3-24-2011 Happy World Folk Tales and Fables Week

March 23, 2011
I love it when the cliff faces along the road are wearing their “winter beards”; these are the places where run-off flows down the rock, freezes and builds up in “shaggy” white sculptures. The rest of the year there may be a wet face on the cliff, but in the spring, you get these local cataracts that are nearly as white as the frozen ones. Route 31 between Lyndeboro and Wilton has some great ones. One year, during the frozen bit, one of them had streaks of different colors in the ice. At the time I wondered if the color came from the runoff picking up color from some bit of melting trash it was running over. Later it occurred to me that maybe someone was putting food coloring either upstream or directly onto the frozen cataracts. I wish we’d gotten pictures, we tried, but it’s always something that you are passing at 40 miles an hour.
Spring is proceeding as it does in New England…. Sunday night I decided it was time to open the bedroom window (I’ve been so looking forward to that), so, of course, in the morning, we got three inches of snow. (Still, I do love the fresh air at night!) And it continues to be fair enough in most days that the new snow is all gone now, and most of the accumulated snow as well. Many of the trees we pass have plastic jugs on them, I’m jealous, but I suppose I could have put out my hoses as well. We had our first snowdrop last week, and I bought a couple of flats of pansies to put by the driveway. I love pansies, they are pretty, hardy and smell good. They used to be my traditional Mother’s Day present, but I want them as soon as I can get them. I’m not sure that spring flowers are the prettiest, but they are the most needed.

The big news of the week is that Kat’s had to have another tooth out. She’s most indignant because she takes exquisite care of her teeth- brushes with baking soda and peroxide very frequently and regularly. But another one (beside the wisdom tooth she had out last year) got past saving, and yesterday she had it out. We are hoping that this one will heal faster than the last, so she’s being VERY careful about not eating anything solid. So it’s all juice and jello and soup and I expect her to get tired of it before she feels it’s safe to actually eat solid food again. (She’s even tried Ensure.) First she will move on to mashed potatoes and gravy (and cranberry jelly- the rest of us had turkey), and eventually she’ll be eating again, but meanwhile, it’s hard to figure out new ways to drink enough to feel like you’ve eaten. She is taking less percoset today than yesterday.

Willow continues to stitch away on her blankets- I don’t see her much except at dinner, and when she came down to cut out another pile of blanket applique pieces. We had our usual green corned beef dinner for Saint Patrick’s Day.
Friday Kat’s sewing machine was repaired and we were able to pick it up. While she didn’t actually sew, she did spend the days while it was out pin-tucking the ruffles of the — she makes, so she didn’t go into sewing withdrawals, as she’d worried about. (She’s not using the machine while on the pain killers, and I think she’s actually avoiding posting anything on her internet fora when she thinks it might be impairing her judgement.)
Saturday Honour and I tried to go to farmers market in Milford, but it wasn’t there. Honour and I were frustrated because when we were headed for the Schola on the 5th, we saw them unloading for it, but didn’t have time to stop. It turns out that it’s only once a month. I felt dumb. Sadly, I haven’t been getting much done this month, even though we haven’t had selling events. My theory is that I do better with deadlines, and this “big, empty month” has left me at loose ends. I have spent WAY too much time on the computer- reading facebook, playing “word bump”, and sharing my opinions with various groups (when I really should have been working on my book or doing other things).
OK, I’ll admit I’ve also studied a lot, but since I’m not an academic, I’m not sure that that counts for anything. Maybe it does. At the beginning of every Teaching Company course the introduction says “Think how much you could learn in a year if you spent just thirty minutes a day in the greatest college classrooms.” Between the ones I’ve taken from the library, and the one’s I’ve bought, I’ve probably listened to about 30 in the last few years, mostly history, and psychology. I’m beginning to feel like I may actually know a bit. At the same time, like Socrates, the more I learn, the more I know that I know nothing.
This week I’ve had my nose rubbed in the ephemeral nature of “facts”. Sure, it’s easy to listen to an audio disk for thirty minutes (a bit harder when they’re on DVD and I’m supposed to watch, but mostly they are just the professor who occasionally shows a map or picture, so I combine that with washing dishes, peeling potatoes, etc.); but they do give you a list of suggested books to read to support the lectures. That’s an advantage to actually learning the subject, but also my downfall time wise. I send for which ever of them is available thorough our inter-library loan, and that certainly does enhance how much one learns (as I recall from college where there were lectures and reading). I’ll admit that a deeply wish I had other students of the same subjects with whom to discuss them. The problem is that reading a pile of books takes a lot more time than a half an hour a day. And this month, I’ve been spending four to six hours just reading the books- as well as watching. The CD courses I listen to in the bedroom as I get up and go to sleep, the DVDs in the kitchen (and I have another one going in the car). Kat also put several of the german lessons on my MP3 player, but I have a hard time trying to figure out how to find the right one- and during the bad weather stopped taking the walks that I liked to combine with practicing the German. Got to get back to that.

This month I’ve been listening to a course about Ancient Empires- which hits a new empire, and thus, new supplemental books, every four to six days. I’ve covered Mesopotamia and the Hittites, and now I’ve gotten to the Minoans and Mycenaeans (and the Greeks, but I read about them when listening to the course on Greek Art, and didn’t send for more books on them). This week I finished Unearthing Atlantis: An Archaeological Odyssey. and I’m nearly done with the Minoans of Ancient Crete, and Helen of Troy: Goddess, Princess, Whore. Reading those books back to back brings home the truth about facts being hard to pin down because the dating is not consistent- except within each book. For example, one of the historic incidents that comes up in each book is the volcanic explosion at Thera- but each author gives a different date for the explosion. From 1628 b.c.e. to 1400 b.c.e.. I can remember reading about the new discoveries there, and how they figured that the volcano exploding probably inspired the stories of Atlantis. Also, they theorized that it may have created the plagues in Egypt in the story of the exodus: hail and fire from the sky, darkness at mid-day, pillar of fire for the children of Israel to follow…. Sadly, most Egyptologists have decided that Rameses the Great is the most likely Pharaoh for that story, although neither the plagues, nor turning loose a bunch of workers, along with huge piles of treasure are mentioned in any Egyptian records. Apparently, as important as it was to Joseph’s descendants, it wasn’t to the Egyptians.
I’m going to trust the 1628 bce date from the paleontologist, who got that date by cross checking layers of ash from Thera showing up in lots of places from the Nile Delta to glacial ice, dendrochronology of the California Bristle-cone trees (they live 5 thousand years, is that incredible all by itself?!) and trees from Irish bogs, the acid layers in Greenland, and the bamboo Annals of King Clich (first ruler of Hsia). The Chinese chronology has been lined up with astronomical events, and the Bamboo Annals report five years of crop failures, summer frosts, etc., much like the aftermath of Krakatoa. Anyway, most of the Egyptologists dates come from pottery and reconstructing what the pharaohs were doing, so I don’t think that they are quite as accurate.
What’s a lot more interesting to me is what we don’t know about “Minoan” Crete. Since they are pre-historic (pre-writing that we can read), we have no names. Any of the god names we have are what the later Greeks called them. We don’t even know what they called themselves, although the Egyptians seem to have called them Keftiu. There are pictures of some of them on tomb walls. (I personally think that the Minoan frescos DO look a lot like Egyptian wall paintings, although most of the authors say that they are much more lively.) Specifically, they appear on the walls of Senemut and Rekhmire. Senemut was the architect of Hatshepset- the lady pharaoh, and Rekhmire was an advisor of Thutmoses, her nephew and successor. In Rekhmire’s tomb, the pictures of the envoys of Keftiu were repainted from the typical kilt with codpiece to the patterned kilt more typical of the Mycenaean Greeks who seem to have moved into a position of power after the Minoans fell. So allowing myself to speculate (along with everyone else), supposing a huge Tsunami had just wiped out your harbors with all the ships in them, ash had blanketed the island killing the crops for several years, and one of your major areas (Thera) had been blown up. The archeological evidence in what’s left of Thera implies that tremors beforehand had let to an evacuation, so they probably had gone to Crete. At least one story has Minos with the bulk of the fleet off failing to invade Sicily, and when discovering there’s nothing to go back to, settling in Italy. But basically, the people in Crete are in deep trouble, and the Myceaenaen’s are the ones organizing the relief efforts- and they just stayed (showing up in Egypt in the Minoan’s usual place). It doesn’t require any aggression, just proximity and ability to help because the ash plume was going in the other direction.
There’s also the mystery of Hatshepsut, who seems to have been an incredibly good and accepted pharaoh, and Thutmoses didn’t erase her face for about 20 years after she died. What if He was the Exodus Pharaoh? Even in Egypt he’d have had to shuffle supplies around from nome to nome to keep people fed when the ash caused bad harvests, and of course, losing the loot to the hebrews would be bad press. IF he could blame it all on his predecessor- maybe tell everyone that she was the one who fished moses (wonder what his first name was?) out of the Nile, he could blame the whole plagues and exodus on her, chisel out her name, and he’d be in the clear. On the other hand, if perhaps we equate those bad harvests with the ones Joseph predicted, that could have been when the Israelites first went INTO Egypt, and maybe Rameses was the Pharaoh who chased them out. Sadly, ever since Petrie worked out that we could use layers one found pottery in for dating, we’ve gotten very attached to it.
And that’s what I’ve been doing this week. I also borrowed Ancient Spellcraft: from the hymns of the Hittites to the Carvings of the Celts, with high hopes, but it turned out to be a collection of spells for modern witches, and if there were any historical references in there, I couldn’t spot them. I did see several references to various Cretan goddesses, and as I mentioned before, we don’t know their names, so any given are made up- so that was a disappointment. Another major disappointment was the audio course Nutrition made Clear, from the Teaching Company. Sadly, in the first two lectures, she made some really big gaffs- things that she should have known better about, so I turned it back into the library without watching the rest. (For example, while trying to sell the importance of nutrition, she mentioned a client who’d asked about using an homeopathic remedy rather than some pharmaceutical that had “black box” warnings about side effects. She looked the homeopathic remedy up, and saw that it contained strychnine, and used this as an illustration that just because something is natural it isn’t necessarily safe. I am totally in accord with that, but she obviously had no clue about homeopathy, because in a homeopathic remedy, the “active” ingredient is diluted by anywhere to 1:1,000,000 to 1:1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 times. Yes, that last number has the correct number of zeros. There isn’t enough strychnine left in a homeopathic remedy to cause poisoning. In fact it used to be used (up until the middle of the last century) as a medicine. That kind of ignorance and scare tactic irritates the heck out of me. And it wasn’t the only one. Sadly, she seemed to be preaching the current party line on nutrition, and it didn’t seem worth my time.
I finished the second set of disks in War and World History, which got me up to the gunpowder revolution. Once again I was impressed by the broad and thorough coverage this professor provides- not skipping China, Africa, the Americas, and Oceania as so many do. I had been interested in that course, but not enough to buy it, so I was thrilled to be able to get it through the Library. They’ve split it into 4 packs of 12 lectures each. That makes sense if you generally only take something out for a week or two, and listen to one a day. I’ve been pushing it because I didn’t realize how quickly I.L.L. was going to be able to find it, and Peoples and cultures of the World and the Origin of Civilization both arrived within a few days. I am very psyched about the anthropology course. The professor is VERY excited and animated about his material (as opposed to the professor who talks about war, death, destruction, revolutions, and other mayhem in an incredibly dry style). Not only that, I have now been reminded that one is only allowed to have 10 discs out at a time, which totally makes sense. But when I went to pick up the ones that had arrived for me today, I still had 6 at home, so could only pick up 4. Oops. I can pick up more when I return the ones I’ve got home. Meanwhile, I’ve learned how to schedule out the ones I’m ordering from inter-library loan so that they don’t all arrive at once.
I have now watched (mostly listened to) Les Miserables in Concert. It was a strange production, the cast was in costume and acted, but they just stepped up to the mikes and sang their songs. I was very glad that I’d seen the recent version with Liam Neeson and Geoffrey Rush so I could follow the story (while making dinner). I also would love to see the Gerard Depardieu/ John Malkovich version (sadly not available either from ILL or Netflix), and maybe versions from the 30s, 50s and 70s to see what they are like. I think that you can tell a lot about the period by seeing what issues they choose to accent in their movie of the same story.
I watched the Eleventh Hour- an appeal for ecological activism. It said it finished with some hopeful suggestions for how to deal with our current multi-crisis, but it was not much more than the basic “slap in the face” documentary. (“If you aren’t alarmed you aren’t paying attention” as the bumper sticker says.) After Walmart, Food, Inc., Who killed theElectric car? and some of the others I’ve seen lately, I am just about “documentaried- out”. Well, that’s not true, the historical ones are still fun. I watched Egypt’s Lost Queen on Hatsepsut, and Decisive Battles, the Ancient World: 13 defining moments and enjoyed them. As I was listening to the World History lecture on the battle of Plataea, I was seeing diagrams of the battle lines in my head, and wondering where I could have seen those- trying to think of what book I’d seen them in. It took me nearly the who lecture to remember watching the History Channel Decisive Battles series. It was kind of interesting seeing the different interpretations each had of the same set of “facts”.
I watched Agora- a lovely bit of fluff, however gruesome. I’m sure that having Hypatia played by the gorgeous Rachel Weisz, and throwing in unrequited love as a motivation made it more salable to modern audiences, but I couldn’t help wincing because Hypatia was about my age when she was dragged from her chair and skinned alive by the fanatical monks (not mercifully smothered as in the movie). I’ve heard people criticize the movie for the horrible anti-Christian depiction, but frankly, from what I’ve read, they soft-pedaled it. Even in the World History and War, the professor mentioned how very violent early Christians were when they were taking over the Empire. Still, the images were well done. Better than the other bit of fluff I watched this week, another disk of the recent Robin Hood TV show. Totally stupid costumes, and modernized characters- but the characters are endearing and well developed none the less.
I did get side tracked looking up things (like Thera- I was hoping that maybe they’d uncovered more frescos that didn’t make it into the book) on internet. I also got sucked into watching several spoofs on youtube- twisted versions of Peabody’s history from the old Rocky and Bullwinkle show. That was a VERY good show- fun for kids and adults.

As I said, what I’ve been doing is mostly in my head- it doesn’t make for adventures, but adventures are often uncomfortable. (OK, Kat’s having an adventure.) I have been fairly comfortable and contented. I can’t really wish for more excitement, although I’d love to have more accomplishment to brag about. More pictures of us doing something to post. Maybe next week I’ll do something quietly letter-worthy. Meanwhile, I hope your week has been good.

” The painting over of old ideas is no cause for despair. If you are wise, and pay attention, the picture is always in motion, always being revised. New truth is very noble.” Charles Pellegrino in Unearthing Atlantis.



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