Category Archives: My Bookshelf ~ Current Era

Religion, philosophy, anthropology and archaeology Current Era

Reviews ~ Maria, in Film and Life

History. A subject I have always been thoroughly fascinated with. Not just the dates, places and people often forced upon us by rote in mandatory classes. No, my research has always been from the perspective of what I might have done, thought, or felt. What might have caused these people to do as they did? What human frailty became the pivot, the fulcrum of history?

That inquisitiveness drew me to the tale of Maria Altmann. Her battle with the Austrian government is portrayed in the movie, Woman in Gold. I highly recommend it. Yes, it speaks of the Nazi invasion and possession of Austria and the events that followed, but it goes far deeper. The movie sheds some light on the Vienna of the late 1800s and early 1900s. This was a time of the literati, when parties and recitals were a nightly affair and the accomplished and the affluent of Austria met in private homes. Even reviews that find fault consider it a movie well worth the effort.

Woman-In-Gold-1125x750

Maria Altmann was a child of the elite. She was raised in a home where personages such as Johannes Brahms, Gustav Klimt, Giacomo Puccini, Max Reinhardt, Arnold Schoenberg, Richard Strauss, and others who are no longer household names, were frequent visitors. It is Klimt who was commissioned by her uncle to paint her aunt Adele. This world was shattered the day Hitler marched into Vienna.

The movie portrays those dark months in flashbacks as it dramatizes Altmann’s battle with Austria to gain acknowledgement of her family’s title to the paintings. Randol Schoenberg, the grandson of Arnold, waged the battle in Austria and in the U. S. The case was heard by the Supreme Court. What I found most interesting was that key I always look for; the human side.

The Nazi’s were infamous in their looting of the treasures of Europe. The paintings, among other assets, held by the Bloch-Bauer’s were no exception. Originally entitled Adele Bloch-Bauer I, the name of the painting was changed in the Nazi effort to eradicate all things Jewish. Eventually, it acquired the status of the Austrian Mona Lisa. But, this was not a state treasure of the Austrian government, proudly displayed in the Belvedere Palace in Vienna. To Maria it was a family portrait. A piece that represented something very special about a happy, secure and intellectually challenging childhood. It was a painting of a fondly remembered aunt.

In later years, Maria discovered that her aunt’s jewelry was given to Hermann Goering’s wife. She said she didn’t feel too badly since she had heard the lady had done some good for people. One of these pieces was the diamond choker depicted in the painting.

That brings us to the more personal side of Maria Altmann. The Maria not dressed up in Hollywood depictions and poetic license. For that you must visit the memoir of Gregor Collins, The Accidental Caregiver.

accidental caregiver

It doesn’t matter if you are a caregiver, this is a delightful book with genuine insights into the woman, and the process of aging. Collins is a member of a team hired to look after Maria in the last three years of her life. He chronicles their relationship, their conversations, and the lessons learned from a woman that simply would not let life get her down. An invigorating personality that you could well see standing up against the governments of two nations and demanding whatever small part of her childhood could still be touched, without ever letting go of living life to its fullest right now, right here.

Again, I am reminded of her whole outlook. The money was never the real issue with her. In fact, the family gave large portions of the proceeds to charity. The division of what was kept was settled quickly and without squabble. Testimony to the grace and noblesse oblige which permeated the upbringing of many generations of Bloch-Bauers.

Collins does not dwell on the failings of the disease, he spotlights his charge and allows her spirit to shine through the day to day management of physical therapy, doctor’s visits, medications and moments of realization that the end was surely on the way. Having been a caregiver for 4 years, I chuckled as he described corralling three elderly ladies with the intent of getting them to a shared meal. I cried as I read the last days of Maria’s life, reliving those same experiences with my husband. He walked through those days with beauty, honesty, and genuine love for the woman.

Accidental Caregiver is not an instruction book on how to be a caregiver. It is a story of how one caregiver learned to see more than the diminished capacity of his charge. It is about seeing the humanity in all of us and of grasping that bit that makes us individuals in all circumstances and to all ends. It is a lesson in finding the good in life, however that good may masquerade.

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Caregiving Backstage, My Bookshelf ~ Current Era

Reviews ~ How Old is This?

Bones, Rocks and Stars by Chris Turney Available for $12 -25.

IMG_1314

As I unpack all those books we’ve had for years I find treasures that I meant to read but, well, never got around to. It’s like Christmas in my house these days. This title is one I probably acquired through a book club. It was purchased to answer a question an avid history nut, such as myself, finds perplexing – how do we know how to date things?

This is no easy question in the world of historical and archeological investigation. It gets even touchier when we talk about the age of the earth, the universe, or the advent of man. For instance, you may hear something like, radiocarbon dating is unreliable. Fine, but why, and when? I felt it was time that I read the science and left the media hype to the tabloids and those with specific agendas. This book opened that door, and in an entertaining way. A lot of science, but an easy read.

Before I address the book itself, I would like to posit a thought. I have friends and followers with varying positions on evolution, creationism, and all the emotional baggage on both sides. I’ve been there, and reading up on the science is part of what gave me some sense of clarity.

For those who are more concerned with scriptural interpretations, I’d like to point out a few things that helped me. There are several chapters in Job where God puts forth on the wonders of the natural world. They are introduced with the question, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the world?” Yes, indeed. The message in these passages burned in my heart was – don’t make assumptions. Look to creation for your answers, there is a reason things work the way they do.

Fast forward to New Testament times and the apostle Paul (whatever his reputation may be) and we find in Romans 1:20 “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” (New American Standard). Again, things evident in nature are meant to tell a story. There are many more similar references.

So, why the mini-sermon? Because if I am to believe that we have some direction, that the ancient holy books of our species have something to say about the place we find ourselves and what we should do about it, then I have to believe that there is value in what is said. My thought is this. If we are admonished to look to nature for the creative power within — if the ancients of many religions tell us to look, to see, to contemplate the marvels before us—then why should we expect something other than truth? Should we expect to find an “appearance of age” to mislead us? Should we find things that are not what they appear to be? Man’s knowledge is not perfect. However, we do have the ability to seek, to find, to follow where the evidence leads. What’s more, I sincerely believe we are commanded to do so.

Thus, we get to the book. How do we date things? Turney leads the reader through a step by step process of what amounts to the history of sorting out just how old things are. Starting with how we date things using calendars, and how we convert ancient historical documents to modern calendars to get a sense of time. He describes the fascinating science of dendrochronology: the use of tree rings to count the years and study climate changes. Comparing these records with journals and legends we can better understand when events occurred and some of the reasons a culture changed or died out.

He carefully explains how we compare the ratios of compounds in samples, check for luminescence, uranium content and even radiocarbon dating. Yes, it is true, radiocarbon dating has it limits. Due to the half-life of the Carbon 14 atom it is only accurate to somewhere near 40,000 years. I also learned that these methods work not because of one test, but because of a series of tests in and around a sample to plot curves in order to reduce the chance of contamination skewing the sample.

The steps taken on specific claims show how the frauds are discovered, and how science corrects itself. He speaks with clarity and provides headline cases and inside adventures to show the reader how the conclusions were constructed. How we learned and how our knowledge is growing.

We live in an incredible universe of unbelievable wonder. Our own history is filled with lessons, information, wisdom that we cannot ignore. If we do not put these events in proper context, we cannot learn, we cannot be all that we are created to be. Check out “the science of when things happened.” I think you will find much to contemplate.

Leave a comment

Filed under My Bookshelf ~ Before Current Era, My Bookshelf ~ Current Era, Natural Sciences from the Observation Deck

Reviews ~ Discoverer, or Last Guy to the Party?

Columbus Was Last, by Patrick Huyghe, available for $25 on Amazon – there are several alternates as well. The link is to the version I read.

Columbus

I have a confession. I’ve never been a fan of Columbus. For some reason I could not get all excited about someone who “discovered” the American continents – when there were already a whole lot of people here. I get it. The colonists wanted some pin in history that didn’t draw a direct line to England. Some point in history that said, “This is where it all began.” Except, well, Columbus was far from first; and it was in a photo finish for last.

The story of Columbus is filled with ambiguities. We don’t know for sure where he came from, who he really was, or what his true motives were. We don’t even know for sure where he is buried. His logs are filled with contradictions and he did not receive the riches and notoriety he sought in his own life time. It wasn’t until the nineteenth century that he received general recognition. The “Admiral of the Ocean Sea” was somewhat of a flop in his own time even if he made at least four successful voyages to the “New World.”

That said, questions regarding the settlement, and repeated “discovery” of the Americas, are still suffering from heated debate. The only events of note that appear to be generally accepted in the academic community are the arrival of homo sapiens over a land bridge or sea route from Asia to Alaska (the Bering Strait), and the occasional visitations and settlement attempts by the Nordic peoples.

When the migration to the east occurred, and how often, is a battle ground in the literature. Each year, each decade, each millennia that the date is pushed back is a hard won victory. Although it is now generally accepted (and supported by archeology) that the Vikings arrived in the Americas around 1000 CE, where all of their landings took place and how long these places were occupied seems to be up in the air. Meanwhile, other stories, legends, and evidence, are constantly brewing in a pot of, ‘Who was here first, how often, where and what were they doing?” And that is the kind of mystery I love.

Huygue’s little book is an easy read that leads the curious through the tales, legends, and evidence of previous visitations to the American continents. He collects what we know about the ancient tales and the archeological evidence unearthed in pottery, inscriptions, sculpture and artifacts. He provides sign posts to those who have compared flora and fauna, common language, rituals and dress. He also provides references to those who have analyzed the ancient tales to locate possible routes of travel and settlement. There are also descriptions of carvings throughout South America which depict races not currently accepted as visitors and matches them with corresponding tales and legends from possible, or probable, points of origin.

This was a very busy place. Collectively, there is at least some indication that these lands were visited by the Chinese, the Japanese, the Polynesians, the Irish, the Africans, the Phoenicians, the Romans, the Arabs and the Jews. The book mentions but does not address possible visitations by the Celts and the Greeks. At the time of Columbus, there appears to be a number of records, maps, and sailors’ tales from the Danes, the Portuguese, the British and the Irish. And then there is the Welsh bastard prince, Madoc.

This book is not a fanciful collection of theories. The notes and bibliography support the research and provide a road map to a serious student of the history of this part of the world. Huyghe also provides details when the authenticity of an artifact is questionable. I found the roots of many of the bits and pieces I have found in academic literature and well researched historical fiction.

The journey of Columbus did indeed have a major historical impact on the future of these lands. Even if the original result was slavery, exploitation and disease, I would like to think that at least some of the heirs to these lands have contributed much that was beneficial to the human race. Columbus’ journey, and those of his contemporaries, “stuck” and the whole world learned of, and remembered, the land across the seas.

The point, I think, is that we really can’t approach the world with a sense of absolute. It is arrogance to believe we have it all figured out when we know so little about what has come before. As my poem says, “Is it something that we’ve left behind, Or something that we’ve yet to find? …” Enjoy the magic of the journey. Don’t be swayed by every whimsical interpretation of the bits and pieces we find of the past; but keep an open mind. Who knows what treasures we have yet to find? And just what they might tell us about who we are?

Leave a comment

Filed under Humanties for the Unbound Mind, My Bookshelf ~ Before Current Era, My Bookshelf ~ Current Era

Living History

The sun was beating down on our heads ringing every drop of moisture from our exhausted bodies. Even with all the modern equipment we had, and warnings from our guide to drink often, it was still a major trek. Such exertion may seem eccentric in this day of virtual reality vacations, but the business of providing those vacations was ferociously competitive. The only way to compete was to provide the most accurate experience possible. Living History, our company, prided itself on providing the most accurate scenario on the market. By traveling to the ends of the earth and getting as much footage as we could, our clients were free to create their own stories. No matter what they would be fully immersed in the experience. So, here we were, sweltering under the southwestern sun, to film inside the ancient pueblos and monuments.

Even at this late date in history, the mystery of the Anasazi was still not completely solved. Decades of research and new scanning techniques had made it fairly clear that a massive change in climate had robbed them of their primary crops. Focused on competing interpretations of their ancient religions, the war among the tribes and their outside enemies eventually cannibalized the culture. In fact, although debated for many years, it became inescapable that at least one religious faction within the tribe practiced cannibalism. Such tidbits made the world of the Anasazi a popular vacation destination and we were here to get the best footage we could to create that experience.

The monuments in Chaco Canyon had once been accessible by dirt roads mostly suitable for off road vehicles. Because of modern grave robbers and a public with a penchant for blazing their name across history, the park service had long ago closed the monuments to vehicular traffic. Hiking was the only way in. Expensive permits were required, and a guide was mandatory. All expenses which made the trip out of reach for all but the elite. One more reason it was a perfect setting for one of our virtual trips.

We hiked in 13 miles to the authorized camping site. It was not until early evening that we were able to establish our base camp, sort out our equipment, and prepare ourselves for a quick evening meal and much needed sleep. Filming would start in the pre-dawn hours. Camera crews, programmers and writers would be working together in real time to create the Anasazi Vacation.

I fell to sleep the moment my head reached the pillow. The coolness of the evening reaching me with something close to a chill, but not quite. My team was assigned the cliffs behind the complex. We were to scale the rocks to the plateau above for a spectacular view of the complex and the valley where it lay. With sufficient detail we could use computer imaging to rebuild it to something resembling what it would have looked like when inhabited. Integration of our work into the overall database would provide a more thoroughly accurate feel for living inside the complex during its heyday. I needed sleep. The night would be short.

Shorter than I expected.

Sometime around midnight I was awakened by chanting. Low, melodic chanting that seemed to be a chorus of several hundred voices. That was not possible. Our whole crew may reach a total of 50 members – but not hundreds. Was someone being funny? Or had someone simply found a good recording of what we thought the Anasazi sounded like?

Unable to sleep I crawled out of my sleeping bag and crept softly to the open tent flap. The full moon looked close enough to touch, big, white and alive with every feature. Across the lighted canyon floor I saw a glow coming from the ancient kiva. Nothing in camp was stirring. I put on a light jacket and my walking boots and stepped out of the tent. I didn’t see anyone, but the chanting continued and the light from the kiva flickered as that of a fire. Shaking my head I retrieved my camera and set out for glowing pit.

Ancient-Puebloan-trade-network-chaco-canyon

Located on “Ancient Puebloan Trade Network” Public Domain

2 Comments

Filed under Humanties for the Unbound Mind, My Bookshelf ~ Current Era, My Fiction - Very Short Fiction

Andrew Johnson – Do you know where he was in September 1866?

Here is a history mystery for my readers.  My friend, Edward Frank, is working on a documentary film about the Black Guides of Mammoth Cave.  In his research he came across a reference that Andrew Johnson had visited the cave during one of his campaign swings.  However, he cannot find any confirmation.  Any one care to jump in and help sort this out?

http://blackguidesofmammothcave.wordpress.com/

Black Guides of Mammoth Cave

 

 

Andrew Johnson.

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under My Bookshelf ~ Current Era

Reviews ~ Unsung Ladylike (and not so Ladylike) Women of Note

4,000 Years of Uppity Women by Vicki Leon  Available for around $11.00

UppityThere is one aisle I should never, ever visit at Barnes and Noble; but oh the treasurers I would miss.  I really can’t walk into one of those stores without browsing up and down the bargain aisle.  Not only are there delightful treasures, but they are at such tempting prices.  Even though I’m now in publishing and know what those discounts mean to the author; well, they’re irresistible.  This past week I finally had an opportunity to check out one of those bargains and had a few much needed giggles.

Leon has created a little book of vignettes about the life and times of a number of women from the past.  This is a rollicking quick read.  It is obviously well researched.  You are introduced to the antics of ruler and slave, mistress and bored wife, business woman, intellectual, highway robber, patriot, nun and scoundrel.  Some of these women were way ahead of their time; some just made the best use possible of the available resources.  Here are a few of these windows on the past.

Fabiola, an early Christian.  Long before the Nightingale of the Crimean war, Fabiola established the first free public hospital in the Western world.  She didn’t wait for her patients to come to her – she went out and found them.

Back in the time of Alchemists, and interesting lady named Mary Prophetissa not only contributed much to the science of chemistry, she is the inventor of the double boiler.  It must have been very helpful boiling and brewing all those potions.

I loved the robbers and pirates, the brave patriots and Australian who arrived as a criminal and ended up on a $20 bill.  I learned that Betsy Ross did not create the Old Glory that inspired Francis Scott Key was one Baltimore widow named Mary Young Pickersgill.  She created a wool flag that was 42 feet long and 30 feet wide.  It used 400 yards of material and weighed 85 pounds.  Pickersgill’s handwritten invoice was $405.90.

A couple of other ladies never mentioned in such rousing poetry as Paul Revere is a lady who road on horseback for 10 miles alerting the country folk of an impending attack (Mr. Revere didn’t make it that far) and a Quaker woman who bluffed her way through enemy lines to warn Washington of an impending attack.  Never lying through her bluffing or through her integration (evidently the right questions were not asked) she was still kicked out of the Friends for being too involved in the war.

Many bits and pieces of the high and the really low, the celibate and those who found their identity less focused on the opposite sex, or not focused at all.  Each and every one had an impact on her times and some far into the future.  It’s a great short read and I highly recommend it.

3 Comments

Filed under Humanties for the Unbound Mind, My Bookshelf ~ Before Current Era, My Bookshelf ~ Current Era

Finding the History in the Legend

History.  A call I can never seem to ignore, a need to see the wisdom and the folly of the past to better understand the shape of the present.  One of the things I most respect in the telling of a piece of history, wherever in the world the stage may form, is the care of the storyteller to see the participants as real people.  People with real needs, real trials, and real accomplishments.  My friend Edward Frank is such a person.

As he will tell you, Edward is a passionate caver.  He spends much of his time working toward a more balanced and sustainable treatment of the globe on which we live.  From his work as a geologist to his work with the Native Tree Society, he is focused on issues and on the human impact of our decisions now and in the future.  It was with great pleasure that I saw him take on this new task.  I sincerely believe he can bring the stories of these past men to life.  This is the story of men who suffered the ignominy of being “property,” and yet excelled in the tasks set before them.   These men were explorers and conquerors in their own right and their story should be told.

Please welcome my guest this week, Edward Frank.

 

headerThe Black Guides of Mammoth Cave:  A Documentary

My name is Edward Frank and I am developing a documentary video about the Black Guides of Mammoth Cave.  My partners in the effort are filmmaker Phoebe Frear and award winning, bestselling author and screen writer Steven Barnes.   I am a geologist by training and have been a caver for over thirty years (with numerous publications), a web designer, and filmmaker.  Phoebe Frear is a talented young filmmaker who has produced short documentary and theatrical videos with her production company Elephant Trunk Films.  Steven Barnes is an award winning science fiction writer, a NY Times bestselling author, and a screen writer with his work appearing on numerous television series.

The genesis of this project really took place several years ago.  On a visit to the park I took the short walk down the Heritage Trail to the “Old Guide’s Cemetery” to visit the grave of Stephen Bishop.   Stephen Bishop was a slave who was taken to Mammoth Cave in 1838, along with fellow slaves Materson Bransford and Nick Bransford.  They were to serve as guides for tourists who wanted to visit the cave.  In addition to his service as a guide Stephen began exploring the cave.  He was the first to cross the Bottomless Pit and to see the miles of cave beyond.  He was the first to see Gorin’s Dome, the first to see the Echo River, and first to discover the blind, white, troglobitic cave fish dwelling there.  His exploits are legendary.  As the first great American cave explorer, he is an iconic and almost mythological figure within the present day caver community.

After a short walk I arrived at the “Old Guide’s Cemetery.”    There were two signs flanking the viewing area.   On the left side of one sign was an image of Stephen Bishop, Dr. Croghan, the Mammoth Cave Hotel, and a hut from the ill-fated tuberculosis hospital briefly located within the cave. The right side of this sign showed an image of Stephen Bishop’s tombstone.

The second sign was devoted to African American Heritage at the park.  It showed a large photo of Ed Bishop who is Stephen Bishop’s great-nephew.   I had never really thought about Stephen Bishop’s family and had not known he had a brother, let alone a great nephew.  Three photos flanked the right side of the sign.  The first showed guide William Garvin and his wife Hannah at a small farmstead they owned.  The second showed students at the segregated Mammoth Cave School, circa 1910.  The third photo showed a mixed group of both black and white cave guides who worked at the cave in the 1930’s, prior to the cave property becoming a National Park.

Who were these men?  What were their stories?  What of their families?  It bothered me that while I recognized the name Stephen Bishop and could recount some of his exploits, I knew virtually nothing about the other guides who worked in the cave.  In actuality I knew very little about Stephen Bishop himself beyond the popular caricature presented to the general public.

My resolve to learn more about these men was crystallized only a few minutes later inside the park’s Visitor’s Center.  I was examining some of the early photographs from the cave posted as part of a display when I met a guide working there.  His name was Jerry Bransford.

photosmJerry Bransford is the great-great-grandson of Mat Bransford, one of the original slave guides at the cave.  He was the fifth generation of Bransfords to have been a guide at the cave, and the first to lead tours in 66 years.  His uncle Louis Bransford left the guide service when the National Park was established.  His story brought home to me how little I knew about these men.

This is a piece of history that deserved to be told and had to be told. This was the genesis of this documentary project.   I will strive to create a balanced presentation that both deals with the men’s tribulations first as slaves and later free men in the face of segregation and discrimination, and their accomplishments as cave explorers.  I want to put a human face on these men as individuals and acknowledge the roles they, their descendants, and other African Americans have had in the history of the cave and the surrounding communities.

The website at http://blackguidesofmammothcave.wordpress.com/ outlines the basic structure.  The documentary would be approximately 50 minutes in length and done in the style of the History Channel’s “History’s Mysteries” and “Who Do You Think You Are?” on TLC.  On January 10, 2014 an Indiegogo crowd funding effort will begin.  If you are interested in the project please donate at that time.  I have also created a Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/blackguidesofmammothcave?ref=hl and a Twitter Account: @blackcaveguides for the project.

Thank you Edward.  I am looking forward to watching the progress of the project and to see the finished product!

 

4 Comments

Filed under Humanties for the Unbound Mind, My Bookshelf ~ Current Era