Dracula on the Page, Stage, & Screen

Here’s some October reading as we invite Autumn to cross the misty threshold and make itself at home. Honestly though, Bram Stoker was not really a very good writer, but though the means through which he told his most famous tale – via the characters’ diaries and letters – is disjointed and often difficult to follow, there is something positively charming about it. Based partly on a dream and partly on his reading into Eastern European history and legend, “Dracula” does tap into some powerful fears humans have involving death, blood, sex, helplessness, and the fear of innocence corrupted. And herein lies its power.

The novel took six years to complete, and was published in 1897, but the man for whom he had in mind for the title role – his employer Sir Henry Irving who was the most celebrated Shakespearean actor of his day – refused to participate in a proposed stage adaptation. It probably would have been one of his greatest roles. And sadly to this day it has never been accurately produced for the theater or filmed for the screen despite countless productions. Hollywood always decides to rewrite what does not need to be rewritten, and cocks up the most powerful scenes with trivial nonsense and overly dramatic posturing, while completely omitting vital aspects and scenes. For instance, did you know that a dashing Texan named Quincey Morris is one of the primary heroes of the novel?

The book is well worth wading through the rather stiff dialogue – Van Helsing’s pidgin Dutch-inflected English is especially hard to read – simply because the mythos that has gone into virtually every vampire story written since and every movie ever made is all there. If you want to understand why there is so much pop culture material today on vampires, sink your teeth into the original book. Plus McNally and Florescu’s research into vampire legends and the history of Romanian hero Vlad the Impaler makes an excellent companion volume for understanding Stoker’s literary creation. By the way, the final action in the closing pages occurs on 6 November, so October would be an excellent time to begin reading. And the late great Christopher Lee did make a largely forgotten film version in 1970 called “Count Dracula” that is supposed to be the closest to the book, even with a white-mustachioed elderly Dracula who grows younger with the biting of each neck. Sounds tasty.

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Oxfordshire, England and the American Indian Trade in Blankets

A few years ago I had gone antiquing from where I was living in Oxford to the old market town of Witney, England, where I met a very knowledgeable proprietor of one of the many antique shops in town. Being from the US, I did not know the importance of Witney in the world-wide woolen industry, so I was excited to learn about the town’s leadership in making woolen trade blankets for Native Americans since ca. AD 1700, as British trade with the Creek Indians of Middle Georgia is one aspect of my research. This was the first I heard about the “pointing” (stitching) on one edge of the blankets and its meaning in the Indian trade. Plus I even got to see one of these blankets! I had not realized that this favorite object of many Indians and tribes across North America had such a deep history that stretched back so far on the loom of history.

It seems this trade originated with the French weavers in the mid-17th century, but that the weavers of Witney had become major competitors by the end of the century. Earlier variants of the blanket shown above would have been packed on horses by Charleston’s traders and taken – along with pots & pans, cloth, guns & flints, knives & scissors, glass trade beads, rum, and many other European-manufactured goods – along the many Indian trails like the Lower Creek Trading Path, Thom’s Path, & the Okfuskee Path to trading houses set up near major Indian villages throughout the Southeast. Indian hunters and warriors would have come to these trading posts and traded their deerskins and captured Indian slaves for whatever they wanted. A fascinating topic about which more can be read in the book shown above, and at this website – http://www.witneyblanketstory.org.uk/wbp.asp?navigationPage=North%20America

Categories: Artifacts, Colonization, England, Exploration, History, Indian Trails, United Kingdom | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Artifacts (not theories) are the Facts of Archaeology

Spanish attack on French Fort Caroline, 1565

This is really good news for preservationists (http://www.jacksonville.com/news/20180706/court-gives-france-rights-to-ancient-shipwreck-linked-to-fort-caroline-colony). But I can’t get past the comment about how the National Park Service’s Fort Caroline National Memorial has never recovered a single artifact connecting that property to the French colony presumed to be nearby. I was quite disappointed to find out that the same was true in Bradenton near Tampa Bay with the Desoto National Memorial and Spanish artifacts when I visited there. It seems that the US Govt. and the NPS have had quite the history of creating parks in Florida with absolutely no artifactual evidence present to support their ruling theories. But archaeologists definitively proved that the 1566 Spanish settlement of Santa Elena was located on Parris Island near Beaufort, South Carolina and that the 1607 English settlement at James Fort & James Town was actually located on James Island, Virginia by recovering solid evidence in the form of artifacts, burials, and features.

Perhaps Fort Caroline was near Jacksonville, as the popular view holds, and perhaps De Soto did land somewhere near Bradenton, but there are alternative hypotheses that must be carefully evaluated and not dismissed out of hand for no other reason than that they do not fit 75- or 100-year-old popular narratives that have never produced a single artifact. Facts are facts, and artifacts are the facts of archaeology.

Categories: Archaeology, Artifacts, Battlefields, Colonization, Exploration, History | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

The Living Speak for the Dead

Stonehenge Burial on Display in the Museum

The story of the recent excavation of the Mycenean Age Griffin Warrior is an amazing one. As an archaeologist, I love reading about such exciting finds, and imagine what it must be like to experience such an event. It must be simply mind-blowing.

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/golden-warrior-greek-tomb-exposes-roots-western-civilization-180961441/

But…archaeologists need to be much more careful about their assumptions when excavating any burial. Saying the grave goods are items that belonged to this warrior is a complete and utter assumption. Imagine if his enemies buried him thus in mockery of his non-elite status. This is surely not the case here, but consider it for a moment. Assuming his status based on the presence of these incredible grave goods compounds our assumptions about the grave goods being his own. As Mike Parker Pearson said, we need to think of grave goods as gifts representing the social bond between the living and the dead. After all, who does the burying and the placing of items into a grave – the dead person, or the living human beings who remain to tidy up? And the living may have their own reasons for adding grave goods to a non-elite burial or not adding any at all to an elite burial.

As a child, one of my friends was killed when a train hit the car he was in. At his funeral, I went to the front of the church with my mother to say my goodbyes and see him for one last time. He looked very peaceful, but not real. He must have had considerable physical injuries that had been disguised. A baseball glove with a baseball inside it had been placed beside one arm and a football on the other . I don’t know if he was actually buried with them or not. If he was, would such grave goods tell future archaeologists his was an elite burial, if he alone of all the burials in that cemetery had such items in his coffin? Or that he excelled in sports (which he did)? Or that these items were symbolically placed there by his family? Or that his injuries coupled with those particular items could tell us something vital about his sex, race, class, status, and the society in which he lived? Were those even his own personal belongings, or were they brand new, purpose-bought to look nice to those intrepid enough to look at a 9 year old child in a coffin?

For instance, my paternal grandmother made her own simple dresses all her life. She was a farmer’s daughter and a farmer’s wife and a seamstress. But when she passed away, one of my aunt’s insisted she be buried in a brand new expensive light blue dress that resembled nothing she ever wore in her entire life. I have always cringed at what she would have said about that dress. But she had no voice in that matter. The living speak for the dead.

My point is that we just don’t know enough about most previous societies to assume we know much of anything, and should remain skeptical and alert to interpretations based on these sorts of assumptions based on theories developed by the rather arrogant New Archaeologists of the 1960s. The Romans had it correct: caveat emptor. Let the buyer beware. And the excavator and interpreter, too.

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When a pint is not a PINT

Morning essay on drinking beer in American bars & brewpubs compared with the British pub experience (after learning to appreciate really good beer in Germany in my youth – mostly lagers and weissbiers – and living on and off in Oxford, England since 2012):

After another in a long line of disappointing beer experiences in American brewpubs and bars, I decided to finally look into this comparative pint and pint glass situation, and it is worse than I feared. First, an American pint is 16 ounces or 473 ml, while a British/Commonwealth/Irish Imperial pint is 568 ml. Who cares, you say? Because we are talking about beer and whether or not you are getting your money’s worth!

It gets worse. Because there are no laws and no effective nationwide advocacy groups like CAMRA (the Campaign for Real Ale) looking out for the public, American pints of 16 ounces are often underpoured to 14 ounces to allow for the foamy head inside the top of a glass that may or may not even be 16 ounces! I was once even served in a cognac glass at a microbrewery when I ordered their darkest beer!!! Then factor in that even decent American micro-brewery beers and lagers (much less all the more popular “light beers”) generally have a good bit less alcohol than the stronger British and Irish beers, ales, bitters, porters, and stouts, and that just finding a dark beer in most bars is an impossibility (much less one on draft).

This leads to the conclusion that drinking beer in the US is pretty sad and pathetic compared with the exalted Vallhalla-esque experience of drinking locally-made real pints of much stronger beer all across the UK from Kent in England to Cardiff in Wales and from Land’s End in Cornwall to Culloden in Scotland. Now here’s an area in which Britannia still rules! And it’s in no danger of seeing its Empire of Ale crumble, largely thanks to CAMRA, which basically has been saving the British beer industry, pubs, and the beer-drinker’s experience from Corporate Bollocksism for the last 40 years or so!

Now, the state of Michigan appears to be ahead of the curve on such things due to its rather large number of microbreweries, but the US essentially needs its own nationwide version of CAMRA to begin to rectify this awful situation. Until then, I’ll just have to continue drinking my Guinness when and if I can find it on the drinks menu. Even out of a can.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pint_glass

Categories: England, Food & Drink, Pubs, Uncategorized, United Kingdom | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Visions

 

Plate LXVI, Figure 6. Stone Disc, Carthage, Alabama, Holmes, 1883

The Moundville Rattlesnake Disc (Holmes 1883)

 

Eat and vomit, and let the visions begin –

of the Tree People who beckon and call from the darkest depths,

of snakes flying out of the burial pots of clay,

reciprocal cults of wandering shaman emerge

from the funeral mounds, and chant throughout the square.

The goddess blinks and smiles for you alone –

isn’t it time you dance inside of her?

Categories: Archaeology, Artifacts, Cemeteries, Exploration, Indian Trails, Literature, Love, Nature, Poetry | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Broken Glass

20160610_200448

The ruby river of tears, bloody tears

tastes like port flowing from a broken glass

at a picnic table sitting on Wolvercote Green

where laughter rings and glasses clink together

in a garden where dogs and boys are running wild

and little Clara Rose chases them down

until she falls and scrapes her knee and

I wipe the port away and you refill

and heal our shattered spirits with a gentle kiss.

Categories: England, Food & Drink, Literature, Poetry, Pubs, United Kingdom | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Portmeadow Kisses

 

039

Portmeadow, Oxford, England

The smell of her skin in Oxford showers

Her hands combing my hair at night

The taste of whisky while I look in her eyes

Her sideways smile, so fresh and silly,

Tea in the morning, singing songs at night

Serious, studious, loving, and sweet

The idea of her forest by the sea

Portmeadow kisses, indescribable blisses

Lips of fire so fierce and free

 

Categories: Exploration, History, Literature, Love, Nature, Poetry, United Kingdom | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Simanolanoki

copy-shedding-new-light.jpg

 

[refrain]:

Simanolanoki Flow Away

Our love is broken on your shoals

The sacred fire that burned within my heart

Like you it ebbs and flows away

 

The hawk has flown away upon the wind

The breezes carry him away

The love I gave to you in heart and song

Like the hawk has flown away

 

[refrain]

 

Now like the empty field where once we roamed

Where only broken sherds remain

My heart is empty too, unworthy muse

My love for you has flown away

 

[refrain]

 

I’ve closed the book of love I wrote for you

Odshisi carries it away

My heart is mine again to give or break

Flow, Wild River, flow away

 

[refrain 2x]

Categories: Archaeology, Artifacts, Exploration, History, Indian Trails, Literature, Love, Nature, Poetry | Leave a comment

10,000 Years

The Reader cannot read
The sleeper cannot sleep
The singer cannot sing
For love of you

The dreamer cannot dream
The diver cannot dive
Except into your eyes
Ageless and green

But the poet writes your soul
And the painter paints my heart
While 10,000 years of time
Smile through the ice

And 10,000 more may come
Before such souls may meet
And I would spend them all
O muse with you

Categories: Archaeology, Artifacts, Exploration, History, Literature, Love, Nature, Poetry, Primitive Skills | Leave a comment

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