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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Writer Wednesday- Odysseus and Penelope


It's time for "Writer Wednesday", when I discuss another author and his or her book.

This year I've read both The Odyssey by Homer, for the first time in its entirety, as well as The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood.

While The Odyssey follows Odysseus and his journey home from the Trojan War, Penelope has her own story to tell including all about her troublesome cousin, Helen of Troy, in The Penelopiad. While there is much to discuss, I am going to focus on the issue of social relevancy. The great myths related stories, morals, a way of living, to the ancient Greeks. Therein, they learned xenia (how to treat guests) and their place in the world in relation to gods, others, home and self.

Atwood does not merely retell the story, this time from Penelope's point of view. Instead, she employs sea shanties, jumping rope rhymes and even an anthropology lecture (among other things) for the maids (those famous 12 who were so unjustly hung in The Odyssey) to add another dimension to the story.

By the way, in case you are wondering what happened to Ulysses, that's his Roman name. Odysseus is the Greek name for the character.

Some have criticized this inclusion of chants and songs, but I think it works well because songs, rhymes, memory devices and poetry were all employed by the original Greeks at the time of the myths. Atwood is relating the ancient to us through our modern equivalents.

Even when an author is not doing a retelling, making the past (whether that be history or an idea or a character) relevant to the present audience is an important step of the process. Even if the ideas and characters are foreign to the reader, the reader must be able to relate in some way - be that a shared similarity of mannerism or experience or simply a familiar medium of relating information. Atwood is successful in relating an ancient story to us through our present language in The Penelopiad. I particularly liked the anthropology lecture and how she placed the hanging of the maids in an entirely new light of meaning, moonlight.

What are some of your favorite re-imaginings, retellings or revisitings of classic tales or myths?

My best to you all,

Monday, July 29, 2013

Museum Monday at the Louvre


It's time for Museum Monday. On occasion, Mondays are devoted to the exploration of history and art through museums.

Museums are incredible places, not just to visit but to research. Ideas for books can spark from the tiniest object or the mention of a person and cause an author to have a flood of ideas. For art and history enthusiasts in general, museums open their arms for a grand welcome. In case you can't tell, I love museums!

The Louvre is an amazing place- an amazing place that is HUGE! Even if you visit in person, chances are very high that you won't see everything. For today's Museum Monday let's take a tour of the Louvre via their website- or how about 27? Yes, that's right. The website offers 27 distinct trails based on themes for visitors to discover.

Some of the trails offer overviews of the museum such as "Masterpieces" or "From Palace to Museum" that chronicles how the Louvre shifted from the palace of kings, where even Leonardo daVinci stayed, to the museum that we know today. There are also more specialist tours. Interested in horses, why not see the "On Horsback through the Louvre" tour? If you're interested in gastronomy, there's "The Art of Eating" tour. Others include Alexander the Great, the Renaissance, Medieval, and Delacoix. There are also specialist tours devoted to Christmas (two of them) and to the theme of Love. The tours range from 1 hour to 3. Of course, these are the times for in person visits to the museum. If you are visiting via the website, as we are today, then you could easily go on all the tours in a matter of minutes.

History awaits.

My best to you all,

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Saturday's Quotation to Inspire- Writing what you want to read

"If there's a book you really want to read but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it."-- Toni Morrison

Friday, July 26, 2013

Friday Fun- History Detectives


It's time for Friday Fun!

Have you seen PBS's History Detectives? An object of American history is presented by a viewer and one of the experts (historians and auctioneers) then delve into its history in order to answer whatever questions the contributor had about the object. Often, surprises and excitement await. Several seasons are available on PBS's website, which is accessible for viewers both within and outside of the US as well.

History plus a good mystery? Yes, please!

My best to you all,

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Writer Wednesday- The Golem and the Jinni


It's time for "Writer Wednesday", when I discuss another author and his or her book.

When I first heard about Helene Wecker's The Golem and the Jinni, I was intrigued by the premise of two cultures coming together in New York City at the turn of the century. It is true that this is portrayed in the book,
but there's also much more here. There was a story about the Golem and one about the Jinni, but there were also a host of other characters spanning centuries.

What held these together were two metaphors. Braiding the challah became a task for the Golem. Fadwa, a young Bedouin girl from the Jinni's native Syria, is a weaver. These two metaphors (one from each culture) show the inter-connective, braided and woven nature, both of the stories and of the characters. 

When viewed individually, the stitches might be fine, but when they come together, a story rises. With the peril that each of the title characters face throughout the book, it is also clear that the fables and traditions of each culture are also in danger of fading in the new life of New York City. It is only through a conscious and diligent effort, like the braiding of the challah or the painstaking weaving of the Bedouin, that these stories will survive. With detailed histories, preservation is required to keep them from beginning to unravel. Helene Wecker, through her use of metaphor, seems to imply exactly this.

My best to you all,

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Phoenicians - Seafaring Writers


Today we're stepping back in time to visit the Phoenicians. Throughout my historical studies, I've found them to be fascinating for a variety of reasons. They were a Semitic people, most likely Canaanites, that existed from around 1200 BC until 539 BC when Cyrus II (Cyrus the Great) of Persia conquered them. 
Ivory Winged Sphinx found in Iraq, made by Phoenician craftsman
Housed in the British Museum

Here are a few reasons I find them interesting.
1)They were a seafaring people and used galley ships. They lived in present day Lebanon and were known for the cedar timbers that they built their ships with.

2) Their name comes from a purple dye that they were known for and that they built a trading system on.

3) Their alphabet-Because the Phoenicians were seafaring merchants, they spread their alphabet to other peoples throughout the Mediterranean. Along the way, the Greeks added vowels, then the language was passed to the Etruscans and then the Romans. Today, it exists (in its advanced form) as our phonetic alphabet.

Here's to the Phoneticians- some of the original "writers by the sea" who also happened to have a great shade of purple!

You can visit some of the Phoenician artifacts from the British Museum here.

My best to you all,

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Writer Wednesday- Crawling through Books

It's time for "Writer Wednesday", when I discuss another author and his or her book.

Today, I'd like to talk to you about a book that is part of my own personal history. In Kindergarten, we read The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. Now, I say we read, but really only the teacher and a friend of mine in the class could read. This was when we were still taught to read in first grade. We did, however, act out The Very Hungry Caterpillar for the school to see. Giant cardboard cut-outs, of all the delicacies that the caterpillar ate his way through, were held up in front of students.

Only, this time, the caterpillar wasn't a he, but a she and the she was me. Yes, I was the very hungry caterpillar. I remember buying the green t-shirt, tights and shorts for my outfit. I especially liked standing behind the big brown cocoon at the end, because I got to emerge with beautifully painted butterfly wings. I still remember how they smelled- that paint that came in bright colors in the huge bottles of elementary school classrooms.

That was the first play that I acted in and I would participate in others throughout elementary, middle and high school. I remember something more, though. I remember that I almost got stuck in one of the pieces of fruit. I was stuck, literally, in the story and perhaps, I've never really become disentangled from literature. Just like that caterpillar that was "still hungry", I'm still hungry- for a good book to read and a good story to write.

My best to you all,

Monday, July 15, 2013

Stepping into the Regal History of Bavarian Castles


The castles of Germany are known for inspiring fairy tales. Perhaps, the most famous of all: Neuschwanstein in Bavaria, was the model for Sleeping Beauty's castle in Disneyland. With its grotto and gold-dripping grandeur, Ludwig II, King of Bavaria, was definitely making a statement with his mountain top home. With debts too numerous and mounting insanity on the King's part, Neuschwanstein was left unfinished when Ludgwig II mysteriously died with his doctor in a nearby lake.

Although Neuschwanstein is beautiful, especially for its exterior views, my favorite of Ludgwig's castles that I've visited is Herrenchiemsee. Smaller and less well known, it's situated in the middle of a lake and has stunningly beautiful rooms. It's modeled after Versailles and is dedicated to Louis XIV. You can take a "tour" by visiting the website. Like Neuschwanstein, it too was incomplete when Ludgwig II died. 

With such grandiose visions, Ludgwig was unable to finance his dreams. But, what he's left is a piece of German fantasy that rivals anything of fiction. If all the oddities and eccentricities are ignored, history- in its palaces, grottos and mirrored halls, can be astoundingly beautiful.

My best to you all,

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Saturday's Quotation to Inspire- Talent

"Hide not your talents, for use they were made. What's a sundial in the shade?"-- Benjamin Franklin

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Writer Wednesday- Jerusalem 1913


It's time for "Writer Wednesday", when I discuss another author and his or her book. 

The Israelis and the Palestinians have always disagreed. Theirs is a struggle of epic proportions of sibling rivalry rooted in Isaac and Ishmael and lasting without end for generations and thousands of years. Right?


It turns out that the Israelis and Palestinians have not been locked in constant strife. Throughout parts of history, they've lived peacefully alongside each other and been friends. 

In her book, Jerusalem 1913: The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, Amy Dockser Marcus (winner of the Pulitzer Prize), first illustrates the cooperation and peace that existed in the Middle East and then goes on to show that the modern problems did not begin in 1948, with the founding of the Israeli state, but decades earlier. 2013 marks the centenary of the year that Marcus determines is responsible for the mounting tensions and strife. Why 1913? Firstly, this is when the first Pan-Arab conference was held. Secondly, this is when Zionism ramped up. In essence, what this means is that the peoples were solidifying behind their distinct ethnic and cultural identities rather than bridging them to come together. 

Dockens further goes on to say that a peace process was possible. So, what stopped it? A bullet in Sarajevo the following year did. WWI shattered the moment for peace and so the story continues...

My best to you all,

Monday, July 8, 2013

Gutenberg and the Rise of the Printed Word

The Gutenberg Printing Press
Bent over their desks, the monks of Europe busily transcribed manuscripts for centuries. To own a book was simply beyond the means or reality of the majority of the world. Then, something remarkable happened. Johannes Gutenberg created a machine that could transcribe books- the printing press. No longer dependent on hand-copying alone, books multiplied and became more accessible. With them, the spread of ideas could more rapidly take place as well.

If you happen to be in Mainz, Germany, there is a museum detailing Gutenberg and the procession of the written to the printed word that is very interesting to visit. You can also visit via the website Gutenberg Museum 

Today, books and ideas are continuing to be spread through the name of Gutenberg. The website Project Gutenberg has made 42,000 ebooks available for free download or for viewing online. Classics such as Shakespeare, Dickens and Austen are available as well as historical documentation and diaries. Even if you prefer to read paper versions of classics, there are reams of research material available that may be difficult or impossible to find in other places.

Happy reading!

My best to you all,

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Friday, July 5, 2013

Friday Fun - Viking Runes

It's time for Friday Fun!
Like bricks for a builder, letters exist as the foundations for writing. To the right are the runes (letters) of the Vikings. Often depicted as raiders, Vikings did also build settlements and made contributions to society. A number of Viking words are now part of our language.
A few of them are:












And even the very modern sounding: Kid

My best to you all,

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Happy 4th of July!

Words hold the power to alter history. Perhaps, this is no better remembered than on this day- the 4th of July. 

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. 

So begins the Declaration of Independence. For the complete transcript, you can view it in the National Archives here.

My best to you all,

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Writer Wednesday- Global Cultures


It's time fore "Writer Wednesday", where I discuss another author and a book of his or hers. Today, I'd like to talk about Understanding Global Cultures: Metaphorical Journeys through 28 Nations, Clusters of Nations and Contients by Martin Gannon. For Christmas one year in college, while I was studying history-focused international relations, my aunt and uncle gave me this book.

This book mixes metaphor with international relations and understanding and is engaging and fascinating to read. Each chapter is devoted to a different country or region. The way in which citizens view their relationships with others, public or private life, nationally held ideals and beliefs and the understanding that a country has in its place in the world are all ideas that are addressed through the metaphors. Some metaphors instantly spring to mind, such as the Great Wall for China or football for the United States. Others are not as obvious, but become clear through the enlightening explanations such as Christmas lunch for Denmark or a backpack for Canada.

Through the words of Gannon, a better understanding of the world is only a book away.

My best to you all,

Monday, July 1, 2013

Newgrange- Chambers of Light


Today we're traveling to ancient Ireland. Step back in history with me to a time before Ireland was
part of the European Union, before the famines, before the British ever set foot in Ulster, before the Vikings landed, before St. Patrick helped spread Christianity to its shores and before the Celts. Welcome to 3000 BC. Dense forests surround you. Farmland is not yet covering the hills. Your parents were hunters and gathers and now you are staying in one place for the first time on this isle. Wolves and bears (no longer present in Ireland) still ruled the land in 3000 BC and traveling long distances was made all the more difficult without benefit of the wheel and with such beasts to contend with. Now, imagine building a massive stone structure with pinpoint accuracy to illuminate the building at sunrise on the Winter Solstice.

That is exactly what the ancient Irish did in the Boyne Valley at a place called Newgrange. This is the site of the oldest solar observatory in the world. 1000 years older than Stonehenge and 500 years older than the pyramids, Newgrange beckons with its secrets and with its astounding scientific accuracy.

The window box above the door of Newgrange is what allows the beam of sunlight to enter the chambers at sunrise for a few short days in December. There are several theories about the purpose of Newgrange. Some believe that the beam of light was symbolic of rebirth, as the sun returned and the days lengthened. If this is true, then the light may have led to a receptacle holding the remains of the dead and the people may have believed that their spirits were returned to the sun.

The stones themselves are interesting in Newgrange. The ceiling is corbelled, stacked layer upon layer without benefit of nails or cement. For over 5000 years, the interior of Newgrange has remained dry against the railing Irish rains. The people who built Newgrange were clearly dedicated to the task as the experts estimate that it took several generations for the structure to be built. In addition, using only logs as rollers to move 1 ton stones, and rivers to transport rocks from the Wicklow Mountains to the South and the Mourne Mountains to the North (distances of over 50 miles away from Newgrange), the people assembled their variety of carefully chosen building materials. Neolithic art, as exemplified on this kerb stone at the front of Newgrange's door, has many stories and theories of its own. Whether the designs signified something related to astronomy, farming or something else entirely is unknown. The appearance of the front of Newgrange is also somewhat of a mystery. The stones fell at the front of the structure and were replaced where the experts best believed they were. The interior is entirely intact still, though.

With its many mysteries, it is certain that the builders of Newgrange were well adept at astronomy, persistent in their cause and devoted to its design. For a people concerned with precision, I think they would be happy to know that their work has lasted for over 5000 years and still welcomes the dawning sun each December.

My best to you all,