A Fun Book on the Black Death
As part of my medieval obsession, I was most excited about reading about the Black Death. The medieval period is already creepy and smelly, adding a hemorrhage-causing contagion is like icing on a ghoul’s cake. I mean, who can resist the following symptoms:
- vomiting that eventually turns into bloody vomiting
- painful groin buboes that “gurgle”
- bloody mucous coughs
- bloody anal leakages
Plus there are other fantastic images that come out of the Black Death (1347-1350):
- Dying villages flying the black plague flag to warn visitors away.
- Ships full of plague refugees sent from port to port across the Mediterranean by burning arrows.
- Deserted victims left in bed with a last meal beside them by fleeing family members.
- A deserted, hushed world where dogs, cats, birds, lions, camels, all died of the plague along with the humans.
I would be pooping my pants if I lived back then. Hopefully someone will start making more movies about the Black Death to freak me out some more.
A book called The Great Mortality by John Kelly is currently feeding this Black Death interest. I have to agree that, like reviews I’ve read, Kelly’s work is a smidge repetitive. At least I have a new stack of fascinating Black Death trivia I can use to drive away any potential friends at dinner parties.
A Queen, Rabbits, Carrots and a Very Painful Backside
As I wrap up my WWI obsession, I am already two books underway with my new medieval Europe obsession. Matt made me read Pillars of the Earth, which in turn inspired me to finally begin my medieval project by taking out half a dozen library books. (It’s for work but a perfect excuse to learn about something to which I didn’t pay enough attention when I was in school.)
The first nonfiction medieval book was Queen Emma and the Vikings by Harriet O’Brien. A supposedly cunning and mean English Norman queen living in the early 1000s, Emma was renamed Aelgifu by her first husband Aethelred the Unready to match the 90% of Anglo-Saxon women who were called that. Her cool husband was the Viking king, Cnut, a teenager who conquered England and won a place in my heart.
Queen Emma makes the best of shreds of evidence. The author manages to overcome the meagre information on the queen by describing the fascinating times of Anglo-Saxon England. For example, did you know that England at the time had hares but not rabbits? The Normans – Emma’s people – brought over rabbits only after 1066 “as a useful source of protein.”
Then there are the carrots. O’Brien explains that the English had white and purple carrots, not orange carrots, which were a seventeenth-century development. The internet begs to differ: carrots made it to England only in the fifteenth century, far after O’Brien’s book suggests (see the Carrot Museum and others, all repeating the same information as the internet is wont to do).
But the crowning element of this book is poor king Edmund Ironside’s death on November 30, 1016. Cnut’s worthy opponent may have died on the toilet.
The devious nobleman Eadric Streona is rumoured by later chroniclers to have coerced his son or bribed some of Edmund’s men to ambush the king in the latrine. The twelfth-century historian Henry of Huntingdon says that the attacker(s) were even hidden in the depths of the toilet itself. Edmund Ironside was stabbed in the butt or the bowels; Geoffrey Gaimar in the 1100s wrote that Eadric used a crossbow operated remotely to shoot an arrow that “went as far up as the lungs.”
Road Kill? You Want Road Kill?
How about some genuine Texas armadillo?
This one’s for you, Lyn.
The only other armadillos I had ever seen were the two at the Plano Cockroach Hall of Fame, including the dessicated beer-drinking taxidermied armadillo, back in ’06. But those specimens, in the hallowed grounds of the roach museum, comical alcholism and all, seem too far from life.
My Highway 114 armadillo had shortly been alive. Its friend and partner scurried away from the body as we ran across the street. We’d driven half a kilometre before we realized what we’d seen. We u-turned and tracked down our find so that I could document my first encounter with the xenarthran.
I remembered then that armadillos carry leprosy. I got a bad feeling that I was stepping into armadillo ooze, that I would carry it back to the car, that it would get on the carpet, that the leprosy germs would drift up and I would end up diseased. Leprosy is treatable these days. But how would I recognize the symptoms fast enough to get medical help?
The armadillo had cracked open as if it had a gelatinous membrane. A little bit of red innard spilled out. And it was tiny, its body hardly bigger than a medium-sized cat.
I kept my distance – you know, bewaring of leprosy and corpse flies.
About a couple of kilometres later, we saw a second dead armadillo but we did not stop for it.
Friday October 17th 2008, 1:48 pm
Filed under: Art
This is a poster by a finalist in the Chicago International Poster Biennial, by by Tomasz Boguslawski from Poland:
Squelchy steak subject matter for a juvenile play.
Hawk Eating Vole Contest Winners
Finally. 24 hours after our deadline we have two clear winners for the Hawk Eating Vole Caption Contest. I had to email everyone I knew, even people who don’t know about my secret online life, and beg them to put aside their squeamishness for a higher goal. I think three people took me up on my offer. Thank you especially to the anonymous Texans who rose up to the challenge (and voted for one of their own).
Without further rambling, our winner for the vole’s point of view is Lee with 41.2% of the votes:
Lee was one of the first people who entered my contest way back in May. (Things move slowly on this blog.) Lee, I’ll mail you your Garlic Vampire Repelling Mints. From now on you’ll be safe from the undead.
And the winner for the hawk’s point of view is former blogger Maikopunk with 25% of the votes:
If I had known there was a tiebreaker, I would have given you your Werewolves of Millers Hollow game tonight. Well, I am sure we’ll see each other in a few days. Maybe you could invite me over for more Flight of the Conchords?
Thank you everyone for contributing captions and for voting. I bought prizes for the next contest, which, um, I guess has to happen.
For now, I am taking the rest of the weekend off – museum folks work weekends unfortunately. So no blogging until Monday. Ciao!
‘Twas a Rat
That’s what the “guess the dead animal” animal was. Very close to where I found May’s dead rat.
I am deducing two things from this: one, this area is full of rats, hence the evidence in the form of dead rats; second, that these rats are lackadaisical about their lives. I don’t see quite so many dead rats on my walks in other parts of town. My dead rats must be so much in love with living that they never see death until it’s too late.
Guess What Dead Animal
Sunday July 20th 2008, 9:44 pm
Filed under: Morbid
It’s an easy one. I found this one this morning.
For the Protection of Public Health
Monday June 09th 2008, 1:07 pm
Filed under: Morbid
Embalming began to seem suspect to me when, as a 19-year-old, a young family friend who had died was displayed in a rather unnatural way. His moustache was trimmed to ruler-straight precision; he smelled sweet and full of chemicals. It made me all the sadder because, instead of seeing my friend one last time, the funeral home presented us with a creepy mannequin.
My feelings were reinforced when I witnessed the opposite a few years ago. My maternal grandmother had had a bath right before passing away. We merely changed her into her funeral wear. She was still herself and, though sad, I was happy at least to say goodbye to the person I knew in life.
In preparation for another upcoming funeral, I am reading the Funeral Service Association of BC’s booklet Helpful Information about Funerals. Here’s the justification for embalming put forth by our province’s funeral directors:
The foremost reason for embalming is the protection of public health….Untreated remains can pose serious health public health concerns. Additionally, embalming restores the body to an acceptable physical appearance. Restoration is not intended to make the deceased look like the person did during life but rather to enhance the appearance of the deceased and allow for viewing. Many experts on bereavement agree that viewing the deceased confirms the reality of death and helps survivors take an important step toward recovering from their loss…..Please note that embalming may be required if the deceased is being transported or viewing is to take place after 72 hours from death.
Hawk Eating Vole Caption Contest
Can you come up with a better caption? Add yours to the comments. (We’ll vote on them later.) As for a prize, first place gets a hamster postcard drawn by yours truly sent directly to you (update: or another TBD prize, your choice).
Photographer Steve Jurvetson, whose photo you see above (minus the word balloon), got an email from a biologist explaining that the bird in question is juvenile red-tailed hawk while hapless rodent is the California meadow vole (Microtis californicus).