Autumn 2013

Autumn 2013

Saturday, August 24, 2013


Hello, everybody, and welcome once again to the Apple Basket!
This week, we have knitting, books, and Roman history – all very familiar to regular readers, no big surprises there.
I am posting on a Saturday, for once: tomorrow, I am going to a baby blessing. My cousin’s daughter, Kajsa, was born in July, and as they are Baptists, the baptism proper won’t happen until she is old enough to choose it for herself. So for now, there will be a blessing.
Which means that Victor and I, and my parents, are leaving here at 6 a.m. to drive to Copenhagen, meeting my sister along the way so that we can all share a car for the majority of the trip. It’s going to be a long day – but lovely, I’m sure.

The Knitting
My Rondeur tee, renamed Charm, received a substantial boost this week, after I finished all the girly pink things (not that I mind pink once in a while).
I have a bit of reading to do, preparing for term, and so stocking stitch in the round is a suitable occupation for my hands while wading through paragraphs of Latin morphology and syntax accompanying bites of text in the beginners’ compendium.
Anyway, the body of the thing is done, and having yarn left over, I decided to give it sleeves. While it is made in cotton and thus probably not for deep winter, the neckline is fairly high, which means I won’t be wearing it on the hottest days of summer, either. And so, sleeves will make it more useful. I’ve divided the remaining yarn in two, and then we’ll see how much sleeve I get out of it.

The Chemistry Department at the University of Surrey in the UK is doing a knitted-and-crocheted Perovskite crystalline structure project. I’ve mentioned it before, and now I’ve finally gotten around to making one of these little things. I have chosen, unsurprisingly, to knit a blue octahedron rather than crochet a yellow ball. The project is open for contributions until the end of August, so there is still time, if you want to play :o)
Patterns are downloadable, from the website and via Ravelry, for both figures.
Depending on your particular stitch and row gauge, you may want to make the triangles for the octahedron in a slightly different way; ladynthread has a method for bottom-up equilateral triangles.

I went all the way and made two open-bottomed pyramids instead of eight triangles – this way, you only need to sew up the pyramid bases and not all of the sides.
So, here goes:
I used Kauni 8/2 solid, blue yarn left over from my TARDIS, and 4 mm needles.

Cast on 56 sts (or however many you need to make four sides of 7-8 cm each).
Divide sts onto 4 dpns and join to work in the round.
Knit 2 rounds.
On every 3rd round, k3tog in the middle of each dpn: these will be the corners.
NOTE: k3tog: slip 2 sts knit-wise, k1, pass slipped sts over. This makes a nicely defined ridge.
When 2 sts remain on each dpn, ssk impr 4 times (insert RH needle into first st knitwise, into second st tbl, and knit both together as one).
Break yarn, pull thread through remaining 4 sts.

Make one more.
Cut and tack in card triangles (I used a Weetabix box).
Sew base edges together to form octahedron.

Voila! A quick little project, just for fun.

As I’ve mentioned before, I am going to need work clothes, i.e. neat cardigans and jumpers – we all have our definitions, don’t we?
So, I am setting out to make an adult version of the Laura cardigan, in black cotton to begin with. There is nothing, really, to show off just yet; I cast on for the neckline and realised it was going to be too wide, and then I was distracted by the octahedron that needed some reworking to become properly equilateral.

The Books
Most of my reading this week is about Rome. I know, didn’t see that one coming, did you? :o)

I read the rest of the Philippic Speeches of Cicero, bringing events through the spring of 43 BCE to the point where words were not enough anymore, and civil war was a reality. Again.

Among the invectives against Marcus Antonius and his brothers – Cicero calls Marcus ‘Spartacus’ (yes, the gladiator leader of the slave rebellion in 73 – 71 BCE), refers to Lucius as a myrmillon, another type of gladiator, and repeatedly accuses Gaius of extortion, greed and the like – is evidence that he well knew that his line of politics could get him killed.

Roman politics in general were violent: a basic principle was presence and immediacy, and personal participation was crucial. Proposals were made in speeches in front of the Senate, with the Curia doors open to the outside so that people could hear what was going on. Sometimes one speech was made to the Senate and then another one to the People. Voting was done by physically moving to one side of the hall; the people lined up outside and voted, often immediately, on pressing matters. At times, fights and mini-riots broke out in the crowds; magistrates were shoved and beaten and pelted with stones, physically prevented from protesting or from speaking.

Going up against powerful and violent adversaries was, of course, dangerous, and so, playing an active part in the upper echelons of political society always held the risk of death or exile. Cicero knew this well: he was exiled temporarily in 58, and this situation was even more critical. Indeed, at this point in time, soon after the murder of Caesar, everyone was freshly aware of how lethal politics could be. Some preferred to seek neutral ground and stay out of the fray, but most of the patricians adhered to their noble ancestry and the inherited sense of honour and courage in the face of danger: they would rather face an honourable death than ignominious compromise.

Roman religion was, as Roman life in general, divided into the private and the public spheres: every official act, be it a meeting of the Senate, a People’s Assembly, an election, a declaration of war, a battle – all were preceded by the taking of auspices. Signs and omens were observed or actively sought and then interpreted; if Jupiter thundered in the skies, there could not be an assembly, because that was regarded as a sign of divine displeasure. Thus, auspices were an integral part of politics, and priests were elected from the same body of men as magistrates and military leaders.
Privately, a Roman would sacrifice to his – or her – Lares, household gods, visit various temples or shrines to barter with whichever divinity might give them what they wanted. This was a practical affair, usually described by the phrase do ut des: ‘I give so that you will give’.
For more spiritual needs, one would turn to philosophy, choosing one or a mix of the Greek schools. Stoicism, Cynicism, Epicureanism – take your pick. The benefit of these (I know this is hugely simplified and could easily fill a whole book – or several) was reconciliation with the tumult of life and the prospect of death. Attempting to be less dependent on worldly joys, wealth, comfort, and status, would have been helpful in an uncertain milieu of political assassinations, external & civil wars and proscription.

Cicero was an elected augur, a taker of auspices, as well as a philosophical writer, having – in the years when he was practically excluded from political life – read and translated a number of philosophical texts. To render abstract Greek terms into Latin, he invented a number of words that we know and use today, such as qualitas, quantitas, essentia: quality, quantity, and essence.
Several times during the Philippic Speeches, Cicero returns to the theme that his life may be – and it certainly was – in danger because of his outspokenness against Marcus Antonius; he concludes that he has lived long enough and accomplished enough to ensure his reputation, and thus, he is ready to die.
Now, it is one thing to say this and quite another to live it, so to speak. One could be forgiven for not completely trusting Cicero’s own words, edited by himself after speaking and before publishing, about his courage. But the accounts of Cicero’s death show him accepting his fate with equanimity, calmly stretching his head out of the wagon when Marcus Antonius’ henchmen caught up with him.
Cicero was killed in December 43, 63 years old.

I am still reading The First Man in Rome by Colleen McCullough, the first book in the series Masters of Rome. The ‘First Man’ of the title is Gaius Marius who rose from being an outsider to being virtually the leader of Rome – though not quite, as the phrase implies, a primus inter pares: first among equals. Marius was a homo novus, a new man not belonging to any of the old patrician or plebeian families of the city proper. So many members of the old families refused to recognise him as a worthy participant in the political game; and yet, he managed to be elected consul no less than seven times. Under normal rules, this would only be possible if a man lived to be over 100 years old: the minimum age was 42, and ten years had to pass between two terms as consul.
But Marius was elected – in absentia, no less – in five consecutive years. The reason why he was away from Rome, and why he was needed to stay in power, was the threat of a huge Germanic invasion: about 800,000 people from three tribes had wandered Europe for decades and wanted a nice, warm homeland instead of going back north to where they came from. And Marius was the only military leader capable of organising the repulsion and defeat of this river of bodies.

It’s not at all because the book is boring that it’s taking me so long – it is a long book, nearly 900 pages, and I can’t read for four hours a day, no matter what Stephen King says (which is: read four hours a day and write four hours a day), at least not in a single book.

And besides, I need to re-read the beginners’ book I am going to inflict on my students soon. This is a Danish set of two books, one containing texts, glossary, and texts in Danish on the realia in the Latin text; and a second book containing all of the grammar, morphology, syntax, and exercises. It is called Vita Romana, the Roman Life; and as it is out of print, we’ve had it scanned so that the students can print it themselves. This, of course, leaves all of us with a bunch of papers, but never mind. The students can write notes in the margins without any worries, so that is all well and good.
The progression in the texts is logical and well-founded; of course they will have a steep learning curve, but that never killed anybody, so I am not worried. Yet.

On the listening front, I am continuing with two books I have mentioned already: Age of Innocence on CraftLit, read in the mellow tones of Brenda Dayne (of Cast On podcast fame), and commented on by the ever erudite Heather Ordover.

Once in a while, I get to listen to a section of A Tale For the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, the story of the writer Ruth who finds a parcel washed ashore near her home in British Columbia, that turns out to contain the diary of a 16-year old Japanese girl, Nao. The narrative follows Ruth, as she reads the diary, interspersed with her investigations of the facts presented in it – if they are facts – and her use of this investigation to procrastinate the writing of her own memoir.
Ruth’s husband, Oliver, and the cat, Pest or Pesto, play their own parts in the unfolding of the mystery.

The reason why I only intermittently listen to A Tale For the Time Being is that it is one of the Audible swaps from my sister, and those I cannot move into my phone; I have to listen from the laptop. So, I usually have several audio books running, when I’m not catching up on podcasts: one on the laptop for sitting down and knitting (or, when I’m home alone, I can listen via speakers), and one on the phone for on-the-go listening. I have gathered a collection of them to listen to, via the app, while driving to and from Aarhus, about an hour each way, three times a week during the semester.

Right now, though, I am back with Shakespeare and the ChopBard podcast, a bunch of episodes from 2010 dealing with The Tempest. And once again, I highly recommend this podcast to anyone interested in Shakespeare.
The Tempest is the play set on the island with the magician and his daughter, the spirit servant and the convict – and the shipwreck in the beginning, caused by, well, the tempest. I have never read or seen this play before, so I have no idea how it unfolds, let alone ends. The names Prospero, Miranda, Ariel and Caliban, though, have filtered through into the pool of often heard but never properly known names of Shakespeare characters, so it is good to finally get the back story to them.

Well, that’s it for now – I will be back next week with more.
Until then: have a great week!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Knits, knits, knits

Hello, everybody, and welcome to the Apple Basket! 
This week, we have a lot of knitting talk, and some book talk. I have been writing my August microstory and done some pattern writing, as well.
So, school has started – Monday morning saw all of the naught-to-ninth graders back, including a very tired Victor who had to go more or less straight from four intense days of music to the everyday humdrum of school.
Thomas, being a third-year of the gymnasium now, had a few rituals to follow: it appears that they have to party on the night before the first day of school, and that the first-years need hazing – just a bit, and the school has forbidden the customary throwing of water on the poor kids. Only glitter is allowed, which of course kept no-one from carrying cans of spray-on hair dye as well. So, for a couple of days, the streets of Viborg (and many other places, I’m sure) saw a lot of young people sporting uncharacteristically multi-coloured hair. And glitter.

The Knitting
This week, the knitting section includes advertising!
In the interest of full disclosure: I heard about this on CraftLit – so if you’re a listener, you know already – and this chat earns me a spot in the giveaway. So, I have not seen this book in real life, but obviously, I hope to get a copy. Anyway, here goes:

The lovely Andi Smith, a.k.a. knitbrit on Ravelry, has made a gorgeous sock book for everybody whose feet are not standard-sized. Which means, well, everybody.
The title of the book is Big Foot Knits, but it is really for big feet, little feet, wide feet, narrow feet, large ankles, long ankles, skinny legs, fat muscular calves – like me! – and everything in between, in whatever combination of features YOU have. So, if you knit socks, for yourself or others, this is a book for you.
The book contains a method for measuring, calculating, &c, to make the sock fit the foot exactly. You can rest assured, too, that the explanations are straightforward and thorough: Andi has a child with autism and thus a LOT of practice in breaking down complex explanations into manageable bites (believe me, I know the drill ...).
And all of the 12 pretty sock patterns are named for goddesses – how can you not love that!

So, let’s see if I get a copy – otherwise I’ll just have to shell out. Because I want this book.
Nice sockses, my precious.

And while we’re at it (advertising, that is): I finally published my lace shawl that I have been going on about for months, while knitting, writing, editing, fixing errors found by my sister, and knitting again.
So, I present to you the Bequin shawl:

The name hails from a book, the Eisenhorn trilogy – or to be precise, the first book in that trilogy – by Dan Abnett. I have mentioned these books before: they belong in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, where ‘there is only war’ against Chaos, fought by the representatives of the God-Emperor of Terra.
The story is that the Imperial Inquisitor Eisenhorn picks up a pleasure girl – not for his pleasure, mind you, as part of a case – and soon after that, she accompanies him on an undercover job, dressed in a porcelain blue dress and a cream-lace shawl.
Of course, my first thought was if this shawl was knitted and how it may look.
It wasn’t chosen by the girl, Alizebeth Bequin, but inherited from Eisenhorn’s partner Lores Vibben who is killed in the first scene of the book. So, which kind of lace shawl would an Imperial Inquisitor (or Inquisitrix) choose for herself? Nothing frilly or even remotely doily-like; feminine but cool. Hence the regular stitch pattern, the parallel lines of the faggoting, set into the geometric shapes.
It may have a complicated look, but it is really quite simple to knit, a succession of yarnovers paired with decreases.

And it seems to be popular on Ravelry – relatively, nowhere near Hitchhiker or Color Affection level, but still.
I’m pleased, anyway.

The birthday knit for Laura is done and delivered; it is now Sunday evening, and I am posting pictures on Ravelry and here of the Laura cardigan:

Now, before you shout at me for being lazy and not coming up with a hobbit name, let me hasten to inform you that Laura is, in fact, the name of Bilbo Baggins’ paternal grandmother.

Laura had wished for – among other things – 20 Barbie dolls; I found her a beach girl and decided that she would need more clothes, wearing only a bikini. The two other Barbies she got are accompanied by horses and dressed accordingly. The beach Barbie, though, has bigger a.k.a. more natural feet, which I am quite pleased with.

Ravelry has, not surprisingly, lots of doll clothes, including links to a Swedish site,, featuring more than 1,000 outfits, all for free. The patterns are generally available in Swedish, English, Danish, German, French and some in even more languages.
I ended up devising something matching the cardigan.

Maybe Barbie will need something for everyday wear, too – apart from ball gowns and riding clothes.

The Books
I am still reading the Philippic speeches of Cicero along with The First Man in Rome by Colleen McCullough.
This last century of the Republic was bloody to an extent that can be hard to fathom. Cicero mentions in one of his speeches from 43 BCE that he has lived through five civil wars: three in the 80’s, the one between Caesar and Pompey in the early 40’s, and this one between Marcus Antonius and the Senate. The clashes back in the 80’s between Sulla and Sulpicius, Cinna and Octavius, Marius and Sulla, had their origin in part in the war of the Italian Allies in the 90’s, and all entailed proscriptions of thousands of Roman senators and knights.
And some of the troubles with the Italian Allies sprang from their dissatisfaction with the Roman habit of enlisting men for the legions, more and more forcibly, to fight on various fronts: Africa, Spain, the Germans who struck terror into the hearts of all Romans – and for good reason. Before 100 BCE, Italia had almost run out of men; farms were left untended, widows struggled to feed fatherless children, while whole legions were cut down by barbaric hordes.
So, wars external and internal, the slave rebellion led by Spartacus in 73-71, bitter in-fighting among the upper class to protect their privileges against any homo novus, new man, who might come and claim his share of the power and glory. As Gaius Marius did, and later Cicero. And against any member of an old family who might challenge the wealth and possessions of the rich by giving some to the poor. As the brothers Gracchus did – they were both killed in action, so to speak, murdered while performing their duties as representatives of the People.
This was not an easy time.

Men bearing the same names crop up in both sets of events, the 100’s and 44-43 BCE; the younger ones being the sons or grandsons or nephews of the elder. The Roman habit of naming the eldest son after his father does not help a lot to avoid confusion. This is, of course, a lesson in itself: the same families were at the top of the political system for centuries on end, so of course the same few nomina gentis – family names – and cognomina – surnames – will appear multiple times within the turbulences of a single century.
Caecilius Metellus, Domitius Ahenobarbus, Julius Caesar, Aurelius Cotta, Cornelius Scipio, Claudius Appius, Aemilius Scaurus &c: all these names are found again and again, with only first names and maybe extra surnames to distinguish one from the other.

A note on names: girls in Roman families were designated as belonging to their family rather than having individual names. Thus, the aunts, the sisters, and the daughter of Gaius Julius Caesar were all named Julia; Caesar’s mother was an Aurelia, daughter of Lucius Aurelius Cotta, and girls from the families mentioned above would be Caecilias and Cornelias and Claudias. Of course, they had nicknames; Marcus Junius Brutus’ youngest sister was known as Tertia, the third.

This apparent lack of individuality can seem shocking; but, as I mentioned before, boys were named for their fathers, and thus a family typically used two or maybe three names for their sons, generation after generation. The Caesars were Gaius, Sextus, or Lucius; the Antonius family used Marcus for centuries, until the actions of Marcus Antonius after the murder of Caesar (I wrote about some of these last week) made them decide never to use that first name again.
Indeed, there were so few names for boys that abbreviations were unambiguous: M. is always Marcus, C. is Gaius (because it was originally the Etruscan Caius), L. is Lucius, &c. Easy peasy.

While knitting lace this week, I listened to Great Tales from English History vol. II by Robert Lacey (no pun intended) and read by the author. This is – well, it pretty much does what it says on the tin: well-known, popular stories about historical persons and events are explained inside their historical framework. So, this is history made approachable by story-telling; the titles of chapters recall mnemonic rhymes, children’s stories, &c.
Thus ‘Divorced, Beheaded, Died’ and ‘Divorced, Beheaded, Survived’ are about, of course, the wives of Henry VIII; ‘Five-Eleven’ regards the actions of Guy Fawkes and his group – and so on.

Recently, I listened to an interview with the Japanese-Canadian writer Ruth Ozeki on the Guardian Books Podcast, about her book A Tale For the Time Being. This was a good way to have the book introduced, to get a feel for what it is before reading or listening to it.
A Japanese girl, Nao, writes a diary inside a ‘hacked’ copy of Proust’s A la Recherche du Temps Perdu – and the Japanese-Canadian writer Ruth finds the diary on the beach by her home in British Columbia.
The book is read by the author herself, which is often brilliant – one detail that I love is that neither Ruth nor Nao speak perfect French; but while Ruth merely pronounces the title of Proust’s book with an American accent, Nao rather butchers it.
I’m only a couple of hours into the 14-hour book, so there’s a lot I can’t discuss yet. But I like it.
Time is a central theme; Nao writes in her diary something like ‘I reach into the future to touch you [the reader], and you reach into the past to touch me’. Also, I’m guessing, it is no coincidence that the hacked book that is turned into a diary is about the search for lost time – all of which leads me to wonder about Nao’s name that does sound very much like ‘now’.
I’ll have to get back to you on that.

Well, this is it for this week! I do hope you have a great week; I will be back – on Saturday, next time, as the whole of my Sunday is booked.
Stay happy, stay healthy

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Back To School

Hello, everybody, and welcome to the Apple Basket!
This week, I will run a quick update on our goings-on; there is a little bit of knitting, but no pics just yet; and rather more about the death throes of the Roman Republic in the 1st century BCE.

For some, at least, this week has seen a return to the everyday routine of getting up early and packing oneself off to work or school. Mostly, the schools start next week – tomorrow, that is – and that is it for the summer holidays. The weather is following suit, being cooler, windy, and alternately rainy and sunny. Typical Danish summer weather, in other words.
And so begins another academic year; and it is time for an update. Some of you know me & my boys already, others do not.

Andreas, my eldest, is 19 now and this week embarking on his third and final year of AspIT, an IT education for young people with Asperger’s. During this year, he will be doing quite a bit of work training to help him decide which area he wants to work in – for him, it will be either Visualisation: building websites, or Technical hardware something-or-other: building and repairing computers and servers and whatnot.

Thomas is 17, going on 18 and thus starting lessons for his driver’s licence. And, on the side, starting next week, his third and final year of the gymnasium (upper secondary / high school); he is taking the arts & language line, with English and Spanish as his main languages, and German and Latin, too.

Victor just turned 15; he is, also next week, heading into his final year of school, 9th grade, and along with that, the Talent Programme for guitar. This week, actually, Thursday to Sunday, he has done the summer course for youngsters at the Music Academy in Aarhus.

And me? I’m preparing to go back to teaching, this time at the University in Aarhus. Two classes in Latin for beginners ... that should be interesting.
Last time I taught Latin, it was to hordes of 16-year-olds who mostly didn’t have a clue why they were there, except that their schedule told them to go to that room at that time, or why they needed Latin, or why indeed they should care about anything I said, when the grades they got for the brief course did not count.
Not that I am bitter about the school reform or the way it murdered treated Latin. Not a bit.
So, having students who are at least three years older and presumably have some idea why they have chosen to study Latin at university can only be an improvement. Oh, and two classes are fewer than eight.

I still have a few weeks to go, as the semester doesn’t start until September, but there is a bunch of practical stuff that needs sorting out. I went in on Thursday after dropping Victor off at the Music Academy, for a meeting with my friend George who was my classmate back in 1991, when we, young and innocent, entered into the world of academia, and is now more or less my supervisor. Not in the sense that he can tell me what to do, but in the sense that I can ask him about stuff and he helps me out. For one thing, I will have a part-time slave instructor, so I wanted to find out to what use such a one can be put.

As you will have noticed, if you’ve been here before: I have tidied the Basket a bit. I wanted a cleaner overall look, and on the right you can now find links to the stories I put up now and again. It is still under construction, and I want to make a page with links to patterns, and probably sort the story page a bit more.

The Knitting
I have finished knitting the much-mentioned lace shawl: now, it is soaking before being blocked, and then I will take pretty pictures, go through the pattern one more time, and release the Kraken. Or something.

The birthday knit for Laura is coming along very nicely. As yet, there is no reason to panic that it might not be finished in time; the time being next Sunday, her birthday.

See, not a lot of knitting talk this time, even though I have been knitting. I promise, next time there will be more. And pictures.

The Books
So, this week I finished two audio books: Dickens – A Life by Claire Tomalin, and The Mouse in the Mountain by Norbert Davis.
The latter can be found on the Forgotten Classics podcast, hosted by the mellow-voiced Julie who reads various books that are old enough to be in the public domain, and not very well known (hence the title of the show, I guess).
Interspersed between book episodes are shorter episodes, Lagniappes (and I learned a new word: lagniappe comes via American French from American Spanish la ñapa and ultimately from Quechua yapa meaning a something extra you get with a purchase – what they nowadays call a ‘free gift’, but this word is so much better!) containing, say, a short story, or an excerpt from something interesting. I have been catching up on Lagniappes, listening to, among other things, two Jeeves & Wooster stories; which was fun, as Victor has been watching the Fry & Laurie series recently (he got them for his birthday), and the reader sometimes sounds almost like Hugh Laurie when doing Wooster. I say almost, for he (the reader) is obviously American and does not sound quite English, though he does a good job.

The Dickens biography I have gone over at length; I won’t tire you with more of that.

My next audio book is a Danish one: Kvindernes Krig / The Women’s War, written by a female language & communications officer, Anne-Cathrine Riebnitzsky, about her work in the Helmand province in Afghanistan.
This is a true story about dust and soldiers and IEDs and women struggling for their rights and their lives against the religiously motivated oppression of the Taliban, as well as the everyday culturally based oppression of poverty, domestic violence, illiteracy, and general ignorance about themselves and the world. Don’t get me wrong, I am not implying that Afghan women – or men – are stupid or backward, only that their country has been wrecked by war for so long that skills and knowledge have been forgotten; and the Taliban will do their damndest to keep it that way.
The women whom ‘AC’ worked with in 2007-8 wanted independence, to be able to earn their own money, to be pretty, to read, to learn English. They wished for police and judges who were not corrupt; for girls to not be married off at 12 or 10 or 8; for their children to go to school.

Such a report from a woman who has actually been there, talked with the women, worked to help them with various projects, is hugely interesting and useful, not least to us Danish civilians. The debate in this country about our military presence in other places tends to focus on the perceived unreasonableness of Danish soldiers being maimed and killed, and of even having a military presence anywhere. A lot of people who should know better need a reminder that there is actually very valuable work being done by Danish military forces, in conjunction with not least the British, and that the soldiers going out there know the score. They, and their families, deserve the admiration and respect of the rest of us, no less than the admiration and respect they are given by the people they work to help.

My ongoing Latin reading project has me still reading Colleen McCullough’s Masters of Rome series, and still, even, the first book, The First Man in Rome. This will last me a while.

After reading Caesar and the biography (mentioned last week), I decided it would be fitting to read Cicero’s so-called Philippic Speeches, held in the period between the murder of Caesar – that happened on the Ides of March, 15th March 44 BCE – and the murder of Cicero himself in December 43 BCE.
Just a reminder: Marcus Tullius Cicero was born in 106 BCE in Arpinum outside of Rome and was, like Gaius Marius, a homo novus, one of the very few to come from outside the old families and attain consular status. So, he was a statesman, a politician; he was a brilliant speaker, which was part of the reason for his success in politics, and led a number of people to request his help in various court cases. Professional lawyers were not invented, so proceedings before the magistrates or courts were regarded as services to friends, favours that could later be called in.
Cicero was a philosopher, too, and performed a huge task for the Latin language and Roman philosophy by translating the works of Greek philosophers, thereby developing new words and turns of phrase and rendering schools of thought accessible to a new group of people.

44 BCE – and several years to come – was a time of chaos, when everybody was scrabbling to fill the void left by Caesar and discovered that the Republic did not automatically restore itself once the tyrant was gone.
The ‘liberators’ had failed to make plans beyond the stabbing itself, which left room for Marcus Antonius (Marc Antony) to reach in and grab for the reins. He quickly secured Caesar’s papers (and his secretary) and proceeded to have the Senate recognise not only Caesar’s proper acta, his laws & decisions, but also half-thought-out notes and even Marcus Antonius’ own plans, claimed to be Caesar’s.
This was done after the Senate had found itself compromising over the legitimacy of the murder: if Caesar had been a tyrant, then the slaying was just and legal and even necessary – but in that case, all of his acta were to be deemed illegitimate, and a lot of the senators held their positions and their restored fortunes thanks to Caesar. So nobody really wanted that.
On the other hand, they did not want to condemn the 60 senators who had participated in the plot to kill Caesar, as that would mean civil war, and they had just had one of those, between Caesar and Pompey / the Pompeians in 49 – 46 BCE.
So, in the end, the ‘republicans’, the killers of Caesar, received an amnesty, and the acta of Caesar were allowed to stand.

Cicero had tried for years to play the role of the wise philosopher guiding the men in power, first attempting – without any success – to reconcile Caesar and Pompey, who both wanted his advice and support. Now, he at first rejoiced in the removal of the threat to his beloved Republic, believing, it seems, that it would right itself. Nobody was, apparently, able to comprehend that the Republic was already dead, and that now, it was a matter of which one ruler Rome was to have. He eagerly advocated that Marcus Antonius be removed, as well, recognising the threat that he, too, posed to the resurrection of the proper order.

That did not happen, though, and Marcus Antonius proceeded to embezzle the funds that Caesar had set aside for his planned campaign against the Parthians.

After leaving Rome in early April to travel to Greece, Cicero returned when rumours reached him of Marcus Antonius being approachable, and between September 44 and April 43 BCE, he worked against this would-be heir to Caesar’s power in 14 speeches to the Senate and people of Rome.
In April 43 BCE, even Cicero had to realise that words were not enough, that civil war was coming.
The two designated consuls were both killed in battle against Marcus Antonius during this month;
Octavian (the grand-nephew whom Caesar had adopted in his will and made his heir) demanded to be elected consul in July, but only succeeded in August, when he led his army towards Rome;
the amnesty for the killers of Caesar was revoked;
in November, a triumvirate was formed by Marcus Antonius, Octavian and Lepidus (who was only there to make up the number), and they immediately proceeded to proscriptions;
in December, Cicero was killed while wavering over whether to flee or not.

This was not the end of the troubles: the leaders of the conspiracy to kill Caesar, Cassius and (Marcus) Brutus, were defeated in October 42 BCE.
Then, Marcus Antonius and Octavian went on to fight each other, until Octavian won in 31 BCE, and Marcus Antonius committed suicide together with Cleopatra of Egypt.

So, 13 years of war followed the murder of Caesar, and in the end, Rome had the Emperor Augustus (Octavian’s new name). So much for saving the Republic.

And on this happy note, I will leave you for now. I will be back next week, and until then: have a great week: keep happy, keep healthy, keep crafting!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Publish or perish

Hello, everybody, and welcome to the Apple Basket!
This week, I plan to be completely insufferable, bragging about my accomplishments in various fields. So, consider yourself warned.

Would you believe it, it is still summer here – though what was threatening to become the driest July ever (or something) was cancelled in the nick of time, on the 30th, with thunder, rain, hail and sunshine all at once.

So, the popular saying about the weather on someone’s birthday reflecting that person’s behaviour, good or bad, during the previous year, came into effect, as Victor turned 15 that day. We agreed, though, that the bad part of it was caused by the leader of the right-wing Danish People’s Party ...
And it was still warm enough that we could sit outdoors at the restaurant in the evening, with my parents, my sister & brother-in-law, and the niblings running around.
The next day offered more rain (let’s not blame J. K. Rowling for that!) – and then Friday turned out to be the hottest day of the summer, with temperatures over 30° C in several places, and followed by what is termed a ‘tropical night’, during which the temperature does not drop below 20°. And true enough, it was 21° at 7.30 Saturday morning.

All in all, I have been practising my hot weather running – in theory, I should probably get my, um, self out of bed much earlier to run, but ... not really happening. So the Saturday morning run was tough: 22°, luckily with a stiff breeze, but still, I went in search of the shade.
I am beginning to look forward to the crisp September air – though when it comes, autumn and rain and darkness won’t be far off, so I’ll probably be grumbling about that. So it goes.

Last week, I told you about the July Short Story contest in the Fiction Writers’ Guild on LinkedIn – well, the votes have been counted, and my story came in 3rd out of the thirty stories!
That was surprising, and gratifying, and somewhat worrying; I have to ignore all that when writing next month’s story and not expect anything.
 Anyway, here it is, so you can judge for yourself:

All In A Day’s Work

I wake up soaked in sweat. The light filtering in speaks of morning, though the alarm clock by my bed insists that it is only 4:18. Nothing unusual in that: this is summer, the white nights when the sun sets for only a few hours and it never gets really dark. I struggle out of the damp, clinging sheet and push the window further open, hoping for a cool dawn breeze. But no, the air is as still and arid as it has been for several weeks now, and even the birds, normally so annoyingly bright and cheerful at this hour, seem mugged.
I decide to get in my morning run before the temperature rises any higher, so I get into the smallest possible running gear that is still decent, drink as much water as I can stomach, and set out.
I run every day; in my line of work, running is not a fashionable leisure activity, but a survival skill. I would rather not begin to count the number of times I have been saved by my ability to run away from someone or something nasty that wanted to do unspeakable things to me – and I am not being Victorian here, I really do mean unspeakable.

Quite a few other runners are out and about this early, working around the altered weather conditions.
We are all trying to adapt, Vikings getting used to a tropical life – well, not tropical, exactly, the last few winters have been exceptionally cold, with frost and masses of snow lasting well into April. Then a sudden, short spring sets in, and summer right on its heels. The meteorologists have had to come up with a new definition of ‘heat wave’; the old one consisting of three days in a row over 28° C has become a joke, when we have temperatures well into the thirties for weeks on end, months even. And droughts to rival the Australian outback.

And today is The Day, Friday the 13th of July, when everything has to be resolved or the world go to hell in a handbasket.
It is going to be a long day.

When I return, a black cat is sitting on the garden fence glaring at me. ‘Hello, Shadow,’ I say. No reply. He is understandably put out by my blatant selfishness in not feeding him before going out. I point out that he wasn’t around, but he refuses to speak to me until I have given him a whole tin of tuna.
Yes, I know, I’m a cliché: a witch with a talking black cat. So sue me.

After a cool shower and a big mug of coffee, I set about gathering the appropriate spells and ingredients for today’s work. Shadow, with the sense of occasion so peculiar to cats, paws at my knitting, but gives it up when I ignore him. I cannot be bothered about losing a woollen sock right now. The circle at the bottom of my garden needs to be fortified, so that’s where I’ll begin.
A circle of smallish granite menhirs sits unobtrusively inside a copse of oak trees, planted in concentric circles. Oaks are the strongest and most powerful of trees, drawing ancient powers from the soil and storing them in their massive boles. It is no coincidence that the Druids of Gaul and Britannia revered the oak above all other trees.
And I am going to need those powers to bind and hold the force that is causing this havoc to our climate. For I know now what it is: a Khaos being, an incorporeal will using its temporary liberty only to disrupt and destroy – not from any active malevolence or ill will towards mankind, mind you, just for the kicks.
Wearing nothing but a loose-flowing silk robe – even that feels like a fur coat today – I trace the inner circumference of the menhirs with salt, leaving a small opening. Next, I trace the outer circumference in the same manner, weaving binding spells into the lines. I place a silver bowl in the centre of the multiple circles and with my silver athame cut open my left palm. I let my blood drip into the bowl and then wrap a cloth around my hand: no drop must be allowed to fall on the ground inside or outside of the circle. I step out carefully, closing first the inner and then the outer salt circles with locking spells.
Only blood will summon the Khaos creature; salt and stone and oak will hold it.
I hope.

When I begin the summoning chant, smoke rises from the bowl of blood; wispy at first, but gradually, it grows into a thick, spiralling column, reeking darkly of gore and rot. The Khaos being resists the summoning, fights against the binding. My muscles ache, my joints feel like they are on fire. Still, I chant. The spell must not be broken before the binding is complete.
After what feels like days, the howling of the smoke subsides, and the column itself dwindles down to a puddle inside the bowl. I feel the grip on me relax, and I have to work not to sink into a puddle myself.
I tremble and then realise that it is the ground beneath me: the granite menhirs are shaken, begin to sway and then topple inwards, crumbling. All around me, the massive oaks are swaying and groaning. I manage to pick myself up and run, away from the circle, before the innermost ring of oaks creaking and cracking fall on top of the stone debris.
When the rumbling stops, a dust cloud hovers over a jumbled pile of stone and wood, slowly settling in the still, dry midday air.

Exhausted, I have another cool shower and a nap.

I wake up covered in goosebumps. A cool afternoon breeze carries the scent of rain into my room.

© 2013 Dorthe Møller Christensen

The Knitting
First, the patterns – I managed to finish Victor’s jumper in time for his birthday, and even got the pattern up on Ravelry.
Too hot for wool, but he performed nicely :o)
And just to continue the self-promotion: the pattern for the Elanor cardigan is finally done and published; I threw in the little hat pattern for free. Not surprisingly, the free pattern had 64 downloads after less than a day, while the paid-for cardigan had several ‘faves’ (little pink hearts), but no sales as yet.

The obvious part here is, of course, that the free stuff is downloaded more than the paid-for, not that I take the popularity of my stuff for granted.
Oh, and I don't think I've mentioned the provenance of the name: Elanor the Fair is the first-born daughter of Master Samwise Gamgee.

As far as knitting goes, I am working happily on the lace shawl I mentioned last week, while checking the written pattern and its translation for typos and correcting errors found by my sister.
It’s odd, the difference between improvising something and working from a pattern, even your own pattern: while I was making it up, it flowed organically, and I had to remember writing notes once in a while before I forgot what I had been doing. Now, I read a line in the pattern, follow that, and have to think about what is going on. Weird. But it is a pleasant knit, if I may say so myself, and soon done.

My other project right now is something for Laura, who will be 4 years old in two weeks exactly. More on this later, as always.

So, I still have a wish to decrease my number of wips; so far, I finished one thing and cast on another. And I will be casting on more things in the foreseeable future, as I will need some new nice jumpers and/or cardigans for work – that’s my excuse, anyway.

The Books
On the Forgotten Classics podcast, I am listening to The Mouse in the Mountain by Norbert Davis; this is my first encounter with the crime-fighting duo Doan & Carstairs – or whatever their agenda may actually be. The story takes place in Mexico in the 1940’s, during a sight-seeing trip to a picturesque village in the mountains; murders ensue, and it remains to be seen how the fat detective and his huge Great Dane will come out of it all.
If you like Agatha Christie mysteries and dogs, this may be something for you; Carstairs is no Scooby-Doo, though he does have a distinct personality.

Over on CraftLit, Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton is running, and I managed to get the first five episodes in at one go – I was catching up on podcasts generally after Canterbury Tales and Bleak House. The story is set in New York in the 1870’s, dealing with the rigid social structure in the upper class and the narrow circles consisting of the ‘right’ families, in which it is difficult to manoeuvre and nearly impossible to be accepted.
Wharton of course satirises over the shallow, but stern dictates of the fashion – much like Dickens does in Bleak House – and at the same time keeps a watchful and caring eye on the victims of these constraints.

By the laws of synchronicity, I have been reading about the upper spheres of another society where name, family, and fortune were all-important: ancient Rome.
One of the arguably oldest families, the Iulii, traced their ancestry back to Iulus, the son of Aeneas and Lavinia, Aeneas being himself the son of the goddess Venus. Quite a pedigree.
And the most famous of all Iulii was, of course, Gaius Iulius Caesar, who in 44 BCE was murdered for – maybe – wanting to be king. He did draw a worrying large number of offices and thus a large amount of power into his one person, political, administrative, military, and religious power; the senate and the people bestowed honours on him that befitted a god, and even though he – in a possibly staged display – refused the crown, he did wield all of the might of a monarch. So they killed him, to save the res publica, and what they got was chaos, civil war, and an emperor. So it goes.
Anyway, I have been reading Caesar by Peter Ørsted. Caesar is, of course, always hugely interesting, whether you like him or not; he must have been a fascinating person, charming and scary at the same time.
But this book, not so much. No doubt a lot of research has gone into it: we get the history, the wars and politics, the system, and lots of quotes from ancient historians and philosophers, including Cicero and Caesar himself.
I found the tone too familiar; biography writing is always personal, of course, since the biographer needs must find the subject interesting, whether in a positive or a negative way. In this case, though, the writer is too present; mostly so in the prologue that takes place in a small town in Spain to which the writer has travelled in Caesar’s footsteps. Scattered throughout the narrative are a lot of personal reflections, too many I thinks – if you want to do that much conjecture, write a novel. Really. And it seems somehow at least one round of editing was forgotten.
So: great man, not so great book.

Nevertheless, I felt inspired to re-read Colleen McCullough’s series Masters of Rome, beginning with The First Man in Rome – who is not Caesar, but his uncle Gaius Marius. (Note the absence of a third name, a cognomen: Marius was a nobody, a homo novus, and one of the very, very few of the kind to achieve the highest post in the Roman magistracy and become consul. So, not really a nobody, only in the sense of not belonging to one of the ancient families.)
I have recommended this series before; here, we do have the novel writer’s approach and freedom to imagine thoughts, feelings, and motivations. I ought to mention that McCullough is pro-Caesar: the nasty rumours about his sexual proclivities – which were probably true – and his attitude to world domination are all explained in a positive light.

I finished also The Gallows Curse by Karen Maitland; the narrator is a female mandrake, which already gives you an inkling of what to expect. The story, set in mediaeval England – Norwich in 1210 – is a whodunit, a spy thriller, and a love story, with elements of the grotesque and the supernatural. Great fun.

The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger is a graphic novel, or rather novella, based on a short story about a young woman who by chance encounters a bookmobile in the night streets of Chicago. I gave it to my sister for her birthday, having found it on her amazon wishlist and knowing how she loved Her Fearful Symmetry and The Time Traveler’s Wife; and she kindly let me read it, too.
The young woman in the story, Alexandra, finds that the books in this particular bookmobile are all the books she has ever read, including her own diary; and after being shooed out at dawn (it is a night bookmobile, after all), she searches for the bookmobile again to return and preferably stay there, among the shelves of books, the familiar smell of paper and dust – and a bit of wet dog.
I won’t spoil the story by telling you anymore, but I will recommend it.

Embarking on this book, as with every other book, I went to goodreads to place it on my virtual book shelf, among all the other books that I have read; for that is the function of these virtual libraries, isn’t it, to let us imagine walking between rows of shelves of books, smelling the paper and the dust, and the whiff of wet dog. Now, all we need is a plug-in to this particular corner of the Matrix, and all would be well.
Or not.

Well, that’s it for this week – I do hope you are enjoying your summer (or winter, if you are of the southerly persuasion). I will be back next week, and until then: keep happy, keep healthy, keep crafting!