Friday, May 29, 2015

Picture Day Friday: Glastonbury Tor or Avalon?

Glastonbury Tor is a hill in Glastonbury in the Somerset countryside of England. Artefacts found on the hill date it back to at least the Iron Age. The deeply terraced slopes of the hill are topped by a now roofless St. Michael's Tower built in the 14th century. There's evidence of building on the summit from the 5th century. The Tor is mentioned in Celtic mythology and there are numerous myths about it being significant to Arthur and Avalon.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Medieval Eye Salve Receipe Can Cure Antibiotic-Resistant MRSA

Image copyrighted by the BBC According to the BBC, scientists have recreated an eye salve based on a 9th century Anglo-Saxon medical textbook called Bald's Leechbook. The medieval recipe mentions exact amounts of garlic, onions, wine, and cow bile and is found to kill 90% of modern MRSA bacteria.

Ayurvedic medicine has always known the power of garlic. Looks like medieval herbalists and doctors were likewise aware of its anti-bacterial properties. Modern doctors believe that it's not any one ingredient that makes the recipe so powerful, but it's the combination of all four ingredients.

Here's the recipe to Bald's Eye Salve:

Equal amounts of garlic and another allium (onion or leek), finely chopped and crushed in a mortar for two minutes.
Add 25ml of English wine—taken from a historic vineyard near Glastonbury.
Dissolve bovine salts in distilled water, add and then keep chilled for nine days at 4C

MRSA is the bane of hospitals everywhere and their poor patients who die of it. So this news is most welcome as is the news that this medicine has no side-effects.

An aside: Can you imagine putting that concoction into your EYE! for an infection? I'll stick to Gentamicin drops, thankyouverymuch.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Picture Day Friday: St. Mary's Basilica, Poland

St. Mary's Basilica, also known as Church of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven, in Kraków, Poland was built in 1347. Situated adjacent to the Main Market Square, it is known for its wooden altarpiece carved by German artist Veit Stoss (Wit Stwosz).

According to Wikipedia, "On every hour, a bugle signal—called the Hejnał mariacki—is played from the top of the taller of St. Mary's two towers. The plaintive tune breaks off in mid-stream, to commemorate the famous 13th century trumpeter, who was shot in the throat while sounding the alarm before the Mongol attack on the city. The noon-time hejnał is heard across Poland and abroad, broadcast live by the Polish national radio station."

[Image copyrighted by Europe's History.]

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

2015 TBR Reading Challenge: Miss Cayley's Adventures by Grant Allen

2015 TBR Reading Challenge
Book: Miss Cayley's Adventures by Grant Allen
My Categories: literary fiction, male author
Wendy Crutcher's Category: Kickin' It Old School (Copyright date is 1899)

The SmartBitches wrote a wonderful review of the book.

The book abounds in funny silliness and reads like chick-lit at times. I'm amazed that this endearing story was written by a Victorian gentleman. It starts off with:

On the day when I found myself with twopence in my pocket, I naturally made up my mind to go round the world.

And continues on with sentences such as this:

I had a lovely harangue all pat in my head, in much the same strain, on the infinite possibilities of entertaining angels unawares, in cabs, on the Underground, in the aerated bread shops; but Elsie's widening eyes of horror pulled me up short like a hansom in Piccadilly when the inexorable upturned hand of the policeman checks it.

And this:

I sat down on a chair at the foot of an old elm with a poetic hollow, prosaically filled by a utilitarian plate of galvanized iron.

Given the madcap adventures featured in this book for our intrepid heroine, there's the presence of the obligatory villain who conveniently pops up all over the place giving our heroine a chance to shine. Even when the villain is off-page, our heroine shines in every venture she turns her hand to or meddles in.

When she chooses to sell bikes, she has clients clamoring for her bikes in three countries. When she chooses to cycle as her main means of transportation, she can easily go from Germany to Switzerland. (Really!) When she decides to turn amanuensis in Italy, her unofficial fiancé's uncle, from whom he's going to inherit untold riches, is her client. When she decides to travel to Egypt, her expenses are paid for by a newspaper. She rescues an English woman coerced under the veil in a desert oasis in Egypt. She makes a clean shot killing a tiger on her first safari on her first elephant. She climbs down a sheer cliff to rescue her fiancé.

What's not to love about this uber-talented, uber-accomplished heroine? Told in first-person, the whole effect is charming.

Even her fiancé is charming. Here's some of his marriage proposal:

A man ought to wish the woman he loves to be a free agent, his equal in point of action. He ought to desire for her a life as high as she is capable of leading with full scope for ever faculty of her intellect of her emotional nature. If a man can discover such a woman as that, and can induce her to believe in him, to love him, to accept him, well, then, I think he should be happy in devoting his whole life to her.

I continued to be amazed that this story was written by a Victorian gentleman. Was it possibly a woman writing under his pseudonym? Nope, it was all him, writing a perfectly sketched feminine-perspective story of a purely feminine adventure, where the men are perfunctory at best.

He does the upper-class drawl perfectly well in the dialogue of one of the two villains. I usually don't like to read accented prose, but this was perfect.

Despite its charm there were sour British-Empire notes of discrimination in the story. She displayed utter contempt for quiet souls who were slightly padded and preferred sedentary occupations. Some of the secondary characters constantly referred to Egyptians and Indians as heathens, creatures, black bounders, n**** or darkies, not worthy of any consideration or respect. Oh, these Caucasian English men took full advantage of their hospitality but offered only contempt back.

A Maharajah from Rajputana, whose ancestors were Maharajahs for centuries before, says this:

You treat a native gentleman, I see, like a human being. I hope you will not stop long enough in our country to get over that stage—as happens to most of your countrymen and countrywomen. In England, a man like myself is an Indian prince; in India, to nine-nine out of a hundred Europeans, he is just "a damned n****.

Given her sympathetic and more egalitarian (in comparison) view of Egyptians and Indians, I believe the author sought to show prevalent racism versus englightened views. He wasn't entirely successful though, there was bleed-through discrimination that I believed was his.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Picture Day Friday: Coptic Bible

A medieval Coptic Bible made in Egypt.

[Image copyrighted by Matthew Ward.]

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Pemberley is Up for Sale!

[Edited 5/20/15 to add: I have been asked by many if Pemberley includes Colin Firth in a wet shirt. Alas! I regret to write that it does not. Firth is distinctly uncomfortable being asked about his role as Mr. Darcy and tries to distance himself from his most famous character.]

For the low price of only $11 million, you can own Mr. Darcy's Pemberley. Let's all pool our resources, historical fiction readers, together we can own it outright.

Eleven million sounds like a large amount, but think of what we'll be getting: five miles of corridors, a room for every day of the year, and cupboards the size of garages—and a story chockfull of visiting royalty, jaw-dropping scandals, and truly poisonous family feuds. Perfect! (The fine print is that we'll also be stuck with a repair bill of $42 million.)

Wentworth Woodhouse estate in South Yorkshire is the largest private residence in Europe. It inspired Jane Austen to create the Pemberley estate in her Pride & Prejudice as the home of the ooh là là 10,000-pounds Mr. Darcy, who was in turn inspired by the fourth Earl Fitzwilliam. (Historical note: He's not the Earl of Fitzwilliam but rather Earl Fitzwilliam—there are a few earl titles like that; more peerage details here.)

The famed façade dwarfs Buckingham Palace, Chatsworth, Blenheim, and even Versailles. (Go here for beautiful interior photographs.)

In December of 2013, architect Clifford Newbold bought Wentworth Woodhouse from the family that had owned it since the 13th century and he was determined to bring it back to life despite being in his 80s. Unfortunately, a year later, he put it up on the market as too much for him to handle.

[Edited 11/29/15 to add: The current financial situation of the house and what is being done about it.]

[Click on images to enlarge.]

Friday, May 8, 2015

Picture Day Friday: 17th C Persian Book

Shams al-Dīn Muhammad Hāfiz-i Shīrāzī, 1685 CE, Persia

[Image copyrighted by Matthew Ward.]

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Romance Reading Survey by Maya Rodale

This isn't a review of the book Dangerous Books for Girls: the bad reputation of romance novels, explained by romance author Maya Rodale, though I'm really looking forward to reading it. This post is about the survey Rodale conducted.

Before Rodale wrote her book, she ran a long survey among various fiction readers about their reading habits and demographics. According to Rodale, "There were over 800 survey respondents and the participants were mainly via word of mouth [and] Twitter, but shared by many authors/editors/bloggers, so it's not just my audience. Most but not all findings match up with the [Romance Writers of America's reader stats].

Here are Rodale's romance reading survey results: Romance Readers and Non-Romance Readers. It is interesting to compare Rodale's results with RWA's results. Far fewer romance-reading men responded to her survey, so the results are skewed a bit.

The following infographic is based on Rodale's survey.

[click to enlarge]

The following infographic is based on RWA, Nielsens Books and Consumer Tracker, and Rodale's survey.

[click to enlarge]

Friday, May 1, 2015

Picture Day Friday: 7th C Qur'an

Pages from a very early copy of the Qur'an from the 7th century.

[Image copyrighted by Matthew Ward.]