Sunday, July 15, 2012

Well, Darn

Darn Piper, in fact.  Sorry about the mild, very mild joke on an unhappy day.  I'm contractually obligated as DeForest Arnold Piper's friend to make a bad joke today, and that was mine.

DeForest was Arnie to me and my crowd in the Flint area; he was Slyme the beggar when I met him back in the 1980s (there was a flying grovel involved; we got off to a perfectly good start that way, with me playing haughty straight man for the evening), member of House Mendicant; and he was Lord Arnwyn of Pearwyc (also Lady Arnwyn on occasion, because heralds kept assuming his name denoted a female).

He was a fencer, a past seneschal of the Barony of Cynnabar, and a man of unfailingly good humor in spite of some health problems that have now contributed to a far too early demise.  Others will tell of his penchant for bad jokes and whimsical sense of humor, but aside from encounters in the SCA, I saw a side of him that I suspect from comments on Facebook today not everyone saw, or saw as often as I did.  For a regrettably short time over a decade ago, while he lived in the Flint area, he and Lady Terryl MacAodhagain, Lord Skalla Geirmundr Ulfsson, Lord Breac MacFinnean and I met fairly frequently to discuss politics, philosophy and culture over drinks (and milder refreshments).  When that was no longer possible, we continued our conversation by email, a five member, or sometimes four, or for quite a long time three, member symposium.

Mostly we talked politics, but we ranged into popular fiction and culture, and wider issues of ideology and class.  At our maximum, we had two fairly doctrinaire liberals, two fairly conventional conservatives... and Arnie, somewhere in between.  When it came to arguing or debating, Arnie rarely picked fights with anyone but me.  He poked at the weaker logical links in my views, insisted that I give evidence when he didn't like my statements, and challenged me to explain why I thought various things.  If he was satisfied, he said so; if he continued to disagree, he said so; and if I had persuaded him, he acknowledged it.

You know how rare that last part is?  No one does that, or almost no one.  Our egos are too big to admit that anyone has changed our minds.  Most of us will keep up the argument just to play devil's advocate, even after we've been persuaded, and just to refrain from admitting we were wrong.  Arnie had an ego, but it was moderate and well-behaved.

All this is by way of saying that I found Arnie very bright and knowledgeable, a keen judge of people, someone who usually questioned received wisdom.  All highly admirable traits, that tended to make everyone around him better people.  Or so I found.

Today, as I read the news and followed links of interest on politics, economics and popular culture, I came across a number of items that might have interested Arnie, and reflexively began to copy the url to send to my correspondents, and then I had to stop and reconsider.  If it's something that would only interest Arnie, I don't need to send the link any longer, and I'm quite sorry about that.

Goodbye, Arnie.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Cathedrals on Nova

The PBS science program Nova airs a program on the great cathedrals on Wednesday October 5 at 9 pm. I'll be wrapping up a class, but I'll catch it as soon as possible.

Speaking of history on PBS, Ken Burns' new documentary on Prohibition starts tonight. Not medieval, but I'm looking forward to it.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Why I Love eBay

My ambition to visit the Cloisters, the medieval annex of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, has finally been achieved this month. I'll have more to post about that, but before I do, this was a nice prelude. A week or two before departure, I came across this item on eBay... a facsimile of a famous illuminated book owned by the Cloisters.

It was priced at $9.95, plus postage. In my experience, $25.00 is a floor for illuminated manuscript facsimiles on the used market. That is to say, they don't appear to be priced at less than t
hat in a used bookstore that has a clue. And at that price, I would typically buy one that I didn't have on the spot, just on general principles.

On eBay, however, the rules are different. The seller must surely have supposed he would get more bids than this, and I'm not sure why they didn't... but I expect it is related to the fact that the seller didn't use the words "illuminated" or "manuscript" or "medieval". The words "Cloisters" and "facsimile" do appear, but only the latter would have drawn much attention from anyone but me at that moment (my search was on "Cloisters", of
course). The word "Apocalypse" was misspelled in the offer. At any rate, I was the only bidder, and here we are. An auspicious find.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks

Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks
Ethan Gilsdorf
Lyons Press, 2009

In my occasional series of brief reviews of mainstream books which mention or discuss the SCA, I've got two more at the moment. Gilsdorf's examination of the modern world of fantasy escapism discusses his own experiences playing Dungeons and Dragons as a young man, and interviews many gamers and enthusiasts of Tolkien and the like. Chapter 10, "In the Beer Line with the King" discusses the author's encounter with the SCA.

Gilsdorf approaches a visit to Pennsic with appropriate enthusiasm... he sews his own tunic, is unhappy with the result and tries again, with still inadequate results. One likes his approach; he doesn't just borrow some nice garb, he gives the thing a serious try. Once at Pennsic, camping with "engineers and programmers", he describes the experience: "Conversation at the camp was sedate. These were no raucous brutes or lofty knights. Order was paramount. A strict spreadsheet and chore book dictated who did what, when. The night I assisted with the cooking, a flowchart determined how and when to allocate resources like fire and prep time."

That caused me some amusement... I always wanted to organize Pennsic camp like that, but the locals tend to resist order. I'd have run it like a military operation if anyone had let me. Oh well.

The author makes the same point as Benjamin Nugent (below): discussing the matter-of-fact and unapologetic knight he quotes at some length, he adds "He was a geek in jock's clothing."

Gilsdorf's take on the SCA is sympathetic and accurate. It makes for an enjoyable read... enough so that I'm going to buy my own copy of this one.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Science and the Middle Ages

James Hannam has written The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution. In an interview at the Daily Caller, he explains his thesis, that scientific advancement was a continual effort throughout the Middle Ages, and that the notion of the medievals being ignorant and anti-science was an invention of writers in early modern Europe.

Lady Emma St. John RIP

Lady Emma St. John of Fearanne na Criche passed away on Saturday night, March 19. (This is from the FC mailing list.) I am very sorry to hear it, and condolences to her husband Lord Jon St. John. Emma was a kind lady and her generous travels to cook at events in the Flint area are fondly remembered. She will be missed.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Forme of Cury Documentary

I just ran across this documentary about Richard II's The Forme of Cury on YouTube, courtesy of the ever helpful SCA Today website. It is apparently part of a series starring Clarissa Dickson Wright, more famous perhaps for being half of the Two Fat Ladies cooking show partnership. I actually have never seen any of it, but I have one of their cookbooks and have made a lot of use of it. This documentary is quite good... the pickiest authenticity nut might have some acerbic comments here and there, but I particularly enjoyed the swing music during the costumed medieval cooking scenes and the sight of stuck up young Richard watching protests on television and switching them off in a huff!

Wright is respectful and informative about the recipes and altogether fun to listen to and watch; she serves three dishes from the cookbook to a panel of medievalists and others at the end and they're obviously having a great time. I've cooked two out of the three dishes myself, and am anxious to try the Roast Goose with Sauce Madame.

Friday, January 14, 2011

American Nerd

American Nerd: The Story of My People
Benjamin Nugent
New York: Scribner, 2008

Nugent pens a highly readable and amusing tale of his youth and experiences among the nerds: Dungeons and Dragons players, computer gamers... and of course, members of the Society for Creative Anachronism, of whom the author says "...they're nerds who have banded together and found a way to make themselves non-nerds within a separate universe."

The book is quite literate and sophisticated. Nugent does not seem to have been a SCA member but merely to have been aware of the organization. He describes a visit to the Estrella War with evident enjoyment and fairness. "...they've found a way to solve the old problems that Muscular Christianity and the Victorian sports advocates with their physique buttons sought to address."

Time Machines

Time Machines: The World of Living History
Jay Anderson
Nashville, TN: The American Association for State and Local History, 1984

This now rather old volume has a chapter on the Society for Creative Anachronism, from p. 167-172. Anderson, a reenactor who has written at least two more books on living history, didn't seem as impressed with the SCA as he was with many of the more authenticity focused organizations he could observe. But he gives the SCA of a quarter-century ago a fair hearing.

The chapter is titled "Prince Valiants" and the author makes a rather good point when he says

The ladies and gentlemen of the SCA use anachronisms creatively to improve the quality of contemporary life. Their approach to the Middle Ages, the period of history from roughly the Fall of Rome to the seventeenth century, is straight out of Hal Foster's "Prince Valiant." And their premise is that a sojourn into this magical time will help the modern time traveler endure the altogether too obvious examples of strife and pestilence that characterize our modern world, the epoch of 1984.

For those who never read Prince Valiant, especially the great old stuff from the 30s and 40s when Hal Foster was in his prime (it's been reprinted in several formats), the strip was ostensibly set in King Arthur's time, and the author/artist took some care to depict aspects of the Middle Ages and historical events... but in a fun mishmash of twelfth century armor, Arthurian legend, late antiquity historical hijinks and various other anachronisms. The SCA does in fact come to mind to the modern day fan of Prince Valiant.

Anderson goes on to point out the distinction between other reenactor groups and the SCA: "While most other buff groups now make it relatively difficult to join their organizations - the American Mountain men require the pilgrim to do a year's probation, for example - the SCA offers all manner of assistance..."

Time Machine's take on the SCA is fairly brief and a bit superficial, but it lacks the inaccuracies one has often seen in materials written by non members. If one can find a copy, it's fun to see the old early 80s armor in photos... we really used to look like that.

I might mention here that the book also discusses living history museums, research projects and reenactor groups in entertaining detail.