A Solemn Day

Today is Yom Kippur, the day of atonement that comes after the ten Days of Awe, starting with Rosh Hashanah, the head of the year. Obviously if you are Jewish you would already know this. For the first thirty years of my life I was only vaguely of the terms, and mostly ignorant of the true meanings.

For the last forty years of my life I have learned and applied much of what I have learned. That doesn’t make me Jewish, but I believe it brings me closer to G-d, with a better relationship.

I recently had a conversation with a friend about the concept of reverence, and how that it is expressed in the world. We can see examples of reverence by people bowing, or by people not turning their backs to the object of reverence. It is important to note that if you see an example of reverence, it doesn’t not mean that you are being reverent. Reverence is a personal choice that manifests itself in an action. Witnessing the action doesn’t somehow transfer reverence to you.

In fact, simply coping the act of others being reverent doesn’t not mean that you are actually reverent. It must be your choice, your action.

The discussion then centered on G-D’s name. In scripture it is written that G-d shared his name as “I AM”, and in Hebrew this was written using four consonants, “YHWH”. It is also described as the Tetragrammaton. How this word is pronounced has filled volumes of books. From early on it became a tradition to never say the name, out of reverence. The name was written, but if someone would read aloud, that reader would replace the name with Adonai, LORD, or HaShem (the name). This was an act of personal reverence.

When Scripture was translated into Latin, the Y was changed to the letter “I” or later, “J”. This is why we see the Hebrew word “Yeshua” written first in Greek as “Iesous” and then in Latin as “Iesus”, and finally in English as Jesus. Even though the “I” was pronounced with a “J” sound, so it still sounded like Jesus.

As far as the Tetragrammaton, this was not quite as simple. Without the necessary vowel sounds, the word could sound vastly different. There is much evidence that the word YHWH was pronounced “Yahweh”, an in some translations this is how it is rendered. It is still not pronounced aloud, but often replaced with Adoni, by the speaker. Again, this was a personal act of reverence by the speaker.

Later translations used the “J” instead of “Y”, and choose slightly different vowel sounds, so “Yahweh” became “JoHoVaH”, or Jehovah. And for some reason this was okay to vocalize, but hopeful said with reverence.

At some point the Hebrew scribes decide that “YHWH” sound not be written, o out of reverence it was replaced with the words that were used vocally when the scrolls were read. YHWH became Adonai, or LORD, or even many of the other names that were used in the oral tradition. This was done out of reverence, but logically it was only the reverence of the scribe. This replacement took the action of reverence out of my hands. I could still have a general feeling of reverence, but it is much less personal.

In the same way, I can write God, and the capital “G” implies the name with accompanying reverence. But when I type “G-d” that gives the same message, but adds the active act of reverence by the author. The reader of “G-d” is not expressing the act of reverence by simply reading “G-d”.

As you can see, this discussion with my friend covered some fine nuances. But it did help me to focus my acts of reverence as an active choice. That I can “coast” on the acts of reverence of others. That I can become more knowledgeable of Scripture, but I must also make it an action of faith.

Glad to finally be in a new year.

Shalom!

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What Films Can Do!

All this sequestering has upped my cinematic experiences. I have a tendency to select action films. Action plus historical fact is a guaranteed winner for me. As far as genres, it is only a very narrow slice of what is possible, and I recently took the time to ponder that fact. What is possible in films?

The first thing that comes to mind is Warhol’s film of the Empire State Building. I haven’t seen it, and I’m told that individuals who have seen it, wear a badge of honor. It reflects their hipness to sit through eight hours and five minutes of a silent, black & white shot of the Empire State Building, from 5:00 pm until 3:00 am. Okay, the badge doesn’t really exist, but the mindset is real.

It is a movie with time as the focus. Years later Boyhood was filmed, taking twelve years to film, the same cast ages without makeup. Again, in simple terms it was a film about time, with people passing through instead of a building.

For most of history of cinema, the content of films mimics literature, the media it basically replaced. There is a storyline, filled with characters, locations, and some dialogue. The linear development stretches all the back to stories around the campfire. It is well known, scripted, choreographed, and performed from generation to generation in some dimly lit cavern.

Then it is written down, and read aloud. Then literacy increases, and more words are added, the story is embellished because it can be. Eventually it goes back to theater, and sets are created, standards are met, music is added. In the final expression it is recorded in film. And for the most part it is almost like the story, almost like the book, almost like the play. And yet film can be so much more.

In the same way, I often realize that websites are almost like books or magazines, click and the page turns. I suppose that makes it familiar and comfortable, but the internet can be so much more.

So, what examples do we have of movies stretching the limits of what is possible? At first thought one might say the use of special effects. This is naturally tied to the development of technology. Hanging small models of flying saucers from fishing poles might pass in the early 1950s, but today it is comical, and it really doesn’t change the story, it just makes it more believable. Except for the noisy explosion of rockets in deep space. It’s flashy in space, but it’s actually deadly silent. At some point filmmakers tested audiences, and noisy lasers built the necessary drama.

I suppose that the examples of avant garde genre is the current standard of “pushing the envelope”. I’m thinking of “My Dinner with Andre”, or the 2001 film version of “Waiting for Godot”. Hmm, the play was better.

Some of my favorite movies in this genre are:

1. Un Chien Andalou, 1929, with Salvatore Dali and Luis Brunel, famous for the razored eyeball scene

2. Anemic Cinema, 1926 by Marcel DuChamp

3. Destino, 1946 by Salvatore Dali and Walt Disney

4. Spellbound, 1945 by Alfred Hitchcock

5. El Topo 1970, & The Holy Mountain 1973, by Alejandro Jadorowsky (very weird)

6. Eraserhead 1977, by David Lynch

7. Koyaanisqatsi 1984, by Godfrey Reggio

8. Being John Malkovich, 1999, by Spike Jonze

9. A Field in England 2013 by Ben Wheatley

10. You, the Living 2007 by Roy Andersson

And several more that slip my name memory. And today I’m adding…

11. I’m Thinking of Ending Things 2020, by Charlie Kaufman

Truly, very few directors push the boundaries of what films can do.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things
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Who are you voting for?

There are few direct questions that gives me more grief. Immediately my brain goes to “Why?” And my mental answer is always the same. It goes through the filter, “Is this person so confused that they are seeking clarity from me?” Hmm, the tone of the question isn’t right. That isn’t it. “Is this person trying to engage me in a political discussion in order to convince me to vote for their candidate?” Hmm, have I signaled that I’m confused and need education. Nope!

Okay, maybe this person is just looking for minds that think alike. Possible, so I might respond. “I believe completely in the principle of the secret ballot in order to preserve our rights!” A better question is to ask what principles I support.”

At that point they generally walk away.

I elect representatives, in order to make the decisions that I would make if I was in attendance. The representatives have made statements to me about platforms that I have strong opinions about. I don’t elect personalities. It’s not about the individual. I re-elect a representative based upon the “actions”, or the ability to govern. Sometimes they are successful, sometimes they represented me, but lost. Generally, so long as they haven’t given up, I give them another chance. It is still based upon the platform.

No one has asked the more accurate question. Not “Who did you vote for?”, but “What did you vote for?”

My response is still, “It’s a secret.”

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I am old enough

I am old enough to remember the Free Speech Movement, not from the newscasts of NBC, CBS, and ABC (the only main sources), I know it because I caught a bus and walked up University Avenue. I didn’t have a driver’s license.

Over the next few years I went from a back row observer in demonstrations, to an active, front line member. I placed my body on the train tracks, I surrounded buses filled with drafted young men, pleading for them to get off the bus. They were heading to be cannon fodder in Vietnam Nam.

I was tear gassed dozens of times,I was trapped in the entryway of a store, then pressed by bodies who were being beaten by baton wielding police. Eventually I was pushed through a plate glass window. I was there during People’s Park riots.

I was a monitor on the San Francisco Peace March, I rode backwards on a scooter, shouting through a megaphone, “Keep to the curb!” I know about peaceful demonstrations, I know about violent demonstrations where lives were lost.

These were the formative years of my life.

The Vietnam War was still on, I was finally drafted. I was in the bus this time. Some of my acquaintances were outside the bus in Oakland, pleading for us to get out of the bus, “Do not let yourself to be cannon fodder!”, they shouted.

I was flown up to Ft.Lewis, Washington for basic training. I lasted two weeks before I got an honorable discharge. Then I enlisted for three years in the regular army. This counted as a re-enlistment, so I got additional “professional” pay.

I spent almost 15 months in training. I had secret, top secret, and top secret crypto clearances. I was stationed for a year in the underground Pentagon in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I was also stationed on the DMZ in South Korea. This was during a mini shooting war. I heard bullets come my way, I sent bullets their way. One early morning, around 3am, I got a classified message that the Vietnam War was over. The peace accord was signed in Paris. Six months later I left the army.

Both events were shaping in very positive ways. Both events left their scars.

I used to know stuff, the older I get, the less I know. Some things still seem to ring true. There are honorable people in the world, and they are diverse. There are misled people in the world, and they are equally diverse. They are evil people in the world, not in huge numbers, but at times they have great influence. This is the way of the world.

Another truth, power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.

To the extent that it is possible, I choose to be under a corrupt system that still gives me the freedom to protest. In this way I can still influence change. The Vietnam War ended!

And I gave my oath to defend that system against those who would attack by violence. That oath is still active.

I am not conflicted.

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Nuremberg Chronicle Map

Mentioned in a birthday gift from a good friend. Thank you Peter.

Also known as The Liber Chronicarum, of Hartmann Schedel, printed in Nuremberg by Anton Koberger in 1493. A complete history of the world from creation to the publication date. Famous as one of the most illustrated of all German books (printed before Gutenberg). Interesting, because many of the illustrated cities were adapted the same woodcut. Nuremberg was the largest city in the Holy Roman Empire, and the only city that had a two page illustrated spread in the book. The book also had a detailed map that illustrated “a parliament of monsters”, a collection of creatures believed to inhabit distant lands of the known world.

The book had well over a thousand woodcuts that were produced by the Michael Wolgemut Workshop of artists, which included Albrecht Durer. None of the artists signed their name, but Durer is suspected of helping to create many of the woodcuts. Albrecht Durer lived on the same street as Anton Koberger, the printer of the book, who was also Durer’s godfather.

The Sciapodes (Shadow Feet)

They were each owners of one very large foot and leg, while also being very nimble. In the summertime, while lying on their backs, they protected themselves against the sun by the shade of their single foot.

Six Handed Man

Said to have lived in India. Mentioned in the Histories of Alexander the Great, with some stories that were later deemed written by an author named Pseudo-Calliisthenes.

The Cynocephali

Dog-headed men of the mountains, possibly Ethiopia, perhaps based upon baboons. Solinus writes of the dog-headed Semeans who were ruled by a canine king. They communicated by barking, and used their claws skillfully to hunt birds. according to the Greek historian Ctesias, they numbered 120,000.

Alexander’s Bearded Women

A species of women with beards extending to their breasts, but whose heads are bald. Again this was part of the legends of Alexander’s travels. ‘

“Shun a woman with a beard as you would a pestilence.” -Pliny

The Blemmyes

In Lybia, there lived creatures “born headless and have mouths, and eyes”, writes Schedel. The Blemmyes were a real nomadic Nubian tribal kingdom described by Strabo as a peaceful race.in 700 bc. Later, they became factionalized as headless cannibals. Shakespeare mentions them in Othello.

The Panotii

In Sicily lived people whose ears were so large that they cover their whole body. The ears reach to their feet and they use them as blankets to keep warm. When frightened, they use them to fly away.

(Adapted from “The Phantom Atlas”, by Edward Brooke Hitching, Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 2018)

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The Ignorance of My Youth

This could be a very long blog post. I will limit it to a very short subject.

There was a time, when I was first introduced to Medieval Art, probably in high school. I was impressed by most, and some seemed almost stencil-like. As if there was a formula of neck length, head shape, and lip formation. A lot of the portraits looked like they were all family members. And most of the royals did intermarry. Very few actually painted the truth. And when they did, I remembered them.

Federico Montefeltro was one that I remember. Not his name, nor the name of the artist, I remember how odd he looked in that hat. And when I saw his wife, I just had to laugh. Two very homely people had found each other.

Battista Sforza and Federico Montefeltro

Time passed, I was now teaching art appreciation at the college level. I still made sure to present the two images, but this time I mentioned the artists name, Piero della Francesca, 1415-1492. The students looked at the images that were in the textbook, but there was no back story about the people, just their names. Wanting to be better informed, since I was making fun of their image, I finally did some research.

Federico was Duke of Urbino from 1474-1482 (Lord of Urbino from 1444). Urbino was a small duchy that was given to the Papal States by Pepin the Short, Charlemagne’s father. By the 1200s it had become connected to the House of Montefeltro, becoming famous under Federico’s reign. Later, it was also ruled by Caesar Borgia, and even the Medici’s. In general, Urbino fell into the camp that favored the Holy Roman Emperor over the Pope, after the Montefeltros left, it swung over to the Papacy.

During Federicos reign his court was the model of what a court should be. It attracted the thinkers, the artists, and the writers of the time. The only product that Urbino exported was their military. When Federico committed his troops to a side, the opponent sued for peace. For years Urbino never lost, so in the end, they no longer had to fight. Several times the opponents had tried to offer more money for Federico to switch sides. He never did, and his reputation increased. Eventually, the sons and daughters of European royalty came to study at his court.

I came to respect Federico, even if he looked a little odd. Then, I learned that he had lost his right eye in a jousting match. He not only lost his eye, but much of the right side of his face. When Francesca painted his portrait, that was the reason for the stark profile.

I felt a little ashamed of my ignorance.

Then I read about the bridge of Federico’s nose. I had made fun of that as well. It seems that he had a typical Classic Roman nose, even after his jousting accident. But with only one eye, during battle he had difficulty responding quickly to attacks coming from the right. Federico had his surgeons remove the bone and flesh bridge, so that his left eye could see better to the right.

I felt even more shame.

The likelihood is that there are hundreds, or thousands, of half-truths about individuals in the present, or in the past, that falsely justifies our “judgement”. I know this now, because I’m old.

(The hat is still a trip.)

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William I

My 25th great grandfather is William the Bastard, or William the Conqueror, as he was known later. That month of October in 1066, I had four great grandfathers fighting for the right to be king of England. Three that were ancestors from my mother’s side, and one from my father’s side. Dad’s side won.

I have always been attracted to “turning points” or “history hinges”. Sometimes the world is changed by one individual. Certainly everyone makes a difference, but in some cases it is radically modified, and cascades throughout the following years.

England was always a target for invasion. It has been referred to as the “anglo-saxon” nation, but that was only after the two different Germanic tribes, the Angles, and the Saxons, took to their boats and invaded the lands.

The land already had Britons, Picts, Celts, and Romans with developed roads, villages and towns. The Anglo-Saxons intermarried with most, and established various kingdoms that slowly became England. The Vikings also came to raid, and to settle. So, being invaded by the Normans under William was perfectly normal, but the change was dramatic.

William was a descendant of Rollo, a Viking who had raided the French coast of Normandy. He asked permission from the French king to settle the land if he agreed to defend against further Viking raids. In time, William Longsword, was made Duke of Normandy and the title was passed down to Robert I and even to William, although his legitimacy was an issue. Perhaps invading England was the motivation to remove “the Bastard” from his name.

William spoke French, not German or English. For centuries afterwards all the English kings spoke French, some never even learned English. The Normans immediately placed Norman lords over the lands that were conquered. They even sent for Norman royals back home in order to fill positions in the new country. Customs were changed forever. The world changed.

History will always have the debate of whether change is for the better. Harold Godwinsson was the last English king, but even he was the descendant of foreign invaders. Harold was also my 25th great grandfather. His kingship ended at Hastings in October of 1066, with an arrow in his throat.

William, the Conqueror
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The End

There was a beginning, there was most certainly a middle, it only makes sense that there is an end. I just never thought I would recognize it. I thought it would come like a thief in the night. That it would steal its way in, on padded silent feet, and I would taken in quiet surprise.

Or perhaps it would be in my half-sleep. The dreams where I go back to work, but everything is unfamiliar, brand new equipment is everywhere, but it’s all a sham, only for show. The cables are all disconnected, and mice have made nests in the corners of the desks.And I’m allowed a quick scan of the upper shelves, where I find the service cap of a first class uniform, with neatly drawn letters on masking tape fixed to the bill, identifying the owner. The owner is me! I have forgotten it all these years. And only now, at the conclusion of my thoughts, I have this old memory to process before everything fades. Only this time it’s not fading to consciousness, it’s fading to discharge. The circuits are shutting down, the electric synapses dim. It is the End.

But instead, there is this clear certainty, almost cold logic. No time to get ready, it is here, in sudden ferocity, with professionals stepping in to do their jobs, without direction from me. I am in the last moments, only along for the ride, fully alert but not in charge, not directing the next action. It’s now out of my hands.

It’s so surreal that I fail to communicate what is happening. When I close my eyes I still recognize what is happening all around me. I’m not sleeping, I’m not even resting. I’m registering events, moment to moment, proving my existence to myself, and then with almost a shout, it’s the beginning.

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Newsflash

I have some very stressing news. I just read a news article that I trust very much. It reports on trends based upon hard data, and it seems absolutely reliable. The hard data calculates (with a 98% accuracy) that within 100 years, over 7 billion people will die. That’s a seven with nine zeros behind it.

Fortunately, they don’t think it will happen all at once. Some are calculating that 170 thousand per year, but multiplied by 100 does not quite add up. By my calculation, 7 billion divided by 100 is 70 million per year on average. That’s a huge discrepancy, so I suspect some agency is trying to soften the data.

If the general public was made aware of the truth, I would think that some dramatic changes would be made. 7,000,000,000,000 is a staggering sum. 70,000,000 is also unimaginable, but the hard data suggests that almost 191,000 people will die every day for the next 100 years. Every day!

Of course this is an average, some days it might be less, but some days it could be as much as 400,000. World-wide, the brunt will be on Chins and India, but the US, Russia, and Europe are not far behind. It will be a world wide pandemic, affecting everyone.

The only thing that I can remotely think as similar is when God told Moses that 625,000 Hebrews will die before going to the Promised Land. That was 99.99 percent of the entire nation that left Egypt, everyone except Joshua and Caleb. Not even Moses was saved.

I’m not 100% sure that I will survive this event. I do plan to make things as right as I can. The data is pretty bleak for anyone reading this, so I suggest that you do the same.

(Math corrected from first post, haha)

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I Grew a Flower

The more I think about it, I have come to the original source of most of our woes on this planet. That’s a bold statement, so it should be “thoughtfully” thought about.

I was thinking about Robert Heinlien’s book “Stranger in a Strange Land”, it’s a classic book that shought be revisited now and again. It particular I was thinking about a character in the book that was called a “Fair Witness”. This was a person that was trained to assist in legal trails and the making of contracts. An example was how the “Fair Witness” would describe things. The lawyer would ask “What color is that house on the hill?”, the “Fair Witness” would respond, “The color I see reflected is based upon the daylight from our sun, but I only see that from the side facing me. I do not know what colors are being reflected on the backside of the house.”

Is takes thoughtful work to tell the truth, “I grew a flower!” Really? Or did you plant a seed, and then tend the flower that grew? Most people will say that it’s the same thing, we only like the first sentence because it’s simpler and shorter. I think it leads to sloppy, ego-centric thinking. Extend that same concept outwards and you have a real mess of half-truths, with your own ego in the middle of it all.

I long for “Fair Witness” training.

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Terror House Magazine

Terror House Magazine is published on-line by a division of Terror House Press, based in Sheridan, Wyoming and Tirana, Albania. A combination that is international and certainly unusual. The magazine was founded in 2018 in Budapest, Hungary by author and journalist Matt Forney, Terror House’s mission is to publish outsider literary fiction, literary nonfiction, and cultural criticism/analysis. It’s published mission statement is, “follow in the tradition established by trailblazers such as Fluland, Loompanics Unlimited, and Feral House, publishing works that are too edgy, unusual, or honest to be released elsewhere. We stand against both the stultifying Beigeism of major New York publishing houses and the hysterical cliquishness of the “alt-lit” community. Both groups seek to crush literature by promoting an endless stream of hack immigrant coming-of-age stories and sterilized Iowa Writers Workshop pieces from pampered white trust-funders. Terror House Magazine seeks to cultivate the Charles Bukowskis, Louis-Ferdinand Célines, and Philip K. Dicks of the 21st century: bold, audacious writers who depict human life in all its ugliness and comedy.”

Well…

I was encouraged to submit a story here, and since I have never done so, I decided a rejection from Terror House might be some sort of literary badge. Instead, I was published. So I immediately sent another. They published that one as well. I sent a third, thinking surely this was a mistake. They published that one. I think a fourth was also accepted, maybe a fifth.

They would like to expand and produce a typical paper product, but for now they are still collecting authors. They keep an author page, and it is quite interesting.

My poet/author friend Lucy encouraged me to investigate Terror House, and I’m thankful to the extreme.

http://www.terrorhousemag.com

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Trees Wearing Pants

You never know what you are going to find in a Google search. I once put that title in three different search engines, and I got nothing, zip, zero. Not even a literary reference. I suppose you are thinking that would be the expected result.

I was checking because it was something that I had nibbling in my brain since I was 15 or 16. That’s a lot of nibbling over time. I wanted to know if this nibble had repeated anywhere that could be found in the net. Nope, it appeared unique to me.

Well, I thought I would pop it in one more time, and this time an artist based in New York popped up. He had lovely photos of trees in pants. I was inspired to write the following letter.

Peter,

It was probably in 1966 in the SF Bay Area. My best friend and I had a habit of going to the local mall after hours to sing at the top of our voices, what is now called “classic rock”. Lots of Simon and Garfunkel, maybe even Jefferson Airplane. It sounded great, the music bouncing from one window display to another. It was an outdoor mall with a half dozen planter boxes, each with two fully grown trees to provide the shoppers with shade.

With no “mind altering” apart from rock and roll, I began to see these trees as fallen giants from the clouds. They plummeted head first into the soft ground, buried up to their waist. You could see the trunk, and then the crotch, and then the legs disappearing up to the leaves. Never saw a foot, but sometimes the tree took a bend, and it looked like a knee. My friend just nodded, but I know I failed to communicate what I saw.

Fast forward 35 years and I’m teaching photography at a community college. I have used this example in a lesson plan teaching the taking a picture of a concept is a far better way to describe your vision. Naturally, the students asked to see my “trees with pants”. Of course I didn’t’ have them.

So, I made it a priority. I asked for donations of Levi’s, big Levi’s because I wasn’t sure what type of tree I would find. Students gifted me with several pair. I already had a large roll of Velcro hook and tape. In less than a day I had my pants, now I just had to find my tree.

I decided to utilize a walking trail near my house, it was a paved trail, a disused railroad, with lots of mature trees on either side. My idea was to place the pants, and a title card, then a notebook for comments. I would leave it up for a few days then uninstall “the installation”.

Everything worked well, I even hung around as a bystander to engage in any conversation that occurred. That probably was not the best idea. Some people were offended. “If they wanted to see art they go to a museum”, “did they have permission?” ‘This was public property and that was like graffiti on a BART train. I quickly turned to drive the fifteen minutes to home.

I went through several hours of contemplation, then went back, and took the pants off the tree. The label was still there, but not the notebook.

It wasn’t important to show people who didn’t want to see, so I took a lot of pictures, of that tree and others. Then I stopped thinking about the giants that fell from the sky. If I had to describe it, I could show the photos.
The only item of note is that my college aged daughter brought a small potted tree that was mostly dead. She took a weekend, sewed a small pair of Levi’s and gave it to me for Christmas. I still treasure it. I think this was 2004.

So I write this to let you know that while we may not have exactly the same vision, you should know that you are not alone. I completely understand the ins and outs of trees in pants.

Making art whenever I can,

John
http://www.johndiestler.com

johndies1

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Writing Prompt- City in the Sky

Someone I know had the grace to encourage writing by constructing a small phrase that may have a cascade effect. A few words that opens a gate for a torrent of words. Of course I only know her by the words she has given, but I like what I’ve read. Her second prompt stopped me in my tracks. 2) City in the Sky. Wow!

It is a widely known theory that communication is largely based upon common understanding. Speaking the same language is 99% of the issue. Have the same context and meaning is farther down the list, “City in the Sky” has such wonderful classic contexts ranging from St. Augustine to the Wizard of Oz. And throw in interpretations of clouds and you have thousands of potential words.

But I didn’t go there. Instead I went, “a picture is worth a thousand words.”

About 15 years ago I purchased a new digital camera. Better resolution, better walk-around lens, so I made a small trip to San Francisco to test it out. At some point I took this shot that had the intersection of three distinct architectural styles. I redrew it a bit in PhotoShop and it made a nice image that sold a few times.

But something about it caused me to start thinking. I was thinking about the negative space. I went back to the city a few weeks later. I made a bee-line for the financial district, and quickly took shots from the middle of intersections. At the very least I stopped in the crosswalk and took vertical shots of the streets between buildings.

That created a ten year project of a half dozen cities. San Francisco, Portland, Boston, Chicago, NYC, and Seattle.

The writing prompt has reminded me to continue with what I have started.

Three different buildings
Interest in the negative space
The buildings create an upside down sky building
Sky skyscrapers
Sky skyscraper

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The New Normal

I’ve been moving around on this sphere for over a half century, so that has given me some perspectives. Some things I have seen, and some things I am seeing again. That is as it should be. But there are some new things. The cycles are longer for some things. You have to do some research to dig back in the past to find when some things last made their presence known.

When was the last time we used the phrase, “the new normal”. I certainly don’t remember it from any historical texts. I’m thinking that, “keeping up with the Jones’ is not exactly the same thing. Or “have lemons? Make lemonade!”

Something tells me that “the new normal” comes out of counseling or recovery ministry. It does beg the question “what is normal”.

Theoretically there is no judgement there. Normal is equilibrium, action and thought that is unique to the individual, and not the result of outside influence. So, this “new normal” is not normal. I had a whole life planned based upon my past and the general sense of past history. The “new normal” has me masked and living in a bubble. A strong Darwinian sense is the only motivator. It’s possible it won’t be enough.

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I Think Gestalt


I think what I love about poetry,
Is the spaces it creates.

Not only the scenery,
With the wild descriptions,
And the subtext messages.

But also the gaps of the story,
Filled in by the reader.

It is a sort of joint project,
The poet providing a phrase of context,
And the reader remembering the unsaid words.

In the end, the poem is true gestalt, more than the
sum of its parts.

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Rod McKuen- Stanyan Street

www.youtube.com/watch

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After a Time

After a time, a very long time of muteness, a word was made. It was a very good word, or so it thought of itself. Perhaps it thought too highly, because the word left to go search for the best ear, in order for it to be heard. Not any ear, but the very best ear.

This brought up all sorts of judgement, categories, assessment, and labels. None of these things were natural, and certainly none of these things had anything to do with the word, except that the word felt it was justified.

The word travel the length and breadth of the land in search of an ear. It received many hints that the best ear lived just over the hill in a river valley, not far off. The word immediately went in search of the home. There was a fine home perched on a small hill, this must be the place! This word knocked on the door and waited patiently. While waiting, the word practiced being the word, and felt it would be heard correctly. But no one answered the door.

A neighbor walked by and said that the ear had left on a long trip, searching for a perfect word.

A small story for my small grandkids, but it is still true today. There are words in search of a proper venue, and there are thousands of venues scrolling past us on digital highways. Maybe there is a perfect match somewhere.

The best thing we can do is to freeze the word in time by writing or recording, and then placing it somewhere safe and accessible. Perhaps in time it may be found, or a least discovered in a concentrated search.

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Leonard Cohen- Famous Blue Raincoat

www.youtube.com/watch

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Leonard Cohen- Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye

www.youtube.com/watch

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Leonard Cohen- Is This What You Wanted?

www.youtube.com/watch

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Leonard Cohen- Anthem

www.youtube.com/watch

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Family Art

www.youtube.com/watch

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Hollywood Art

www.youtube.com/watch

Check paxvox.com for some great music.

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I’m a Big Fan

I’m a big fan of Annie Dillard. I read most of her work in the 1980s, “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek” and “Teaching a Stone to Talk”, to name a few. I really was fond of her short stories, never quite sure that she was just fortunate to document some interesting people, or that she just brought out their interesting sides. And of course, as a writer she could have simply invented the entire character.

One particular short story was abou a man, I think living alone in a cabin, that had found an interesting stone on one of his walks, (it may have been down by the river). He brought the stone back to his house and put it on his mantle. Then he studied the stone, the more he pondered, the idea began to take shape that he would begin a process of teaching the stone to talk.

Each time he would take ten minutes to vocalize sounds and syllables, building up to words and sentences. He was at it for quite awhile. The story stuck with me for years. I’m not sure the person was real, or that he really tried to teach a stone to speak. The idea of it delighted me. I was thirty.

Now, forty years later, I have other thoughts. I still appreciate the unique “out of the box” thinking, but it comes through a filter. The dedication, or discipline, to start a process of teaching a stone to talk without considering the possibility of success is admirable. Assuming that the stone wants to communicate with us is slightly egocentric. It seems to me now, that the stone is an unwilling participant. In protest, I might not speak as well.

The next thought I have is on whether the stone is already communicating, but we are not going to listen until it speaks our language. More ego-centric concerns.

This morning I followed a thread. I would like to describe thread to you. I have a tool box, filled with files, chisels, implements to shape objects. I had left the toolbox in torrential rain, and now I paid the price. Everything had soaked in water for days and was now fully in the process of rust. The first part of the thread is that I really liked these tools and had used each one in various projects. So I patiently cleaned and re-oiled each one. I haven’t found a new toolbox yet.

The second part of the thread is that I thought about how I had used these tools in the past. The list went on for a while, but I lingered over how I had used these tools to sculpt small pieces of soapstone.

The third part of the thread was my recent study of the Second Commandment, “thou shall not have graven images of anything above the earth, on the earth, or in the sea.” Well, that seems specific. In fact, there has not been one example of a Jewish statue found it antiquity. Lots of Roman, Greek, Egyptian, Assyrian, Canaanite… but nothing in Israel.

Clearly statues of people can become idols, but so can some animals/objects. And forty years after the commandment was given, God told Moses to put a “fiery serpent” on a staff for all to see, and to cure them of snakebite. I’m pretty sure this was a graven image, so did God change his mind?

This thread challenged my self identity. I had always thought of myself as a maker of graven images. Sometimes using only my hands with clay, mostly using stone with hand tools.

The fourth part of the thread is going to the front porch to find that chunk of soapstone that had been there for at least five years. There it was, hiding under the table. So then, I carry it to the back porch where all my resurrected tools are waiting, and I prepare to make something.

My process is to look very carefully at the stone, turning it around several times in my hands. I’m looking for any cracks or veins that stand out. How solid is this piece, how stable? Then, I ponder about what figure is hidden within the stone? The famous Michelangelo statement. what is the stone saying to me?

This is when the thread comes back to Dillard’s teaching the stone to talk.

So, I start to use the tools to begin shaping something. I’m really not sure what it might be. I’m making some very general reductions, I’ve determined a base, and now I’m beginning to rough out an object, nothing defined, not man, women or boy. Not plant or animal. So far, just an object connected to a base. I’m using s small hammer, a saw, and a “pointing” chisel. Tapping the chisel gently removes small chunks. Filing or carving, creates tons of dust and takes a long time to rough out an object.

I’ve got about an hour into the project, and I was just about to chip off a small piece that would give the final edge to help define the future object. One small tap, and the piece broke off, then the entire cube of soapstone also fractured right down the middle, creating two almost equal pieces. The stone had spoken, I was not going to have enough real estate to make any of the future objects I was contemplating.

The stone had communicated with some finality. I didn’t like it, and at first I was a little miffed that I had not seen the “flaw” that created the fracture. That is some more ego-centric based thought. It was a flaw because it foiled my predetermined plan to make something. It wasn’t a flaw to the stone, it was just a line of fracture should there come a time when the stone was turning into dust. Very natural.

The final thread was to revisit Annie Dillard and her story of stones that refused to talk. But maybe I just heard one this morning.

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“I don’t understand!”

“Well, I’m not surprised. Did you perhaps take any theoretical physics classes? Do you have a vague understanding of ‘string theory’? Are you at least aware of the electrical activity of your physical brain?”

“Yes, of course. I know about synapses and maybe a little about dementia. I’m not so sure about psychosis, and perhaps what I’m experiencing right now.”

“Okay then, one more time. You’re dead, or at least your body has died. This isn’t heaven, or even purgatory. Maybe they both exist, but for right now, this is what you have. The essence of who you were was a collection of electrical charges that continued outside your physical body, and found itself in the electro-mechanical properties of what we might call the ‘fifth dimension’, not the group you might remember, but a couple of dimensions up from the three dimensional world that you knew so well.”

“Umm, how do you know this?”

“Great question, I don’t know. We don’t have books, and no internet, I wish I knew what that was like. Everything so far seems to be a thought download from others, who have been here longer. In a way, it’s like an ‘oral tradition’, except we don’t really speak, or hear. You might notice that my lip memory is a little out of sync from the thoughts that I’m communicating to you. I’ve been here long enough that I’ve forgotten some physical controls.

You are going to meet some people that don’t even bother with lips or ears. In fact, some go all the way, becoming glowing balls of electrical light.”

“Yeah, I’ve seen that on the way here, in fact, I was surrounded by them at first. They seemed to know me.”

“Sure, they were your direct ancestral family. Electrical DNA is still a thing. It’s a lot easier to connect, or maintain connection. Close friends somehow make the connection as well, so some of those that greeted you might have been friends from the past. It’s a bit of a shock, so maybe… well, don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t understand. Haha, “walk towards the light,” and all that!”

“Umm. No one said walk towards the light. I just remember going in for a procedure, then waking up here.”

“Well, everybody is different. Oh, by the way, I’m your great grandfather, mother’s side, call me Michael.”

“Really? Damn, no one knows anything about you. You left a wife and six kids two years after you came over. People think you went to Canada and were eaten by wolves.”

“Almost true, I was looking for work, for several months, I got drunk and joined the Canadian Army, went to France and got gassed. Then I was here.”

“So, you’ve been here awhile?”

“Well, time is more of a ‘fourth dimension’ thing. As eternal creatures, we begin to restructure our thoughts about time. It’s accurate enough to say that I’ve been here awhile. It’s nice to know that I’m still remembered.”

“Not in a good way!”

“Your great grandmother is here, and she seems fine with me. Of course she has more experience with my electrical essence.”

“Are your flaws also recorded?”

‘“Every thought and deed is recorded. It is what it is.”

“Okay, okay, so just tell me. What’s next? What am I supposed to do? Where do I go? Am I waiting for something? Is there like… a judgement or something?”

“Dunno, maybe. So far, I’ve only noticed one thing.”

“Well, tell me! I want to know!”

“Um, well… sometimes you can see some people slowly fade. I mean their image fades. Doesn’t seem to matter if they have kept their body image or the ‘ball of light’, they just seem to slowly discharge, then ‘poof’, they are gone. I’ve seen it myself, hundreds of times, maybe more. Again, it’s just something I know, counting is not the answer. It isn’t true because of numbers.”

“Well, we aren’t exactly solid anyhow, transparent is more accurate. But you say that we can get more transparent, and then we are gone? Do we go somewhere else?”

“Well, if we are eternal, then yeah, we probably go somewhere else, but no one has come back to explain it. It just happens.”

“It happens to everyone?”

“Well, yes and no. Again, time is a slippery thing here. But I’ve been told that Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle still hang out, and they don’t seem any the worse for wear. Then again, others seem barely visible.”

“This can’t be happening, there must be some rational structure. There has to be reasons for things. Tell me what most people who have been here a while, what do they think?”

“Okay, okay. There are theories, but only theories. It seems that our electromechanical connection in this fifth dimension is connected to the electromechanical structure back there in the third dimension. Not sure how that works, but it seems to be true.”

“Tell me more.”

“Back there we were created as a unique person, our physical bodies created electromechanical impulses that extend here. When we left there, that gave us only our electromechanical essence here, but not maintained by our physical body because that was buried or cremated. Are you following this?”

“Yes, of course. Wait, so what is our connection back ‘there’, if we have no physical body?”

“Exactly… good question. Memories! Other people’s memories, which are still electromechanical and somehow sustain that connection to those of us that haven’t faded.”

“Wait…so you are saying, because my family remembers me then I get to be who I was, here in this place?”

“Well, it’s a theory.”

“And I suppose, if you somehow managed to write a book, or get discovered as a long lost poet, then you don’t fade away?”

“Yes, it does explain why some people seemed to fade, and then mysteriously come back stronger, only to fade again. Can’t really be sure because we can’t know what is going on back there? It’s all conjecture.”

“So, souls are connected, and if you are forgotten there, you disappear here?

‘“Yep, pretty much it. Except, the Electromechanical DNA factor changes things, sorta. Who we are here, is based upon the person we were from our existence… and the electromechanical essence created by others who only read about us is based upon their memories. Something gets lost.”

“This is getting weird. I am who I am!”

“Careful there, only one essence can actually say that…”

“God, are you talking about God? Is he here? Can we go see him?”

“Umm, maybe. No one seems to know. It seems reasonable.”

“This just got weirder. Are you telling me that we can tell when we are forgotten? And we can tell the difference between the family remembering us and when someone else just reads a book, or sees a movie about us.”

“That wasn’t so hard, it’s taken others a lot more time to get this, if we had a better sense of time in the first place.”

“So, our purpose here is only to wait, and watch until we fade away, and then we move on to some other place. Unless we are recreated as a fictional memory, then we are stuck here until media itself disappears back there?”

“Well, maybe. It’s hard to say. Physics in the fifth dimension doesn’t seem to be an exact science.

I can’t say for sure, but I get the feeling that maybe someone in my own family never knew of my existence, except in the sense that I must have existed because DNA got passed along. Then, suddenly, old records popped up, maybe a photo or two. Then I get mentioned at some family dinners. And here I feel more like me, like the person that I remember. I’ve been told that the fictional electromechanical essences know that their real essence is gone, but they don’t have any memory of it.”

“At least that’s the sense of the last download I remember. See that? I can explain this so much better with the new technology of your time. Download is so much more accurate than how this was explained to me. We talked about “essence letters” back then, potentially very confusing. What language were they in? Was it paper or parchment?

“Can I take a nap?”

“Always.”

(From a partially awake dream)

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The Orders

Teutonic Knight, Wilhelm von Ütgenbach, Herr zu Ehrenstein. My 18th great grandfather, and his grandfather, Teutonic Knight, Gerlach von Ütgenbach und Ehrenstein. My 20th great grandfather,

Teutonic Knight, Gottfried III, von und zu der Heess. My 17th great grandfather

They belonged to a crusading military order, officially named the Order of Brothers of the German House of Saint Mary in Jerusalem, founded as a military order c. 1192 in Acre, Kingdom of Jerusalem.

The Teutonic Order was formed to aid Christians on their pilgrimages to the Holy Land and to establish hospitals. Its members have commonly been known as the Teutonic Knights, having a small voluntary and mercenary military membership, serving as a crusading military order for protection of Christians in the Holy Land and the Baltics during the Middle Ages.

It is also true that there were many other reasons for a noble house to join an order beyond the stated “protecting pilgrims”. While it is important to always be aware of changing motivations, it is also cynical to believe that the founding reasons weren’t sincere. Within a very short time there were more than a dozen military orders that a noble family could pick from in order to assist in their need for piety in action. Basically, there had been two lines for the male children to follow, there were the succession lines, princes that would succeed their fathers, perhaps two or three in number. Then there wer male children that were dedicated to the Church, to become priests or bishops, or perhaps scholars. The creation of military orders was a third option. You could still utilize your military training, but do it in the service of the Church, and the Grandmaster of the order.

The most famous of the Orders is probably the Templar’s, or the Order of the Temple, as they took residence on the Temple Mount after the conquest of Jerusalem in 1099. Much has been written about the First Crusade, but there is no doubt that the timing was just about right for the Crusaders, the main fighting force they expected was busy somewhere else putting down rebellion.

Actually, the first Crusade is really in two parts, the first part was composed primarily of peasants, women, children, and a few militia that set off for thr a Holy Land under the guidance of Peter the Hermit. They couldn’t wait for the organized military, they would go, and conquer the county because “God wills it”. Along the way they would terrorize local communities, commit atrocities, pogroms against Jews, pillaging villages for food, etc. The Byzantine Empire was between them and the Holy Land and they did not respect the Empire. The Empire was Greek Orthodox, and that was barely a Christian. The city was closed to the horde, so they moved on into Seljuk Muslim countryside. Within weeks they were either slaughtered, or captured, and sold into slavery. Not one of the People’s Crusade made it anywhere near Jerusalem, anywhere from 50,000 to 200,000 people went missing.

The official part of the First Crusade is sometimes called the Prince’s Crusade, because it was led by five princes from the noble houses in Europe. This was the premier fighting force of knights trained to do battle. They were also political to the extent that the Byzantine Empire received and supported them. They were intended to win back the lands that the Empire had lost. This was not something that the princes ended up doing, treaty or no treaty.

The reality of fighting in the Holy Land became very evident. There was a need to provide protection for Christian pilgrims. As the numbers of pilgrimages increased the local authorities did not see them as helpful tourists. The Muslims had taken Jerusalem from the Byzantines, and they were not giving it back. A few churches had remained occupied throughout the Muslim takeover, but this increase in pilgrimages was seen as a threat.

The five top military orders in terms of power and influence were: the Templar’s, the Hospitaliers, the Teutonic Order, the Order of Santiago, and the Order of the Sepulcher. Most had centers of operational control, most had established hospitals for pilgrimage and Crusaders, some were also fully trained as medical doctors. All were heavily armored and supported by their families and home countries, some orders became very wealthy with donations in cash and land.

Overtime, the pressure and temptation of wealth and power overwhelmed the primary mission of the orders. And of course, eventually they lost all that they had gained by losing territory. Jerusalem fell, and they retreated to Antioch and Acca. Antioch fell, and they were pushed out of Acca. They went to Cypress in order to reorganize for another attempt at Jerusalem. They were pushed out of Cypress, and the Hospitaliers went to Malta. The Templar’s became advisors to most of the kings in Europe, and abandoned any attempt of protecting pilgrims. They had become financial bankers to royalty, using the wealth that had been donated for a different cause. Eventually, Philip IV of France, with the Pope’s blessing, attacked the leadership throughout his country on one day, trying capture the control and wealth of the order. They mostly succeeded, although there are still rumors of Hidden Templar Treasure. While other counties did not arrest and execute Templar’s, their power was broken.

The Teutonic Knights were the only order that simply moved to a different location, and continued the fight against pagans, they went North, to the Baltic area. The local Christian kings were under constant attack from various groups. The Teutonic Knights came in with their experience in the Holy Land and made a difference. Within two hundred years most had converted to Christianity. The Teutonic Knights had also nearly wiped out the pagan Prussians. When the Prussians had captured a knight they generally threw him, and his horse into a bonfire, armor and all.

After years of conflict, Poland, Estonia, Lithuania were all Christian and the Teutonic Knights lost their mission. The kings withdrew there support and the order reformed to do charitable work. This is true today with almost all of the orders that still remain. Only the Templar’s are missing completely.

My three great grandfathers had taken a vow to be in the service of the Grand Master, and the Order. They had families, they had property, but they also had a religious commitment to serve the Church with their sword.

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I am pondering

This is always a potentially dangerous start. On this blog it could be literally anything. This thought is about numbers, and how we use them to find an edge to a concept. My daughter just gave us a lot of plums from her tree. Yes, she owns a tree. They bought a house, it came with land, and the land had a tree. For the first time in her life she owns fruit from a tree. She gave us a lot of plums. Okay, she gave us 22 plums, ( I just ate two, so that means 20).

I point this out because when it was just a “lot of plums” it was a thought of a generous amount. Suddenly, when it was 22 it had edges, a finite amount that was going to quickly decrease. It is still good to number things, to find the “edges” of concepts.

I have been researching and writing about great grandparents. Because we exist we have grandparents. Because of biology we each have the same number of grandparents. Because of biology it’s a factor of two. I only know of one example where a earthly human only has one parent. Thousands of people only know of one parent. Hundreds of thousands do not know any of their grandparent, but they had to exist.

I have tried to be aware of my grandparents and great grandparents. To the extent that it is knowable, I want to find their names, and maybe a little about their story. So far, if the databases are correct, I have a total of 4,264 great grand parent names, going back over 2,000 years. That sounds like a lot.

But here is the problem. If you only consider me, the one individual, I have 8 great grandparents that were alive in the early 1900s. That seems possible, 8 out of millions of folks in the world. But if you take just one persons ancestors back 40 generations, how many people is that? According to the math, it took 1,099,511,627,776 people to create me.

40 generations means about 1500 years ago approximately. Apparently, just to create me (or you),there were 1,099,511,627,776 people in the year 500. Of course they were also busy creating a number of other people, all of whom are my cousins. But the point is that the planet did not have that many people at that time, so… I know I’m obviously missing something fairly important. One that stands out is that I only know of about 3,000 of the 1,099,511,627,776 possible great grandparents.

Biology is a fact. Numbers related to biology should also be a fact. There must be a logical reason for the discrepancy. Even if I have hundreds of great grandparents that are doubling up, or cousins marrying cousins, it doesn’t change the numbers that much. I have searched articles about this and none have answered my question to the extent that I understand, numbers have proven that I am dense.

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Is it the Person? Or is it Fear?

I have the pondered the point of writing this. Do I expect that I will change minds? Sadly, no I don’t. Primarily because on the basis of WordPress analytics I have approximately 7.5 readers per week, and three of them repeat every other day. I am not an influencer, nor am I ever likely to go viral.

So I generally write history for history sake. I wouldn’t be able to sit at history’s feet and not comment on these historic times.

First thing, I do not play well with others. I am on Facebook, and periodically i get a request from a Facebook friend to make a comment, then cut and paste a certain paragraph and pass it on. An electronic version of a chain letter. I didn’t do it with stamps, and I’m not doing it with the internet.

Recently it has been suggested that I “take a knee” in support of the current protests around the country. Ha, I’m a child of the Sixties, raised near Berkeley. I protested from the time I was 14 or 15, from Free Speech, People’s Park and the San Francisco Vietnam Peace March. I have some experience. I will not take a knee.

There are reasons to protest, sometimes it helps to change things, most times it only changes the protester. That can go well, or it can south.

One of the things I learned in the Army (I was drafted, but later I re-enlisted) is to salute the uniform. You can disagree with the man, even hate the man, but you respect the uniform and the concept ot military authority.

But sometimes you protest the injustice given to an individual. JFK, RFK, or MLK being murdered. You feel like you know them, it seems personal, and they rightfully become martyrs, and icons/examples for senseless injustice. Were they perfect? Not at all, but they were not so imperfect…

The individual that has risen to heroic levels in this current crisis is anything but heroic. He was a violent man, convicted in a court of law for breaking into a home, holding a gun to the belly of a pregnant woman, while his friends looted the home. This was the primary of his offenses, which are lengthy, but the sum total paints the picture of a man that should never be a role model. Nevertheless, what happened to him was unjust.

Can we say his crimes were the result of his social condition? That’s a slippery road, some people had things much worse and lived better lives. We need to improve conditions. Having an ordered life, a strong family, with well paid jobs reduces crime.

For me, i back up and don’t go down the road I don’t know. I know about the reactions that the Police have been exhibiting for years. There are many factors, it is a stressful job, their lives are at risk, there are people who wish them harm. But the numbers do not support that it is rising. Yet their reaction seems to tell me they think otherwise. Enforce better training, reduce the fear.

I can support the protest that brings light to the injustice caused by unsupported fear. And action based upon solid facts and evidence will make a change. In this case, not the man, or the senseless greed and revenge.

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Brunehilde der Wisigothen

Or better known as Brunnhilda of the Visagoths. I am stepping out from my usual story telling to include this tale of the wife of my 40th great uncle, not grandfather, Sigebert I, King of Austrasia.

For some of us the name Brunnhilda brings up the cartoon of Broomhilda, certainly a clever use of the name. The green skinned witch dressed in black is a far cry from the tall, blonde, pigtailed, armor bearing shield maiden. The operatic Brunnhilda of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen, a cycle of four German language epic music dramas. Wagner appears to have used an old German fable that may have been based on an older Norse fable called, the Völsunga saga and some Eddic poems.

There are many versions of the tale, in most of them Sigebert, or Sigurd/Siegfried, is a “go between” for a suitor that wants to marry Brunnhilda. Unfortunately, the suitor does not have the strength to penetrate the shield wall (or the wall of flames) around Brunnhilda’s tower. So Sigurd/Siegbert/Siegfried changes shape into the suitor, gains entry into the tower and takes away Brunnhilda’s virginity. As a reward she gives him her belt and a ring.

Later in the tale, Brunnhilda marries the suitor thinking that he had gotten through the flames, and Sigurd had married another Queen. So the two Queens were arguing one day about whose husband was stronger or braver. Brunnhilda claims her husband crashed through the wall of flames to take her virginity. The other Queen says that it was actually her husband that did that, and produces the belt, and the ring to prove it. Brunnhilda gets angry and plots to have Sigebert/Sigurd/Siegfried murdered. Once that is done she laughs, then commits suicide. At least that is how it ends in several versions.

The interesting part is that it seems to be based upon real real characters in history. Sigebert I was King of Austrasia about the time of Attila the Hun’s invasion of Europe. In fact some sagas have Brunnhilda the daughter of Attila. Brunnhilda did have a sister, Queen Galswintha, but Fredegund, mistress of Chilperic I of Neustria, had her murdered so that she could become Queen. It almost sounds like another opera. Fredegund goes on to have Sigebert killed and Brunnhilda imprisoned. Eventually Brunnhilda escapes for a time.

She continued to rule the kingdom, but it was no longer the handsome couple in charge, with everybody happy. Her subjects began to resent her harsh rule, and they were happy that Fredegurd’s son, Clotaire II, captured Brunnhilda, who was now 70 years old. He tortured her for days, then had four horses rip her apart, and dragged her body parts throughout the city. Clotaire II ruined the Merovingian Dynasty and paved the way for the Carolingian Mayors of the Palace to take over.

So ends the wife of my 40th great uncle, and legendary shield maiden of the opera.

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Another attempt at Terror

Snick!

There was a satisfying weight in his hands. Weight meant significance, weight implied power and meaning. He had hold of a chunk of steel with power and meaning, and weight!

The folding knife with its six inch tanto styled blade was very sharp. The blade itself was nearly 1/4 thick so that the overall weight in his hand was substantial. The technical advantage, besides the strength, was that the blade had a natural desire to drop from between the slabs of G10 scales that made up of the handle. It didn’t of course, that would be foolish and dangerous. Four fingers would be sliced off in a millisecond. No, the blade remained in the handle. But it wanted to come out.

The young man thought the weight would be a comfort in his hand, but not at the bottom of his jacket pocket. On his last assignment he carried a knife with a long enough blade, but with a thin stiletto steel. It had an assisted opening mechanism which flipped the blade out quickly if he kept his fingers out of the way. It was only a very quick movement to change the grip to an upward slash at the jugular, and then withdraw in order for three quick stabs to the armpit. The gentleman made not a sound and slipped to the ground, crumpled like old newspaper. The other businessman on the subway platform barely noticed.

It was a simply job, in and out. For some reason, a reason backed by lots of money, for some reason, someone did not want the gentleman to attend this morning’s business meeting. Or perhaps a husband needed him to stop visiting his wife on Tuesdays. In any case, the job was standard, the young man had gotten it down pat and disappeared namelessly into the crowd.

Edged weapons were the tools of professionals. Most folks think the choice would be a gun, a revolver. The movies always have some long slide automatic spewing evidence as shell casings all over the room. And the sound that it makes turns every head even with the bulky silencers. The young man had entertained using a revolver that kept its shells intact, but the awkward length of the silencered barrel didn’t feel right for a quick move. He even considered a smaller .22 style derringer like some of the Mafia hit men of old. Still too noisy. He was committed to the edged weapons.

The sameness of the jobs allowed him to consider the finer subtleties. How many ways to get at a close enough range? What was the arc necessary considering his height? Was there power enough if his arm was fully extended? Did the noise of the assisted mechanism alert the target? It was good to look at the details.

Over time he obsessed with two concerns. Some rumors that potential targets were beginning to wear body armor. Not the bulky plate armor, but slim, form fitting, Kevlar based fabric. It would take penetrating power to defeat that, and his slim stiletto might be defected at some point. He still had his first jugular slash but the chest penetration for insurance might not happen. And there was still the sound to consider.

The stilettos sound was small, but sharp. It could almost be like a ball point pen click. Who would notice a random click, even if it was close? It was insignificant, and death would soon follow this insignificant sound. It began to seem unfair, like the click of a trigger when hunting. It was the click that could be heard, because the blast of the bullet came after the round had caused the death. At least this was his thought process.

He considered that the click should have more of an ominous sound. His targets should register the sound as ominous, not like a pen click. Not enough to be able to move or deflect the strike, but at least ominous enough to ponder, “What was that?”

He looked at the heavy tanto styled blade in his hands. He performed the gravity drop flip to open the blade. There was a satisfying “snick” as the blade locked open. Now that was an ominous sound! It carried weight, like the weight in his hand. It was remarkable, it was significant. It had the ability to freeze men in their tracks if they knew what it might mean. It sounded as dangerous as the sliding action of a shotgun loading a shell. Of course, most people would only hear “dangerous”, and still not move. There wouldn’t be time to move anyway, the slash is less than a second after the “snick”.

This idea began to please the young man. The idea that his target’s brain would be considering “danger” just milliseconds before his slash seemed fitting. Most of his targets were thinking about a hot cup of coffee, or how late the train is running. Wouldn’t it be better to go out by an edge, and actually be on edge. The concept brought a rare smile to his face. The same individual that warned him about the Kevlar defense fabric had suggested this heavy tanto blade. If he wasn’t his competitor he would have to thank him the next time he sees him.

Up ahead on the platform he can see his next target, briefcase in his left hand, folded newspaper in his right, reading a column. He would approach from the front, slash the jugular on the left, then penetrate the chest wall in the right armpit, just under the upraised arm.

As he moved from the wall, heading for the target, he was momentarily paralyzed by fear, not physically paralyzed because his legs kept swinging, he was paralyzed mentally because he heard the sound, and he knew what it meant.

“Snick!”

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Chlotilde of Burgundy

My 43rd great grandmother, and wife of Clovis I, King of the Franks. Chlotilde was a Christian, but she married Clovis who was a very vigorous pagan. The Salian Franks were primarily pagan at this time, but a few were being baptized as Aryan Christians by Bishop Ulfilas. The pagan belief system was based upon sacred oak trees, rituals, a pantheon of various gods, later writers would give them the names of the Roman gods, but they were uniquely German. One of the major aspects was that they practiced polygamy. I suspect that one of the conditions of marriage was that Clovis would not have multiple wives.

The important issue was that the almost all of the Christian leadership in Europe was Aryan, and when Clovis was baptized he followed the Nicaean Creed, which was Catholic, and followed the Pope in Rome. This meant that Clovis’ descendants would also be what became as traditional Catholics, and led to the Pope to eventually declaring Charlemagne as the Holy Roman Emporer. This was a bit irritating to the Eastern Orthodox Church because they technically already had a Holy Roman Emporer it was contentious for a thousand years. The Aryan Christians were eventually declared heretical and disappeared.

Chlotilde was a remarkable woman, and did not give up on her desire to have her husband come to faith. By her action the future of Europe changed, the future of the Church changed. Sometimes it comes to one individual.

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Stephen, Count of Blois

His full name is Étienne Henri ‘Stephen’ II, Count of Blois, de Champagne and de Meaux. And he was my 28th great grandfather.

This is yet another sad tale, which ends with Stephen dying in battle, a thousand miles from home. He was a Crusader.

I’ve always known that the common view of Crusaders,and the Crusades have been bad, they have been shown in a bad light. It wasn’t until recently that I’ve been able trace where this came from. The first sources of negativity were individuals that distrusted Roman Catholics, particularly the Pope.

The Crusades were called and presented by the Pope. There are those who cannot make the distinction between things that are “proper”, if they are voiced by someone that they do not agree with. As far back as Gibbons, who disliked the papacy, the Crusades, and Crusaders were subjected to questions of greed, power, and social injustice. So much of this has been portrayed in books and movies that the truth can barely be discerned. Most probably because certain individuals, particularly leaders, failed in major ethical ways. Case closed.

Yet there were thousands of individuals that left their comfortable homes, and lives, with no idea of power and wealth. They were committed to the idea that followers of Christ should be able to follow in Christ’s footsteps without danger, harassment, or death. This was a form of piety that had taken hold in Western Christianity, and it was a grass roots movement.

Throughout France, Spain and England, people were on pilgrimage, visiting various cathedrals through Europe. Yes, visiting relics were a goal, but not the base reason. It may have been the belief that time was short, the year 1000 was approaching. It was time to put their faith to the test. This was not something “planned” by religious leaders.

The truth is that pilgrims were in danger, and making a military decision is one method to change things. Making treaties also works, and for the most part, that was the lasting solution. The movie “Kingdom of Heaven” does a fair job of presenting multiple agendas for the Crusades, and the types of people that were on Crusade. Naturally the hero seems to be one of the few reasonable ones.

Examples of the misuse of force are rampant. On the first Crusade, long before the Crusaders left Europe, the leaders allowed murder and carnage on Jewish communities that they passed by. It was absolutely horrific genocide. We should know this. But what is often not written is that the Emporer Frederick Barbarossa was in charge of the Third Crusade. He made the decision to order his Crusaders not to attack Jewish settlements. Frederick met with the Chief Rabbi to work out the solution for a safe transit.

As a younger man, Frederick had been on an earlier Crusade, and knew what needed to be done. At one point a Crusader had fallen ill and had taken refuge in a local monastery to recover. While there, he was robbed and killed. Frederick was charged to go back to bring justice. He was very successful, and the Byzantine Empire made sure that the rest of their journey was safe.

As to Stephen, he had a very successful home, typical of a medieval count. He had eleven children, one of them destined to be a future King of England. It took a great deal of his personal wealth to support his pilgrimage, he was not in it for the money or the fame.

Actually his commitment to the Crusade was over. The rest of his companions were already taking ships to go back home. A sandstorm had delayed his journey to the port of Acca, it was at this time that he heard about an army sent from Eqypt to attack the Latin Kingdoms. Stephen had survived his Crusade but volunteered to help.

He met the opposing force at Ramleh, a place on the road to Jerusalem. There had been a lopsided victory for the Crusaders the year before. The Eygptian forces had beaten the first two formations. It was only when King Baldwin had led his reserve heavy Calvary that things changed, but many knights were lost. The next year the same forces met, this time it was 20,000 plus Egyptians meeting about thousand Crusaders. It was a disaster with most of the Crusaders wiped out.

King Baldwin and about 200 knights had taken refuge in the only tower in the city of Ramleh. Late that night he escaped with just a few of his men. Stephen was left in charge of the remainder. In the morning the full force of the Egyptians charged the tower, it came down to furious hand to hand fighting and Stephen was one of the very last. It is said that he had fought so valiantly, and so well, that if he surrendered his life would be spared. He didn’t surrender.

So my 28th great grandfather died at Ramleh, after he had already survived his sworn Crusade. He didn’t return to his home, and he didn’t find fortune. But he is remembered.

Two Hundred Knights Attack Twenty Thousand Saracens. Illustration by Gustave Doré(1877)
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Latest renderings

I have been looking at ancient sculpture, recognizing that most were painted realistically afterwards. Thinking that rendering in color might bring something more to the Stone.

Calpurnia
Pompey
Julia Caesar, Pompey’s wife and Julius Caesar’s daughter
Julius Caesar
Julius’s mother
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Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix

Most commonly know as simply “Sulla”. So much has been written about Rome, the Republic and the Empire. Fortunately there are a lot of surviving documents written during and soon after the events being described. Unfortunately, the documents written about specific characters generally fall into two camps, 1) “they were the best for Rome”, 2) “they were the worst for Rome”. I suppose things haven’t changed much.

My 68th great grandfather owned the word “dictator”. I think it was first applied to him. For centuries Rome was a republic, dedicated to the concept that good government was made by having a concensus opinion developed by representatives. It still is a sound idea. Of course their choices of representatives excluded a bunch of folk. They did have plenty of wealthy families having senator seats, and of course the military, and the great landholders. The common folk? Not so much.

Was Sulla really my great grandfather? Who knows, he was someone’s. I have reason to believe the data that led to him. I didn’t know where it would lead. After hours of clicking the button that said. “He was the son of…”, I would come to the end of the line. Then I would back up to another great grandfather, and click more buttons. The data wasn’t there for some lines. This particular line led to Rome, and considering that thousands have studied Roman lineage, and that hundreds of Roman writers have written about their heritage, well, the data seems better than average, so yeah, Sulla seems to be my great grandfather.

So what do I know about Sulla, more than that he was a dictator? I’ve seen him portrayed in movies, he seemed pretty harsh. But then, here is a man that went against everything that he society held dear. He seized control! He had a better plan for government, he would make the decisions, it would be done his way. Was he egotistical? Or was he responding to incompetence?

In either case, his actions set the stage for future leaders. You could take control, it was possible to undo structure. It could lead to Empires with an Emperor. In fact there is no doubt that years later Julius Caesar would say, “if Sulla can do it, so can I!”

I suppose every strong man that overthrows democracy can look to Sulla as the inspiration, because it started with him. We had lots of experiences with warlords and kings, but they generally came from a history of chaos and anarchy. This was different. The government might have been broken, but the structure to recover was there.

There are several books written about the person of Sulla. Now that I have this curious connection I am inspired to develop a Kindle account.

Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix
“The Dictator“
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This is a Sad Tale

There was a people that were displaced, and finding it hard to make their way in the world. In the east there were hordes of men on horseback that were killing and enslaving the survivors. Each year they seemed to be pressing valley by valley, forcing people to flee West into the lands of the hated Romans.

There wasn’t a specific reason for the hate, except that the Romans were filled with themselves as the rulers of the world. And that they looked down on the people, calling them barbaric. They sat on one side of the Great River, in their log forts, traded small amounts, but kept the people from rich lands, and safety from the real barbarians in the East.

One of the only methods of gaining entry was to sell your fighting skills in their army. That way you could get a small piece of land secured on the other side of the river, to raise your family.

You fought, bled, and died for Rome, but she did not honor you. Many of the mercenaries rose in the ranks, became generals commanding legions, but not Roman legions. One such general was my 47th great grandfather Theodemir, who was King of the Franks, living in Gaul. He fought for Rome, and the many political factions in the Senate. His father was a Roman Consul, Flavius Richomeres, leader of Rome. But Richomeres had married Ascyla of the Franks, his mother. There was bare recognition of his barbarian wife and child.

When Flavius Richomeres died, Ascyla went north to live with her son. As King of the Franks, Theodemir worked hard to get as many of his people on the safe side of the river, away from the barbarians of the East. Factions in Rome were not happy about this. Eventually Theodemir aligned himself with Senators that fell out of favor, and an army was sent to Gaul to punish the Franks. The memory of lost Roman legions fighting in the Teutoburg Forest came back to them, Emperor Varus had led three Legions to their deaths 400 years earlier. Rome still remembered this. Theodemir was captured, shackled, and brought to Rome, along with his family, and his mother, the widow of the former Consul of Rome.

The friends in the Senate were quiet, they were barbarians after all. The entire family was executed by sword August 14, 414. My 47th great grandfather and my 48th great grandmother gave their lives to Rome, but they were not honored.

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Count Godefroi I, the Captive

Godfrey I (died 1002), called “the Prisoner” or “the Captive” ( le Captif), sometimes the Old (le Vieux), was the count of Bidgau and Methingau from 959. and the sovereign count of Verdun in 963 to his death. He was also my 32nd great grandfather.

It seems that a few of my relatives have earned a sobriquet, a nickname. Some were interesting twists “Barefot” was actually “Bareleg” because he had taken to wearing kilts. “Bluetooth”, because he had a dead tooth root, or that he loved blueberries, perhaps both. Some even had the phrase “the Great”, although that appears to have come later in their time. I don’t exactly see a friend actually say, “Oh, look, here comes “the Great!”.

Then there are the very misleading ones, “the Unready”, which apparently was because he took bad advice. Or even “Hardrada” because his advice was hard. Worse yet, “the Simple”, lets hope that he wasn’t also vicious.

This relative of mine was apparently called “the Captive” or “the Prisoner”. To his face!

The whole cultural to the royals at this time was war and military showmanship. And this was not about going around the countryside “righting wrongs” and freeing damsels in distress. In fact, I’ve read at least a dozen times when my relatives were being carted off as booty. From both sides! The royal Houses basically tried to keep their power by having enough children to marry with political advantages.

And when that didn’t work they simply attacked.

The spiritual leader at the time, the Pope, was constantly trying to put out fires. He was beseeched from all sides to end the senseless fighting. Well, technically, he was only beseeched by the losing side. He didn’t have much power, apart from ex-communicating, but the Pope did that quite often. Sometimes it worked.

Much has been written about the reasons for the Crusades, unfortunately, much has been poorly researched, and they target other agendas. But one thing was apparently correct. The Pope saw that asking the royal Houses to go fight in a distant place would keep them from fighting each other in their own countries. Unfortunately they fought each other in the distant lands as well.

My 32nd great grandfather apparently was on the losing side of at least three conflicts in order to earn the sub-title “the Captive”. It was lucky that he wasn’t killed. It’s true that battles were very bloody, but unless it was in the heat of a battle, or being drowned by running away, most royals survived the battles.

There was good reason for this. Royals either had money, or they could raise money, and soldiers were not paid a salary, they took their wages in loot or ransoms, provided they won.

Another thing I learned is that the development of better armor extended lives. Better armor meant encasing the whole body in steel, and it was very difficult to recognize who was who on the battlefield, so there was lots of flags around to let people know who to fight. Should you stray from the flags you could always be known for the emblem on your shield, if you lost your shield then your cloak had the same emblems, and perhaps the crest on your helmet had your symbol.

The picture that I am painting is that the two sides would face each other as different sides in a conflict. Yes, there might have been significant “reasons” for the conflict… but one thing is for certain. Over there, under the colorful flags, were people that if I can capture, would set me up for life, and I wouldn’t have to fight these wars anymore. Kill or wound anyone getting in the way, but head for the colorful royals and make them your prisoner.

Another painful reality is that the price desired was always more than what was available, so you had to keep your prisoners until the sum was raised.

My great grandfather was captured three times and spent a total of fifteen years in three different dungeons. Perhaps some treated him better than others.

I don’t know if my great grandfather was a good man, losing doesn’t mean that you were bad, it’s just that it was bad for you. Walking around around with the nickname or “the Captive”, not only reminded you that you picked the losing side, but it also meant that your family, your house, and your lands, had to raise lots of money to return you to your castle on the the hill.

That’s a life long burden.

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Latest Sketchbook work…

Ragnar Sigurdsson
My 34th great grandfather
Vseslav Bryachislavich, the Sorcerer of Kiev.
My 26th great grandfather.
Saint Olga Elena Prekrasa
My 29th great-grandmother.
Fulk V, King in Jerusalem.
My 26th great grandfather.
Bertrade Montfort.
My 25th great grandmother.
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Dusk

Dusk brings quiet. The noise of work slows, even the birds seem to shelter in place. We are still sheltering in place. One early evening, after about a month of sheltering, I heard what appeared to be a coyote. It seemed very close, close enough to upset my dog, so he barked. I’ve heard them before in the neighborhood, so it’s not unusual, but this was close. Then dusk took over and it was quiet.

The next day, about the same time, a few minutes after sunset, I heard the same clear call, two or three times, then it was quiet again. The following day it was the repeated. Now I had figured that a local dog had learned the howl, that’s why it was so close, and now a few other dogs were answering the call. My dog just barked.

This has been going on for about a month, same time, same duration. There have been times when I thought maybe it’s not a dog, or a coyote. It was too plaintiff, there was a subtle ache to the timbre.

This evening we took a short walk through the neighborhood at dusk. The dog needed his walk, we had gotten about two blocks from home when I heard the first howl, I had learned the voice, I recognized the pitch and volume. It came from the house directly across the street from where I was standing. It came from the back porch that I could see. It came from the man standing on the porch, the local neighbor.

His howl was promptly answered by yet another neighbor three or four houses down, and yet another neighbor two or three streets away. For two or three minutes I was surrounded by howls from every corner of the compass, and then dusk took over and it was quiet again. My wife howled softly.

The shelter in place does keep you safe, but it also brings stress.

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Fulk, King in Jerusalem

He was my 24th great grandfather, also known as Fulk the Younger. He was the Count of Anjou (as Fulk V) from 1109 to 1129 and the King of Jerusalem from 1131 to his death. During his reign, the Kingdom of Jerusalem reached its largest territorial extent.

Yes, my great grandfather was a Crusader, not only the but so were more than two dozen great grandfathers as far as I can tell. At this point I think it is important to rank a little bit. It certainly not politically correct to support Crusaders. Not only were they vicious killers, but they went to a country to murder the inhabitants and set up their own kingdoms. And they didn’t really discriminate, if you didn’t speak French, German, English, Italian, Spanish you were potentially slaughtered. Thousands of Greeks, Jews and native born Christians were victims. This is not in all cases, but it happened. I recall reading about the fall of Jerusalem, where the Crusaders killed so many that the blood ran in the streets and collected in the lower parts of the city, where it was up to the horses knees.

Yes, I’m glad this was in the past.

So the rule for critical thinking is not to judge historical individuals out of their own times. That’s pretty hard unless you make the effort to study the times.

In Christian history there was a period of “going on a pilgrimage”. We have that in English literature with Canterbury Tales by Chaucer. And even bigger pilgrimage was going on the Camino de Santiago, the road to Saint James Cathedral in Compostela. This makes for some interesting reading. There is even a current movie about a father undertaking this journey. It may have started earlier but written records began appearing around 1000. Traveling to visit the grave of Saint James was an act of piety.

It didn’t take long that hundreds of pilgrim were heading to the Holy Alan day. There had been dozens of monks that had made the trip, but now there were crowds going. It didn’t take long before the local authorities began to abuse these wayfarers.

The first crusades were from 1096-1099, the first was often called the People’s Crusade. Led by a French priest called Peter the Hermit, it was mostly comprised of the poor or Europe. With few actual soldiers they passed through Germany, committed many massacres, largely anti-Jewish, and when the Emperor at Constantinople got rid of them they were set upon by the Seljuk Turks and they were massacred, all 60,000, miles before they got to the Holy Land.

The Princes Crusade was the second part of the first crusade. It was better led by five bales leaders of Europe, Raymond IV, Count of Toulouse; the Italo-Normans Bohemond of Taranto and his nephew Tancred; the brothers Godfrey of Bouillon and Baldwin who led forces from Lotharingia and Germany.

The total amount of people attacking was well over 100,000. By chance the main Seljuk army was busy somewhere else, so they were successful and set up at least four principalities, the County of Edessa, the Principality of Antioch, the Kingdom of Jerusalem and the County of Tripoli

The intention was to rule the Holy Land and provide protection to pilgrims.

According to Wikipedia…”The causes of the First Crusade are widely debated among historians. While the relative weight or importance of the various factors may be the subject of ongoing disputes, it is clear that the First Crusade came about from a combination of factors earlier in the 11th century in both Europe and the Near East. In Western Europe, Jerusalem was increasingly seen as worthy of penitential pilgrimages. The Seljuk hold on Jerusalem was weak, and the group lost the city to the Fatimids, and returning pilgrims, such as the Great German Pilgrimage of 1064–1065, reported difficulties and the oppression of Christians. The Byzantine need for military support coincided with an increase in the willingness of the western European warrior class to accept papal military command. Western Christians wanted a more effective church and demonstrated an increased piety. From 1000 there was an increasing number of pilgrimages to the Holy Land using safer routes through Hungary. The knighthood and aristocracy developed new devotional and penitential practises that created a fertile ground for crusading recruitment.

The motivation of the Crusaders is unknown. There may have been a spiritual dimension seeking absolution through warfare. At one time historian Georges Duby‘s theory that crusades offered economic and social opportunity for younger, aristoctaic landless sons was popular amongst historians but this was challenged because it does not account for the wider kinship groups in Germany and Southern France. Gesta Francorum talks about the opportunity for plunder and “great booty”. Adventure was another explanation including the enjoyment of warfare. As was the fact that many crusaders had no choice as they obliged to follow their feudal lords.”

There are many scholars that have quietly written about the positive aspects of the Crusades, but I’ll leave that to your own research. Back to my 24th great grandfather.

Fulk was born at Angers, between 1089 and 1092, the son of Count Fulk IV of Anjou and Bertrade de Montfort. I have already written about how Bertrade deserted Fulk in 1092 for Philip I, who she bigamously.

He became count of Anjou upon his father’s death in 1109. In the next year, he married Ermengarde of Maine, cementing Angevin control over the County of Maine. We don’t know if he got a divorce from Bertrade.

Fulk went on crusade in 1119 or 1120, and became attached to the Knights Templar (Orderic Vitalis). He returned, late in 1121, after which he began to subsidize the Templars, maintaining two knights in the Holy Land for a year. Much later, Henry arranged for his daughter Matilda to marry Fulk’s son Geoffrey of Anjou, which she did in 1127 or 1128.

Baldwin II had no male heirs but had already designated his daughter Melisende to succeed him. Baldwin II wanted to safeguard his daughter’s inheritance by marrying her to a powerful lord. Fulk was a wealthy crusader and experienced military commander, and a widower. His experience in the field would prove invaluable in a frontier state always in the grip of war.

However, Fulk held out for better terms than mere consort of the Queen; he wanted to be king alongside Melisende. Baldwin II, reflecting on Fulk’s fortune and military exploits, acquiesced. Fulk abdicated his county seat of Anjou to his son Geoffrey and left for Jerusalem, where he married Melisende on 2 June 1129. Later Baldwin II bolstered Melisende’s position in the kingdom by making her sole guardian of her son by Fulk, Baldwin III, born in 1130.

Fulk and Melisende became joint rulers of Jerusalem in 1131 with Baldwin II’s death. From the start Fulk assumed sole control of the government, excluding Melisende altogether. He favored fellow countrymen from Anjou to the native nobility. The other crusader states to the north feared that Fulk would attempt to impose the suzerainty of Jerusalem over them, as Baldwin II had done; but as Fulk was far less powerful than his deceased father-in-law, the northern states rejected his authority. Melisende’s sister Alice of Antioch, exiled from the Principality by Baldwin II, took control of Antioch once more after the death of her father. She allied with Pons of Tripoli and Joscelin II of Edessa to prevent Fulk from marching north in 1132; Fulk and Pons fought a brief battle before peace was made and Alice was exiled again.

In Jerusalem as well, Fulk was resented by the second generation of Jerusalem Christians who had grown up there since the First Crusade. These “natives” focused on Melisende’s cousin, the popular Hugh II of Le Puiset, count of Jaffa, who was devotedly loyal to the Queen. Fulk saw Hugh as a rival, and it did not help matters when Hugh’s own stepson accused him of disloyalty. In 1134, in order to expose Hugh, Fulk accused him of infidelity with Melisende. Hugh rebelled in protest. Hugh secured himself to Jaffa, and allied himself with the Muslims of Ascalon. He was able to defeat the army set against him by Fulk, but this situation could not hold. The Patriarch interceded in the conflict, perhaps at the behest of Melisende. Fulk agreed to peace and Hugh was exiled from the kingdom for three years, a lenient sentence.

However, an assassination attempt was made against Hugh. Fulk, or his supporters, were commonly believed responsible, though direct proof never surfaced. The scandal was all that was needed for the queen’s party to take over the government in what amounted to a palace coup. Author and historian Bernard Hamilton wrote that Fulk’s supporters “went in terror of their lives” in the palace. Contemporary author and historian William of Tyre wrote of Fulk “he never attempted to take the initiative, even in trivial matters, without (Melisende’s) consent”. The result was that Melisende held direct and unquestioned control over the government from 1136 onwards. Sometime before 1136 Fulk reconciled with his wife, and a second son, Amalric was born.

Securing the borders

Jerusalem’s northern border was of great concern. Fulk had been appointed regent of the Principality of Antioch by Baldwin II. As regent he had Raymond of Poitou marry the infant Constance of Antioch, daughter of Bohemund II and Alice of Antioch, and niece to Melisende. However, the greatest concern during Fulk’s reign was the rise of Atabeg Zengi of Mosul.

In 1137 Fulk was defeated in battle near Baarin but allied with Mu’in ad-Din Unur, the vizier of Damascus. Damascus was also threatened by Zengi. Fulk captured the fort of Banias, to the north of Lake Tiberias and thus secured the northern frontier.

Fulk also strengthened the kingdom’s southern border. His butler Paganus built the fortress of Kerak to the east of the Dead Sea, and to help give the kingdom access to the Red Sea, Fulk had Blanchegarde, Ibelin, and other forts built in the south-west to overpower the Egyptian fortress at Ascalon. This city was a base from which the Egyptian Fatimids launched frequent raids on the Kingdom of Jerusalem and Fulk sought to neutralise this threat.

In 1137 and 1142, Byzantine emperor John II Comnenus arrived in Syria attempting to impose Byzantine control over the crusader states. John’s intention of making a pilgrimage, accompanied by his impressive army, to Jerusalem alarmed Fulk, who wrote to John pointing out that his kingdom was poor and could not support the passage of a large army. This lukewarm response dissuaded John from carrying through his intention, and he postponed his pilgrimage. John died before he could make good his proposed journey to Jerusalem.

Death

In 1143, while the king and queen were in Acre, Fulk was killed in a hunting accident.[3] His horse stumbled, fell, and Fulk’s skull was crushed by the saddle, “and his brains gushed forth from both ears and nostrils”, as William of Tyre describes. He was carried back to Acre, where he lay unconscious for three days before he died. He was buried in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Though their marriage started in conflict, Melisende mourned for him privately as well as publicly. Fulk was survived by his son Geoffrey of Anjou by his first wife, and Baldwin III and Amalric I by Melisende.

Legacy

According to William, Fulk was “a ruddy man, like David… faithful and gentle, affable and kind… an experienced warrior full of patience and wisdom in military affairs.” His chief fault was an inability to remember names and faces.

William of Tyre described Fulk as a capable soldier and able politician, but observed that Fulk did not adequately attend to the defense of the crusader states to the north. Ibn al-Qalanisi (who calls him al-Kund Anjur, an Arabic rendering of “Count of Anjou”) says that “he was not sound in his judgment nor was he successful in his administration.” The Zengids continued their march on the crusader states, culminating in the fall of the County of Edessa in 1144, which led to the Second Crusade (see Siege of Edessa).

Family

In 1110, Fulk married Ermengarde of Maine (died 1126), the daughter of Elias I of Maine. Their four children were:

Geoffrey V of Anjou (1113–1151), father of Henry II of England.

Sibylla of Anjou (1112–1165, Bethlehem), married in 1123 William Clito (div. 1124), married in 1134 Thierry, Count of Flanders.

Matilda of Anjou (1106–1154, Fontevrault), married William Adelin; after his death in the White Ship disaster of 1120, she became a nun and later Abbess of Fontevrault.

Elias II of Maine (died 1151)

His second wife was Melisende, Queen of Jerusalem

Baldwin III of Jerusalem

Amalric I of Jerusalem

It’s possible that this is Bertrade before she left him.
Yes, he was a Plantagenet, with future English kings in the making.
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Bertrade de Montfort

She was my 25th great grandmother, and a very interesting lady. First, she must have been extremely beautiful, and secondly she didn’t seem to mind being a bigamist. She was born in 1070, and lived to 14 February 1117.

She was the daughter of Simon I de Montfort and Agnes of Evreux. Her brother was Amaury de Montfort.

The chronicler John of Marmoutier would recount:

‘The lecherous Fulk then fell passionately in love with the sister of Amaury de Montfort, whom no good man ever praised save for her beauty.”

Bertrade and Fulk were married, and they became the parents of a son, Fulk, who became King in Jerusalem.

However, in 1092 Bertrade left her husband to go live with King Philip I of France. Philip married her on 15 May 1092, despite the fact that they both had spouses that were living. He was so enamoured of Bertrade that he refused to leave her even when threatened with excommunication. Pope Urban II did excommunicate him in 1095, and Philip was prevented from taking part in the First Crusade.

According to Orderic Vitalis, Bertrade was anxious that one of her sons succeed Philip, and sent a letter to King Henry I of England asking him to arrest her stepson Louis. Orderic also claims she sought to kill Louis, first through the arts of sorcery and then by poison. Whatever the truth of these allegations, Louis succeeded Philip regardless.. William of Malmesbury says:

“Bertrade, still young and beautiful, took the veil at Fontevraud Abbey, always charming to men, pleasing to God, and like an angel.” Philip died 29 July 1108. She lived on until 1117.

Her son from her first marriage, Fulk V of Anjou, later became King of Jerusalem iure uxoris. The dynasties founded by Fulk’s sons ruled for centuries, one of them in England (Plantagenet), the other in Jerusalem.

Children

With Fulk IV, Count of Anjou:

Fulk of Jerusalem, Count of Anjou and King of Jerusalem (1089/92–1143)[2]

With Philip I of France:

Philip of France, Count of Mantes (living in 1123)[3]

Fleury of France, Seigneur of Nangis (living in 1118)[4]

Cecile of France (died 1145), married (1) Tancred, Prince of Galilee;[5] married (2) Pons of Tripoli[

Bertrade with Philip
Perhaps after Philip died and she went to a nunnery.
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