is demonstrated quite clearly by the capture and forced conversion of the Natives by the missions.

Neither side recognized that the Natives had an established way of life and culture that benefited their peoples and the land. The Natives lived in harmony with their environment to the best of their ability, taking care to neither over-populate nor over-harvest the land. Being human beings, they also had conflict among themselves and other tribes. Depending on the standards one used to judge them by, they were either very sophisticated or very primitive people.

The impact of first contact between the Natives and the explorers seemed to depend on who was involved and whether the process was peaceful and mutually beneficial. Such encounters were passed along to other tribes and down to the younger generations, creating a long memory. This would affect future contacts, because not all explorers had anyone’s best interests at heart other than their own. If greeted openly, there was an opportunity to abuse that trust, thus souring the tribe of being receptive to those who wouldn’t.

Treaties and promises made between the Europeans/Spaniards were more often than not broken when the newcomers saw the wealth offered by the land. Treaties were broken when gold was discovered in the Black Hills and, as I write this, the Standing Rock Sioux are fighting to protect their only source of clean water against an oil company.

There is a reprieve, enforced by the Department of Justice, the Department of the Interior and the Department of the Army, calling on the Dakota Access Pipeline to “voluntarily pause all construction”. This came nearly a week after the oil company’s bulldozers destroyed sacred sites. But it is not a full-stop to that project.

Star Trek, according to Gene Roddenberry in 1991, was “an attempt to say that humanity will reach maturity and wisdom on the day that it begins not just to tolerate, but to take a special delight in differences in ideas and differences in life forms.” Because, he added, “If we cannot learn to actually enjoy those small differences, to take a positive delight in those small differences between our own kind, here on this planet, then we do not deserve to go out into space and meet the diversity that is almost certainly out there.

Have we learned those lessons? I don’t know. According to the fictional future of Star Trek, we as a collective whole – meaning, the entire world, all countries, no exceptions – do learn those lessons and achieve that ideal at some point.

Will we learn from the past? I think so. Over two hundred tribes and other groups are currently in North Dakota, protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline. That’s amazing and hopeful.

Can we change? Again, I don’t know. My feeling is that it’s a personal choice to be open to the lesson, learn from it and change oneself. All one can do is share one’s own experiences.

Anything beyond that is control.

Recommended:

The Elusive Eden
Star Trek: The Original Series
Trail of Tears
Stop the Dakota Access Pipeline petition

 

IMG_20160227_115204-2-2-2

So, I’m taking a class on the history of California……

……… And I’m also watching The Lone Ranger with Johnny Depp. Yes, it’s a cheesy film, a total throw-back to the B-movies or serials of the Forties and Fifties, only with better special effects.

That is not the point.

The point is, it occurred to me that if you were going to go back in time and alter a key event, if not out-right change it, then it can’t be a wacky scientist and a high school student using a souped-up DeLorean that does it.

You’re going to need an actual team of historians, to monitor the situation after the key event has been altered.

Alter one thing, no matter how small it is, and everything is up for grabs. The variables that led up to the situation are now in chaos and will cause a ripple effect.

That needs monitoring. Which is where that team of historians comes in, to track those radical variables.

And, okay, yes.

You’ll also need that wacky scientist to get you back in time – both to the past and the present.

The high schooler’s just for show.

IMG_20160227_115204-2-2-2

 

Recommended:
The Lone Ranger TV Series
Back to the Future
Parallel Worlds

An American Tourist in Ireland (1)

In books and movies (and the occasional TV show), when the main character goes on vacation, adventure inevitably happens. Agatha Christie wrote quite a few of my favorites, among them, The Man in the Brown Suit and They Came to Baghdad. In both novels, a young woman embarks on an adventure – Anne Beddingfeld (TMitBS) for mystery and Victoria Jones (TCtB) for love. Both get far more than they bargained for.

A classic adventure story by the Queen of Crime and one of my favorites.

When I embarked on my adventure to Ireland, I wasn’t sure of what to expect. I only knew this was a journey I needed to make. My great-great grandparents emigrated from the Emerald Isle and that’s pretty much all I know about them. They are the mystery I need to unravel and put the puzzle pieces in the right place, to better know my family, my great-grandfather and myself.

Did I get adventure? Not in the same manner as Anne or Victoria did. I did go to a country that was magical and exciting and both familiar and strange to me. I got a marriage proposal, after a fashion, but it was more in jest than seriousness. I felt Ireland’s history and present merge, depart and walk alongside each other. In a country whose civilization dates back more than ten thousand years, it’s not uncommon to feel that weight.

History is itself an adventure. So is life.

So, this little mystery of mine…..

……seems to have evolved into a quest. Quests mean travel, which requires planning and budgeting. Now that I’m back from Ireland, getting a sense of the country my great-great grandparents had emigrated from, the time has come to map out my next move.

This means, of course, I have to re-think my approach to this wonderfully tangled puzzle.

In other words, what would Sherlock Holmes do?

Very simply, he would take what verified facts he had, categorize the ephemeral ones in order of importance before either eliminating or verifying them, then follow the threads on a chase to see what resulted. Whatever remains, he believed (as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote), no matter how improbable, must be the truth.

The game is afoot!

With deerstalker cap firmly in place, I take up the mystery with Holmes as inspiration.
With deerstalker cap firmly in place, I take up the mystery with Holmes as inspiration.

So, it seems I have a mystery on my hands……

……about my great-grandfather, his three (yes, three) different birth years, the lack of a birth certificate from the state he was (allegedly) born in or any record of his parents in the same area. What information I have at hand comes from his diaries (beginning in 1902 and skipping to 1912), a death certificate, family lore and some historical references (my great-grandfather was something of a mover and a shaker in his day). Everything prior to 1900 is obscured in the shadows of time, lack of personal diaries and any connections to his siblings. I don’t even know their descendants or when my great-great-grandparents died or even where they are buried.

The information, as I’ve mentioned in another blog post, is sketchy at best. I have a death certificate for my great-grandfather (to be referred to as E.J. from now on), which has his parents names and general location of where they were born. I have good pieces of information, but I’m unable to fit them together and make a complete picture of the man who was such a strong influence in local events. He died years before I was born, so I have no memory of him, but his diaries make it clear that I would have enjoyed his dry wit.

He left home at a young age and for all intents and purposes, it seems he never looked back. He didn’t forget his past, but he didn’t seem to dwell on it, either. A lesson, I suppose, we should all embrace. But I want to know him, to know his history, his parents, his siblings. I’m very lucky – I know where most branches of my family came from, who they were and where they’ve been.

E.J. is an enigma, a mystery, a man who came out of the mists, almost as if he was born the day he left home and moved west.

I have a mystery on my hands. I have few leads and they only seem to lead to more mysteries. It is time to put on my deerstalker cap and think like the man who literally invented the forensic sciences over a century ago with the creation of the world’s most famous fictional detective.

It’s time to ask myself “What would Sherlock do?” and use his methods of elimination to find my answers.

Because what will be left, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑