Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Early Pomegranates

There was a delightful surprise at the Davison VG's supermarket tonight. I was surprised to see pomegranates in late September. I can't remember ever seeing them sooner than mid-October. Of course, that's usually when I start looking, so maybe I've just been missing them.

Pomegranates play an important symbolic role in Stormvale, which is why they always (assuming availability) appear at our fall events and especially at Founder's Day. Pomegranates are symbols of renewal and rebirth, and this has a lot of resonance in Stormvale, where we've been the local SCA group for 23 years now, and we have reinvented ourselves or recovered from losses more than once. Indeed, Stormvale itself has been successful where two previous SCA groups failed.

So eat a pomegranate (or have a pomegranate drink, now that you can buy them!), and plan your next project! (But don't drink a pomegranate cocktail. I've bravely done that so you won't have to. Not a good idea.)

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Old Hands

On a recent unhappy occasion, Melisande and I had the opportunity to get together with old friends, which was pleasant, although one could wish for a better occasion.

The SCA connection (because this is a SCA blog, after all)? Well, the three friends pictured here are old Stormvale hands, although two of the three haven't been active in the SCA for a long time. Malkyn of Healftreow, in the reddish shirt, is still active. That's her brother, once Lucien de Nimes, on the loveseat next to her. Lucien was at the very first Stormvale meeting. He works at NASA now.

In the armchair is the former Arianwen y Glas. She ran our first full-scale event.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Lost and Found at September Revel

Recognize anything that belongs to you? The tankard on the left has a glass bottom. The plate has a thin gold ring.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

The Trials and Tribulations of an SCA Clothes Horse

Not long ago, I was reviewing my 20+ years of garb with a dissatisfied eye. Cotehardies, bliauts, houppelandes, shirts, hose. Yuck. None of it quite as period as I’d like, much that doesn’t quite fit anymore. I tried to assemble an outfit using the splendid new 14th century separate hosen I’d ordered some time ago from Revival Clothing. Fit was great, but they sent me two left legs. Sigh.

Not knocking Revival, a supplier of which I have a high opinion – their shoes are great. I’m sure they’ll replace one of the legs with a right after Pennsic.

In short, I need to retool. I’ve fallen well behind the curve. Aileran O Faelain is substantially better dressed than I am, I noticed at the last event I attended. I have a reputation to uphold, after all.

My first garb was an electric blue polyester t-tunic, which, with black hose, drew “Hey, why are you dressed like Dr. Strange?” comments 23 years ago at UM-Flint. Well, that wasn’t intentional. I upgraded to Norman 12th century bliauts shortly thereafter, and moved to houppelandes and cotehardies when I became more interested in the 14th and 15th centuries. I wore a blue velvet cotehardie at Stormvale’s elevation ceremony that made heads turn everywhere I went at the event in 1988. (That was a bit revelatory – I had never parted a crowd like the Red Sea before. Nice feeling. Good for the ego, which possibly I don’t need.)

In civilian life, I don’t stand out, although I prefer not to look like a 16 year old circa 1978 as so many of my old friends do. (You know who you are.) Lately, I’ve worn sports jackets whenever I could get away with it, and have been known to wear hats. Not baseball caps. Real hats. But curiously, I always had the notion that a medieval gentleman (a “man of substance,” as Geirmundr and I both like to say) ought to look the part.

Not really a conventional idea in Stormvale, I have to say. I’ve worn rather ordinary cotehardies in Stormvale camp at Pennsic and drawn curious questions as to why I was dressed up. (I’ve usually managed to avoid saying “Well, because I’m not doing my peasant impression today, why do you think?” and instead said something modest, like “What, this old thing?”)

I had a vague notion of this for many years, but a couple of amusing incidents brought it home in the 1990s. My sister attended a Stormvale revel once and afterwards asked me why I was dressed differently from all the other men attending. I said I wasn’t sure what she meant, and it transpired that she had noticed that every other man at the revel was wearing a kilt. I suppose I must have been wearing the usual 14th century cote of some sort, not necessarily too dressy. That was Stormvale in those days. But it wasn’t just because most of the guys who were there were Scots. There was no hiding the fact that kilts are garb for “real men”. Apparently it takes nerve to wear what might otherwise be regarded as a dress in the present time. Nerve I had in sufficient quantity.

In the late 1990s, I was at a big event, probably a Coronation, in the Flame. I fought during the day (got a funny story or two there for another time), and at some point in late afternoon was on the way back from the car in a nearby parking ramp, wearing fairly spiffy garb for the evening, perhaps the third outfit of the day, counting armor. Countess Ariake walked by, made a sort of tut-tut noise and said “Balian, you’re such a clothes horse.” Not unkindly, you understand, but just an observation.

Now, Ariake might have blinded someone not accustomed to the splendor of her garb at just that moment, so this was perhaps a case of the pot calling the kettle black. On the whole, I decided it was a compliment. I embraced my role as Stormvale’s male clothes horse.

I’m not the only one, quite. Gareth Lynn Crestwick dressed quite well in the early 90s, and the aforementioned Aileran is often quite spiff. Breac Mac Finnein has been known to do the Tudor thing quite well. Skalla Geirmundr Ulfsson has on occasion dressed in a manner suitable to his status.

But I seem to be the only local lord who has a reputation in this regard. I was wearing an Order of the Willow medallion at an event a number of years ago and heard the comment that I must have gotten it for garb. “Oh, no, cooking,” I said, cheerfully, to a somewhat nonplussed look. (This is quite funny. I actually have made a little garb, but I’m no good at it. Unlike Geirmundr, who is quite skilled in this regard, I can’t even operate a sewing machine without someone standing over me supervising. My wife Melisande has made most of my garb, although Eschiva of Jebala made a couple of very nifty outfits for me, along with helping me make a velvet coat of plates that sometimes caused jaws to drop when I entered the lists. That armor got me my very favorite compliment, the remark that I looked like I had just stepped out of a museum exhibit. I know for a fact that armor won me some bouts from sheer panache.)

So, why do this? Well, some years ago, Stormvale’s Pennsic camp had a party during which men were expected to wear “danglies”, or loincloths. (Long story, and a somewhat funny one, although I was exasperated at the time.) An attempt was made to persuade me to comply with the dress code at a future party of this kind, to the degree of a promise of a velvet loincloth embroidered with my arms and a matching “squid hat”, Stormvale’s fond term for my early 15th century chaperon. I was flattered, but this made me seriously consider what I was up to in the SCA. After some reflection, I thought that the whole point of why I was in the organization was to emulate a late medieval man of good birth. A gentleman. In the Middle Ages, a gentleman might perhaps appear in public in nothing more than a shirt or in the all-together – when suitable. But generally speaking, he would naturally dress in fine clothing that was suitable to his station. He would never appear in a curious loincloth, unless perhaps for a theatrical effort, and I’m not sure that isn’t more of a 17th century thing.

In short, if I’m going to do this, why not do it right?

So now I am feeling somewhat out of the loop on garb. Melisande has heard my plea for new shirts and cotehardies with an agreeable air, and Eron Crowfford and Terryl MacAodhagain made vague noises about a willingness to supply me with some sort of garb if I took on the seneschal’s office again (a passing comment, but I don’t propose to forget it!), so hopefully I will feel suitably appareled again soon.

Vanity, of course, but there you are. I have a notion that something in blue or green, possibly velvet, embroidered all over with golden bees might do the trick. I’ll need a hat, of course, and what will I do for a belt…?

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Court Pics from Pennsic

For photos of Lord Erevon receiving a Dragon's Barb, go here and here!

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Harvest of Souls Site

This is the view from what will be the list field (upper left). Smallish site, but very nice, should be quite adequate for our purposes. The ceiling is too low for combat, as you can see in the middle photo, but in mid October, we should be fine outdoors.

We were able to see the site on Saturday afternoon. The kitchen was nice, with more floorspace than I've seen in a good many kitchens, and even better, more counter space. Note the window in the last photo. We should try to screen it off during the feast if possible.

What I'm Reading II

The Friar and the Cipher. Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone.

Actually, this should be entitled What I Just Finished Reading. Melisande bought this for me for my birthday in May, so it took a while to get through.

My friends will be familiar (perhaps tiresomely so) with my fascination with illuminated manuscripts, the rare book trade and codes. This book covers all three. It concerns the famous Voynich Manuscript and whether or not it was written by or associated with Roger Bacon, the 13th century scholar known as Dr. Mirabilis. In the early part of the 20th century, Wilfrid Voynich, a colorful rare book dealer, obtained a mysterious handwritten volume with many illustrations of plants, flowers and human figures, together with a text that was in completely impenetrable code.

Amazingly, no one in the past century has managed to figure out any of the code. The illustrations of plants turn out to be fanciful, and the human figures seem vaguely erotic, vaguely gynecological or medical. There may be two hands and two codes involved, and some scholars believe that it isn’t a code at all, but instead an artificial language. Some of the most talented code-breakers of the last century, including the legendary William Friedman, were unable to make any progress at all. The possibility that the whole thing is a hoax or completely fanciful has been considered, but most cryptographers believe that the mysterious figures represent coherent writing of some kind. They just don’t have the key to decipher it. (Some still think it is nonsense, but it looks like a hell of a lot of trouble to go to for nonsense to me.)

Roger Bacon may or may not be involved, and that’s where I found this book to be a bit of a let down. The authors wander from Voynich, a very interesting character I’ve read about before, to Bacon and a very long exposition on scholarly inquiry and Aristotle in the 13th century, then on to Dr. John Dee and the Elizabethan period, Francis Bacon and the 17th century, and finally to the code-breaking efforts of the last century.

They can’t be blamed for the fact that no one has figured out the contents and purpose of the book, of course, but one could wish for a slightly more coherent text strategy (plot’s the wrong word, I think). Bacon may or may not have an association with the book, it appears, but the long stretch on Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas and inter-church politics in the Middle Ages felt like either a digression or padding to bring the book up to a desired length. More stress on the early 17th century, when the book really seems to have originated, might have been a better choice, I think.

I enjoyed it, however, and would recommend it mildly.

On related topics, I recommend Rare People and Rare Books by E. Millicent Sowerby, with a good account of Voynich, the book dealer. And I'm going to go try out other books on the Voynich Manuscript.