Anna Belfrage

Step inside and steal some moments in another place, another time. Welcome to my world!

Revisiting my favourites

I was trying to find some of my favourite historical posts on this blog (yes, I do have some posts I like more than others, despite having written them all myself) and found it all something of a trial, so I decided to do a little list:

Anna’s own historical favourites:

1. Kristina Gyllenstierna – a.k.a as “the fighter in skirts”

2. Queen Kristina of Sweden – a.k.a. “the boy – oops, the girl – born to be king”

3. Queen Margareta of Denmark – a.k.a. as “the king without trousers”

4. Queen Maria Eleonora of Sweden – a.k.a.”the crazy bat with the heart”

5. James Hepburn – a.k.a. “the madman in the dungeon”

6. Pocahontas - a.k.a. “the faded colours in the wind”

7. St Teresa – a.k.a. “the saint in the kitchen”

8. Armegut – a.k.a. “the colonial amazon”

9. Erik XIV – a.k.a. “the jilted suitor”

10. The Magnusson brothers – a.k.a. “loving brothers in medieval Sweden”

11. Of inbreeding

12. Of tulips and chocolate sprinkles

13. Of potatoes - the true gold of the Andes

14. Leonora Christina – a.k.a. “the treasonous princess”

15. Dressed for success

Plus, I rather like this post about my most imaginary and still very tangible 17th century man – When I dream, I dream of him

Sheesh, that was a difficult exercise!

 

Meet Ms Davies, book-blogger extraordinaire

Erin DaviesAs I’ve stated in a previous post, book bloggers are the Yin to us writers’ Yang, and some of these bloggers go through impressive amounts of books – and share their thoughts about them with the world. Once such very prolific book blogger is Erin Davies, and it is a great pleasure to welcome her to my blog today – sheesh, how the lady even found the time in between all her reading is a mystery.
For those of you who have as yet not discovered Flashlight Commentary, I strongly recommend you to drop by for a visit – after reading this post!

So dear Erin, welcome! And before we dig into the heavy stuff, I do need to know if you only drink coffee or if now and then you’ll turn to the true comfort of a nice cup of tea (does it show I am biased?)
Thank you Anna! I’m so happy to be here. My coffee addiction is practically legendary, I admit, but it’s a little known secret that I enjoy tea as well. A testament to my English Grandmother, my coffee bar is almost always stocked with Lady Jane, English Breakfast, Chai and China Oolong. Oooh! Oolong, hey? we’re talking real tea, I hear! 

When browsing through your blog, I am struck by your eclectic tastes. It seems you’re keen to read almost anything, but which are your favourite genres? Do you even have a favourite genre?

Historic fiction is definitely my favourite genre, followed closely by historic nonfiction, fantasy and romance, but as you observed, I read just about everything. I’m naturally a bit of an eclectic and genuinely enjoy sampling different classifications of literature, but I find working in multiple genres also challenges me as a reviewer and helps me maintain a certain perspective with regard to the genres I tend to favour.

What drives you crazy when you’re reading a book? Are there some things that will lead you to close the book and throw it at a wall?
Oh goodness. As a rule, I almost always force myself to the halfway mark before making the decision to abandon a story, but when I do, it usually comes down to an overwhelming lack of interest in the characters and/or plot. Lots of things frustrate me as a reader, but I’m far more likely to finish something and call out my dissatisfaction in a review than I am to quietly put aside something I didn’t enjoy.

Many reviewers opt for not giving a review unless they can be positive about the book. You, on the other hand, do not shy away from sharing your opinions on books you have not liked – even if yo4e always conscientious about highlighting this is a personal opinion. What is your philosophy around reviews, and have you ever had people (read authors) come back to you with comments/complaints?

Great question! I strive to remain both honest and respectful when offering comment on someone’s work, but maintain there is no point in reviewing if one cannot express both positive and negative points of view. I also think my four and five star ratings mean more because I have no trouble issuing one and twos.

I frequently come up against those who feel my comments unsatisfactory for one reason or another and most of the time I find these encounters highly amusing. I once had a group of Amazon reviewers attempt to tell me how to write a review because they didn’t understand how I could compliment an author without being 100% in love with their work, but I think my favourite encounter was with the Goodreads reviewer who told me to point blank stop reading Christian Fiction if I was looking for authenticity.

I’ve only ever experienced one genuinely negative reaction from anyone. There was an author who took personal offense at my remarks, but one such incident in three years isn’t exactly the end of the world. There is a natural conflict of opinion in the book community so much like authors, reviewers need to grow some thick skin and learn to either embrace criticism or laugh it off. There are occasions to put your foot down, but for the most part it’s simply the nature of the beast.

Is it more difficult to write a negative review than a positive one?

No, quite the opposite in fact. I have a tendency to sound like a gushing fan girl when talking about books I love and often struggle to reign my enthusiasm into something coherent. Books I don’t like are far easier for me to approach which is weird since I’m actually very laid back and easy going in the real world.

If you’re looking for a book, do you go to a real bookstore, or do you go to Amazon? (And no, Netgalley doesn’t count ;))

Would you believe used bookstores? I use Amazon and Goodreads a lot, but I love the ambiance of used bookstores and spend a lot of time cruising their displays. The other place I like to look in the author’s notes of anything I really enjoyed as a lot of writers list their source material or cite novels that inspired their efforts.

Do you see a conflict between e-books and real books? Will one cannibalise on the other, and if yes, is this a problem?

Not at all. Digital books have opened the literary community to a much wider demographic and have allowed a lot of new voices to find their audience, but that said, I don’t think ebooks can ever replicate the magic of a printed edition. I think there will always be some debate over the two mediums, but I see no reason why the two cannot coexist.

If you were to have your own bookstore, what would you not serve in the adjoining café? (Of course you’d have an adjoining café, right?)

A bookstore without a café? Say it ain’t so! I suppose the only thing I wouldn’t serve is jelly donuts. Nothing annoys me more than sticky sweet smears between the pages of a book and for some reason it always seems to be jelly.

I know for a fact that you have a fascination with the twilight years of the Hapsburgs. How come? What woke your interest in this particular period?

You know, it happened entirely by chance!

At thirteen I was really into the French Revolution and had been reading everything I could get my hands on in the young adult section of the library which how I discovered The Prince Lost to Time by Ann Dukthas (aka P.C. Doherty). I loved the book and immediately went back to see if my library had the rest of the Nicholas Segalla series and though the catalogue listed two of the remaining instalments, only one was available, The Time of Murder at Mayerling. Maybe it’s because the rest of the series featured royals I knew well, but something about this particular story stuck with me for years afterward.

I suppose it was mid 2012 when the childhood fiction prompted my interest in the tv movie Kronprinz Rudolf, but it was the film itself that sparked my curiosity in the facts behind both. For fun, I reread The Time of Murder at Mayerling, but I got genuinely excited over titles like The Road to Mayerling: Life and Death of Crown Prince Rudolph of Austria and Mayerling: The Facts Behind The Legend. I’d always thought it an interesting chapter of little known history, but I fell head over heels in love with the players and the period as I realized the romantic propaganda doesn’t hold a candle to the intrigue it was devised to conceal.

Finally, if you were stranded on a desert island, what three books would you bring along? And why them?

Only three? I must have packed for this trip in a hurry.

1. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings (the red leather 1974 edition): That’s right folks, I’m a diehard Tolkienite. Who isn’t?
2. Hugo’s Les Miserables (unabridged): I absolutely love this story and I may or may not have a thing for Marius.
3. Adams’ The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: “Reality is frequently inaccurate.” Enough said.
One and three might be cheating since they technically represent eight titles between them, but as I actually own all three of my selections, I think I should get a pass.

Thank you so much for taking the time out of your tight schedule to drop by! It has been a pleasure to host you, Erin – and I even forgive you for the coffee preference. One thing though; WHEN will there be a like button on your blog?

Ha! If I weren’t such a dunce with IT issues I’d have it done in a heartbeat! As it stands I might need to call in a professional. I just can’t seem to make it work with my format.

Thank you for having me Anna. It’s been an absolute pleasure!

The Travails of a Constant Mistress

(c) British Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Augustus

Some days ago, I posted about pretty Aurora and her lover, Augustus the Strong, king of Poland. As some of you may recall, Augustus and Aurora parted way some time after the birth of their son, and as Aurora was a savvy lady, she made it easy for Augustus to leave her for other welcoming arms, thereby remaining his friend for the rest of her life.

Augustus was, it would seem, incapable of long-term fidelity. His poor wife saw one mistress after the other dance in and out of his – and her – life, and with some of these women she had a cordial relationship (like with Aurora) with some she did not, but her husband didn’t care one way or the other. Not the nicest of men, Augustus, with a nasty tendency to objectify any female that crossed his path – objectify and bed her, should he consider her attractive.

But in 1704, Augustus fell in love. Utterly, irrevocably in love. He was thirty-five, she was a young twenty-something, a married woman. Her name was Constantia – most apt, as things would turn out – and although she was young she already had something of a reputation, having been sent off at the tender age of fourteen to serve with the princess of Holstein-Gottorp, only to return home some years later in disgrace – and enceinte.

Constantia.von.Hoym

A young Constance

Tsk, tsk! A girl of such background to become pregnant while unwed! Really, what had her mother taught her? (It is debatable whether people were upset about her lack of decorum or her stupidity for becoming pregnant) Things were hushed up – what became of the baby is uncertain. Constantia’s parents happily accepted a proposal for marriage from a certainMr Hoym. More than twelve years her senior, a widower twice over, Mr Hoym seemed quite taken by Constantia and her big, dark eyes, but no sooner had they arrived at his home in Dresden before Constantia realised this new marriage of hers was a ménage-a-trois. Mr Hoym’s long-time mistress was firmly entrenched in Mr Hoym’s bed. Constantia was not pleased. Not at all. She protested, she threw tantrums, but Mr Hoym merely shrugged, while his mistress smirked. A wife could do little more than bear it – as Augustus’ long-suffering wife could confirm.

One night, Constantia’s house burst into fire. The fire alarm was rung, a loud strident sound that reached Augustus in his palace. Ever the forceful man, he set off to see if there was anything he could do, and arrived at the blaze to see a young, very pretty noblewoman directing the fire-fighting efforts. Augustus liked his women colourful and brave, and Constantia, silhouetted against the angry flames, was just his cup of tea.

Mr Hoym did not like it when the royal eye settled with lust on his wife. He demanded a divorce. Conatantia was more than happy to ioblige, given the mistress and Hoym’s bastard child who lived in her home, but the church decided the couple needed to put effort into salvaging their marriage. Hoym fumed and left Contatntia to the tender mercies of Augustus.

Christiane_Eberhardine_von_Brandenburg-Bayreuth

Christiane Eberhardine – Augustus’ long-suffering wife

Constantia had learned her lessons well. She refused to become Augustus’ mistress, unless certain conditions were met. First, she tried to convince him into taking her as his second wife (at the time, there’s been quite the notorious legal case in which Augustus’ brother had argued that nothing in the Bible barred a man from taking two wives). Augustus would have none of this bigamy stuff. Instead, Constantia succeeded in getting him to sign a document whereby he promised her they’d marry should Augustus’ wife die before him – and should Augustus predecease Constantia, the document included specific instructions to ensure Constantia’s well-being. In principle, this was a legally binding wedding contract – but with the caveat that it only became valid once Augustus became a widower. Constantia placed the document in an envelope, sealed the whole thing with five seals and sent it off for safe-keeping, far, far away.

For some time, Augustus and his little mistress lived in bliss. People muttered that their previous so forceful ruler had come under his mistress’ thumb. Courtiers sulked and sighed, muttering that it was unseemly that a royal bedmate should so influence the king. And seriously, what was the king thinking of? Did he plan on remaining faithful to this his latest conquest? Apparently yes.

Karl_(Charles)_XII_of_Sweden

King Karl XII of Sweden

Constantia became the single most important person to woo if one wanted access to the king. Ambassadors, ministers – even the disgruntled courtiers – they all converged in Constantia’s salons, bowing and scrapping as needed to win the fair lady’s approval. And this is how things could have remained, had it not been for that famous Swedish warrior king, Karl XII, and his desire to reclaim all lands that had previously (but for a very, very short time) been under Swedish control. One country Karl XII threw covetous eyes at was Poland. Augustus therefore had no choice: he had to ride to war, leaving constant Constantia behind.

The Swedish king was a brilliant general and very quickly gained the upper hand in Poland. Augustus was in something of a tight spot, and Constantia worried constantly – not only for his life, but also because rumours of other women in his bed had reached her.So Constantia set off on a dangerous journey to Warsaw, armed with a Swedish passport to allow her passage through the Swedish-controlled territories. She arrived in January of 1706. The king was overjoyed – and more than touched that she should brave the rigours of war to hasten to his side. He was somewhat less pleased when she expressed her suspicions about other women.

August_der_Starke

Augustus

The war went less than well for Augustus, and he found substantial comfort in Constantia, who rode with him wherever he went (as an aside, this tenacious young lady was an excellent horsewoman – astride – and was also a capable shot). Spring became summer, and Constantia discovered to her utter joy that she was pregnant. A son! She would give her lover – oops, sorry: her almost-husband – a son. Augustus was more than pleased, but sent her back to Dresden – a battlefield was no place for a pregnant woman.

Unfortunately, King Karl XII decided to invade Saxony, and Constantia had to flee elsewhere. For several months, she had no news of Augustus, and she feared for his mental and physical health. How would he cope with defeat? Turns out Karl XII was magnanimous in victory, allowing Augustus to retain his royal title. Augustus was content – but more than displeased  when Constantia refused to travel to Dresden to give birth – she was by now heavily pregnant. It is said Augustus pushed her – hard – and commanded that she be carried off to Dresden as he had ordered. Here, I think, is a turning point in their relationship.

Augustus was afflicted by guilt – more so when a courier rode in to inform him Constantia had given birth to a still-born son several weeks too early and was herself close to death. He rode like a madman to be by her side, sat for five days by her bed. The couple reconciled, and a number of years followed in which Constantia was always at Augustus’ side – unless she was giving birth to his daughters.

Jokūbas_Henrikas_Flemingas

Flemming – a man famous for being buried with his legs sawed off

Finally, a man called Jacob Henrich von Flemming had had enough. Constantia’s influence over Augustus had to be broken once and for all – especially as Constantia recognised Flemming for what he was: a power-hungry climber. In 1712, Flemming decided to use drastic measures, and presented the king with a most alluring female temptation in the shape of a Polish countess. Augustus swallowed this nubile bait hook, line and sinker. Back in Dresden, Constantia awaited the birth of her third child, happily unaware of the threat to her future.

By the time Constantia realised the Polish countess was a fixture (although not for long) in Augustus’ life, it was too late. No matter her efforts to reach him, he ignored her – and their newborn son. She protested loudly, refusing to bow out of the relationship as gracefully as Aurora had done. Augustus became vindictive, threw her out of her house, more or less incarcerated her on her country estate, and in general acted as a boor – a boor with a very sore conscience, and we all know those boors are the worst.

Constantia was forced to sell her Dresden home to Augustus, he demanded the diamond ring he had given her as a token of love in return. After much haggling, the couple agreed on a lifelong pension and a huge one-time amount to be paid to Constantia – but only if she returned that irregular pre-contract for marriage that Augustus had signed. Constantia gave up. In 1715, she rode to Berlin to retrieve the requested document (and there’s a long convoluted story here involving her homosexual cousin) and rumours flew through Augustus’ court, claiming she had “fled”. In Halle (while returning from Berlin, sadly without the missive as her cousin was in jail) Constantia was arrested.

Whether at Augustus’ orders or not, Constantia lived through a sequence of nightmarish nights at the hands of her arresting officers, who submitted her to repeated rape and brutalisation. On several occasions, they left her unconscious. No way do I believe Augustus was unaware of this, so in my book he should be cowering in the darkest, hottest, most unbearable corner of hell.

Constantia Stolpen

An old Constantia

Constantia was locked up while Augustus sent men to search for the dratted document – which was found in Constantia’s cousin’s archive. By now, it was too late to allow Constantia her freedom – she had been too badly treated. Instead, Augustus expended considerable energy in stealing all Constantia’s possessions and in cheating Constantia’s poor mother of what little she had of her daughter’s former belongings. As I said, quite the despicable man.

In 1733, Augustus died. Constantia had by then spent seventeen years as a prisoner . When the news of Augustus’ death reached her, she was utterly devastated. She dressed in black, she wept and moaned, grieving the deth of her “husband”. Clearly, the years she’d spent locked up in the looming fort called Stolpen had affected her mental health… She wrote to Augustus’ son and asked to be released, but he refused – he wanted to honour his father’s wishes. Huh! How can one possibly use the word “honour” in connection with Augustus the Strong? Year in and year out, Constantia sat in her prison, but at least her children were allowed to see her twice a year.

In 1743, Stoplen was struck by lightning, and Constantia’s rooms were destroyed. She was moved to the ancient tower, an icy and draughty place that was to be her last home. From the splendours of Augustus’ court and his royal bed, to a dank and damp hovel, so cold she had to wear clothes made of blankets to combat the chill. And here she lived on until 1765, when she finally died at the impressive age of eighty-four. Forty-nine of those years she’d spent locked up – at the vindictive say-so of her former lover and king.

Is there a lesson in all this? Probably not. Love is a fickle thing, an emotion that at times can sour into hate. Poor Constantia must have racked her brain trying to understand why Augustus behaved the way he did – as much a mystery for her as it is for me, two centuries or so down the line. Whatever the case, no one deserves to be treated as she was – not for the sin of loving fully and expecting her lover to be as constant to her as she was to him.

Of pigeons and other points of interest

I am presently in London – which brought to mind a previous experience in this wonderful city…

londonSome years ago, I offered to act the guide for some friends in London. Well; one was a friend, the other was a friend of the friend, but still, two ladies who had never visited London before, so off I went to help them out. (Major sacrifice…NOT!)

Now, when I visit London, I walk. All over the place. Constantly. I had warned my friends beforehand, and they were cool with that. So, after a hearty breakfast we set off, walking through the parks towards Buckingham Palace and all the rest. I show them the Peter Pan stature, they shrug, not at all impressed. Okay, I have no beef with that – I’m no big Peter Pan fan myself. We walk along the serpentine when suddenly one of the ladies utters a delighted squeak.
“Oh my God! Quick, quick, the camera!”
Those of you familiar with Hyde Park probably understand why I assumed her exclamation was due to one of the grey squirrels that infest the park. I have nothing against squirrels – but to me they’re mostly bright-eyed & bushy-tailed rats, however cute. In this case, the lady couldn’t give a rat’s arse about the squirrels. Oh no, she’d found something far more exotic: a pigeon. Come again? Yup, people, you heard me: a pigeon.

I might not care one way or the other about squirrels, but I actively dislike pigeons – probably due to the amount of time I have to spend cleaning my balcony after their visits. And I don’t quite understand why this particular pigeon merited like ten pics, but I was informed the lady’s husband would be thrilled – he’s the pigeon fanatic. Huh.

Off we went, with various stops for further pigeon spotting. I told them the history of Hyde Park, of Tyburn, they listened with half an ear, constantly on the look-out for… taa daa! … pigeons. We passed through the Wellington Arch and they were sufficiently interested to glance at Aspley House before entering Green park and the dappled shade offered by the sycamores.
“That’s Buckingham Palace’s garden,” I said, gesturing to my right.
“Oh.”

We got to the front of Buckingham palace and the ladies threw the gilded gates a quick look, nodded and made a mental tick-mark before suggesting we hurry on. Sort of like twitchers, but these ladies weren’t into rare birds (except for pigeons) they were into ticking of sights. Big Ben rose before them, they nodded appreciatively and hurried on. We got to Westminster Abbey, and as this is one of my favourite places in the entire world, I got a bit carried away. Did they want to go inside, I asked, already moving eagerly towards the entrance. Nah. They’d seen it, hadn’t they? Besides, wasn’t that another type of pigeon over there by the Sanctuary? yes, yes! Up went the camera, and the abbey was relegated to second place.

I was getting a tad irritated. I probably shouldn’t, but there you are. I suggested we walk over to the Jewel Tower. Nope. I walked them over Westminster Bridge so that they could get some good photos of  Westminster. That went down well, but I sulked, as I had hoped for the Jewel Tower…

london west 1We set off along the south bank – which, BTW, is a fantastic way to see London. Not that many pigeons, but my companions were appreciative of the views – as long as I didn’t expect them to actually stop and explore further. Tate Modern received a nod, the Millenium bridge was approved as it gives a fantastic photo op of St Paul’s. Did they want to go along to see the replica of The Golden Hind? The Globe? Not really. But we did stop to photograph some more pigeons.

By now, I had given up – and retaliated by extending the planned walkabout – a lot. So by the time we reached our final destination (before the promised afternoon tea) the ladies were looking a tad weary. But they shone up like beacons when we arrived at Trafalgar Square. Well, they would: this must be the most pigeon infested place in all of London. I didn’t point out Pall Mall or Whitehall. I didn’t even suggest that they show some interest in the National Gallery. I sat on a stone parapet and smiled, as these two ladies did their bird thing. After all, it takes all kinds, doesn’t it?

When we got back to the hotel (and yes, we walked all the way back) the ladies were dead-tired. So was I, but being of a stubborn nature, I had no intention of letting on.
“Dinner in an hour?” I said chirpily.
They looked at me as if I were insane. And maybe they thought I was: maybe a day in close proximity with an evident history nut can be as disconcerting for a pigeon fanatic as vice-versa. Whatever the case, we had a very nice dinner!

Giving voice to a lost people

Today, I thought we’d leave the comfort zone of history after the 1200’s (not that it is much of a comfort zone – not really: war, famine, Black death, religious persecution, witch trials…) and travel far back in history, to a time when the Greek city states were mostly at war with each other and the Spartans oppressed their nearby neighbours, forcing them into slavery. This was before the glamour of valiant Leonidas and his three hundred warriors, one presumes…

Now I don’t write all that much about these long gone times – but I do read about them. Fortunately, other authors do write about them (otherwise I’d have nothing to read, right?) and one of them is Tim Taylor, who visits with me today. Other than writing and researching, Tim also enjoys walking up hills. I hope he now and then walks down them as well, as otherwise he’d never get home. But no more chit-chat: Tim, it’s all yours!

 

Hello Anna, thank you very much for inviting me onto your blog to talk about my novel, Zeus of Ithome. (My pleasure!)

tt post cover

Zeus is a story about a largely forgotten people, the Messenians of south-western Greece, who were conquered and enslaved by their neighbours the Spartans in the eight century BC and continued, to be ‘owned’ by the Spartan state as helot slaves well into the fourth century, when the novel is set. They were harshly treated, forced to work the land and provide half of all they produced to their Spartan masters and kept in line by beatings and the ever-present threat of murder. This passage early in the book, where the central character, Diocles and his family are taking their harvest over the Taygetus mountains to Sparta, gives a sense of what it must have felt like to be a helot:

Many other wagons were beginning the same journey, and among them marched small groups of soldiers, silently scrutinising each cart they passed. They were there to keep an eye on Spartan property, which meant not only keeping brigands away from the grain, but also ensuring that none of the helots felt tempted to run away with their produce into the wooded mountains. For they, no less than the barley itself, were owned by the Spartan state. The three of them spoke little, looking fixedly ahead lest they catch the eye of some suspicious soldier. Not even in the evening, when the helot families huddled together around campfires and ate their cheese and barley bread, did they let down their guard; for any careless or ill- considered chatter might be picked up by the guards who patrolled silently around them, always listening. It was not unknown for those who let slip disrespectful or rebellious remarks during these evenings, their tongues loosened by too much wine, to be denounced and executed when they reached Sparta. Or else they might be found outside their homes a few days later, enriching the soil with their blood, after a visit from the assassins of the Krypteia. So the talk around the fires was always women’s talk of births and marriages and old men’s talk of weather and failing health. Many preferred to say nothing at all, staring blankly into the embers of the fire and letting its warmth caress them softly into sleep.

Diocles, a seventeen year old helot, has his own encounter with the Krypteia shortly afterwards and is forced to flee, leaving behind his family, his sweetheart Elpis and everything he knows.

tt Ithome1Despite their long servitude, the Messenians never lost their sense of nationhood or their desire for freedom, which expressed itself in several major revolts. At these times they would often make their stand on Mount Ithome, a natural fortress in the centre of Messenia and the ancient sanctuary of their patron god, Zeus Ithomatas or Zeus of Ithome, who gives his name to the book. On this mountain Diocles falls in with Aristomenes, an ageing rebel who still dreams of rebellion, and travels with him towards Delphi, where the old man hopes to secure guidance from the oracle on how to bring it about. Aristomenes is wounded in an encounter with brigands and forced to rest at the house of a friend, so Diocles journeys on to Delphi alone.
Here he is about to put his question to the oracle:

The priest led him into the main chamber of the temple itself, which was painted with scenes from the Greek myths and lit by many lamps, and thence into another small room. This was only dimly lit and was bare apart from a painting of Apollo himself upon the facing wall. There was a grid in the floor at the far end of the room, through which a pale light shone, helping to illuminate the painting. Most striking, though, was the powerful smell that pervaded the room. There were hints of smells that he knew – of laurel and of barley – but they were mingled within an all-pervading, intoxicating aroma that was like nothing he had ever experienced before.
“What you smell is the breath of the earth itself, escaping from fissures deep in the rock, here at the very centre of the world. Those fumes help the Pythia to commune with the God and to see the future. She sits below us in the forbidden chamber, the adyton. It is time now for you to ask your question. You must speak slowly and clearly, and loudly, so that she may hear your voice through the grid.”
In a trembling voice that somehow did not sound like his own, Diocles spoke the words that he had memorized:
“What must the Messenians do in order to achieve their freedom and to win back their country?”
There was a long pause, then an eerie ululating sound, like the far-off call of some strange bird , emerged from the adyton below. As it became louder, it resolved itself into what seemed like words, but in no language that Diocles had ever heard. After a few seconds the word-sounds dissolved again into a tremulous wailing, which slowly faded away into silence.

tt Delphi 2At Delphi Diocles meets the (historical) Theban general Epaminondas and learns that the Thebans too have no love for Sparta. Invited to Thebes by Epaminondas, Diocles is torn between his belief that this man holds the key to the hopes of the Messenians and the promises he has made to Aristomenes. He decides to spend some time in Thebes, where he learns the arts of war from the elite Theban Sacred Band and of politics from Epaminondas. As war brews with Sparta, he finds himself facing his former masters across the battlefield:

He had stood in this position many times, in training, on manoeuvres, and on a few occasions in earnest, when Thebes sent out the army to put muscle behind its political ambitions. But usually no one had come out to fight them, or if they did, they had run away again after a show of intent from the Sacred Band. This time was different. A few hundred yards away, directly ahead, stood the Spartiates, who were not going to run away. They were all dressed alike with their conical helmets and red cloaks, and the big red lambda on their polished bronze shields. They stood ominously still and silent, as if waiting for their opponents to display some sign of weakness. Among the Sacred Band there was a similar sang-froid, but in the rest of the Theban army men fidgeted, talked anxiously to their fellows and prayed to the gods that they would see out the day alive. Some had clearly lost control of their bodily functions, as there was a slight stink of urine in the air. Indeed, looking across at those stern, immobile warriors and wondering which one he would have to face, Diocles himself was transfixed with fear and able to control his bladder and bowels only by a supreme effort of will. He had faced danger before, but it had always been on the spur of the moment when there was no time to think or worry. But this time danger was looking him solemnly in the eye across the plain and soon would be striding purposefully towards him.

After the battle, and a good deal of political wrangling, the conditions at last become favourable for Diocles and Aristomenes to return to Messenia and begin their long-planned revolt. Diocles is reunited his family and with Elpis, finding that much has changed for them too in the intervening years. The rebels gather kindred spirits around them and fortify Mount Ithome, where once again the Messenians will make their stand ….

 

tt picThank you, Tim – and how nice of you to leave us all dangling here as to what happens next ;) Anyway, for those of you that feel a compelling urge to throw yourself at Zeus, why not pop by Amazon?

If you want to know more about Tim and his books, why not visit his Website or his Blog?

 

Oh, glorious dawn come hither…

Aurora_von_Königsmarck… and no, this is not  a post about returning light. Seeing as us Scandinavians are already experiencing how our days are growing shorter, I am simply not in the mood. Instead, I aim to introduce you to Aurora von Königsmarck, one of the first documented examples of female Swedish sin.

Aurora, apparently, was drop dead gorgeous. With black hair, black eyes that shone with “fire and passion”, perfect teeth and skin as smooth and white as alabaster, one could think her Snow White’s sister. Nor was our Aurora shy: when the occasion required it, she would gladly dress up as a Greek goddess and swan around with one perfect breast openly displayed – all in the name of art, of course.

Born in 1662, our little Aurora was in no hurry to wed. In fact, thirty-two years on she was still merrily unattached – if not inexperienced – and kept a long line of suitors ranging from the tender age of seventeen to the somewhat more staid age of sixty, jumping through hoops. In 1694, being thirty-two and unwed was more or less the equivalent of a social disaster, but this does not seem to have bothered Aurora much – or her family.

Aurora bror Philippe_Christophe_Kœnigsmark

Philip

And talking of her family, Aurora was not the only Swedish sinner among her siblings. Oh,no, she had a handsome brother, Philip von Königsmarck, who is famour for three things. First, he was the lover of Sophia Dorothea, wife to the future George I of England, mother to the future George II. Secondly, the man had a major romantic streak, and so he saved all the letters between himself and his mistress, a huge collection of passionate writing and passed them on to his sister (yup; Aurora) for safekeeping, which is why they still exist. Third, the man went up in smoke one night, propitiously just as he and Sophia Dorothea were planning how to somehow get around the irritating obstacle of her husband. (Sophia Dorothea wanted nothing so much as divorcing her husband – a lecherous type – so lecherous that poor Sophia Dorothea once came upon him in bed with his mistress while his newborn daughter was fast asleep in the same bed) Anyway; one moment Philip was there, the other he was not, and some time later his body showed up in a river. Poor Sophia Dorothea got the divorce she’d desired to start anew with Philip – but at the price of her freedom. She was kept under lock and key until she died.

Back to Aurora, who, I am sure, took the whole matter regarding her brother badly. They were obviously close – why else send her all those letters? – and they also shared a propensity for sleeping with people not their spouses. Aurora suspected her brother had been murdered – a logical conclusion, given that George of Hanover did not take kindly to being cuckolded, no matter how unfaithful he himself was –  and she chose to enlist the help of a man whose exploits in bed would make her seem like a mere amateur. Enter Fredrik Augustus of Saxony – soon to be Augustus the Strong, King of Poland –  lebesman extraordinaire and more than willing to come to Aurora’s aid. Once he saw this voluptuous (if somewhat overage) Swedish cherub , his heart burst into a gallop.

Augustus and Aurora’s brother had spent several months in their youth together, sowing wild oats and in general enjoying the good life a rich young man was entitled to back then. Augustus was a veritable Don Juan, and it is said that he had more than 365 mistresses during his life, and well over sixty children from these liasons, even if he only acknowledged a handful of them.

(c) British Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Augustus

Anyway: love was in the air, as they say, that enchanted evening when Augustus clapped eyes on Aurora. While he may have been enlisted by Aurora to help clear up Philip’s disappearance, this very quickly became his – and her – secondary concern. He was eight years younger and recently married. She compensated with her come-hither eyes and a sultry inviting manner that set his blood aflame. But Aurora was not a one-night-stand proposition, oh no, the lady expected to be wooed, and  Augustus went at this new challenge with everything he had. Balls, hunts, little picnics, more balls, jewel-encrusted clothes – he did it all, and finally his lady succumbed, allowing him, so to say, to climb aboard.

Oh joy!  Augustus did cartwheels, he had an entire house prepared for Aurora in Dresden – conveniently close at hand to the palace. His wife and mother did not seem to mind – and to give Aurora her due, she went out of her way to befriend Augustus’ wife and even chided her lover for being remiss in marital matters. Maybe she now and then needed to catch up on her beauty sleep…

Aurora 1

Aurora in a blond wig

It is said Augustus had her bed hung in silks dyed the colours of a rose-tinted dawn. He couldn’t get enough of his sloe-eyed nymph – no doubt attracted not only be her physical attributes but also by her wit. Aurora was a well-educated lady, fully capable of holding her own in any intellectual conversation. She was also, apparently, more fertile than anyone had assumed, and in 1696 she gave birth to a son, Maurice (Moritz), one of the few of his numerous illegitimate children that Augustus ever acknowledged. At the same time,  Augustus’s wife also gave birth to a son, so it would seem Augustus followed his mistress’ advice and gave his wife the joyful experience of his intimate presence on occasion.

Aurora son Maurice_de_Saxe_(1696-1750)

Maurice – quite the hunk

At 34, Aurora’s charms were somewhat dimmer – plus she’d been recently delivered of a son. Augustus was not the constant type, and soon his roving eye found other women to woo and win. Not that Aurora seems to have borne him any ill will – and he was gentleman enough to make provisions for her upkeep. Their son he raised as he saw fit, and little Maurice spent most of his time in close proximity to his father’s court. Aurora had no choice but to comply – and besides, she wanted the best for her son. (Maurice went on to make a very good life for himself as a military man, and several decades later, his descendant Aurora Dupin would become a well-known author under the pseudonym George Sand)

In difference to one of Augustus’ future mistresses, the most unhappy Constantia von Brockdorff, Aurora was pragmatic enough to accept that her relationship with Augustus was over and arrange her future life without him. Constantia, on the other hand, did not. But her very sad story will be the subject of a future post – that much, at least, Constantia deserves.

Back to Aurora, who spent her remaining days as some sort of laywoman abbess for the Quedlinburg abbey. Not that she lived there much, her time mostly divided between Berlin and Dresden, where now and then she’d share a glass of wine or two with her former lover – maybe even a flirty look or two – while bantering with him about the headaches all his future mistresses cost him. Did she ever regret not having married? I think not. Aurora was a free spirit, an adventurous soul who much preferred her freedom to security. In many ways, quite the modern woman, wasn’t she?

 

 

How a Swedish spread became a part of New York

We have recently had cause to celebrate here in Sweden. Or in Denmark. Or on the Faroe Islands. You see, some days past it was 375 years since Jonas Bronck bought himself quite a spread just on the outskirts of New Amsterdam, and to this day the area in question still carries his name. The Bronx.

Faroe_Islands,_1767,_as_seen_by_Yves_de_Kerguelen_Trémarec

The Faroe Islands…

Some say Jonas was from the Faroe Islands. Just to properly validate their claim to him, the islanders have a road named after him. (And for those of you who have NO idea where these islands might be found, let’s just say they are specks of rock stuck in the North Sea, from where come hardy sheep and very hardy people – that’s what you get when you grow up in such barren and harsh surroundings.) As per the Faroe contingent, Jonas was the son of a priest who was born and raised in Torshavn before being struck by the travelling itch and setting off for the American continent.

Huh, say the Danes. Everyone knows Jonas was born on Bornholm, a small Danish island in the Baltic Sea. He was the son of a Danish priest called Morten and even studied at the university in Copenhagen before being struck by the travelling itch and etc. etc. etc. Thing is, this Morten character seems to have died like fifteen years before Jonas was born. We’re talking a very, very long gestation period should Jonas be his son.

No, no, no say the Swedes. I mean, who has ever heard of a Dane being called Jonas Bronck? That’s a solid Swedish name – or rather Brunke is – and Jonas was a farmer’s lad from the interiour of southern Sweden, where he grew up until he was struck by the travelling itch and – well, you got it by now.

The only thing these three versions agree on is that Jonas went to America – and that he did so via Amsterdam. They also seem to agree on the fact that he arrived in the Dutch colony of New Netherlands in 1639 and that he bought a substantial amount of land – at a most auspicius price, one would guess. I mean, this was before the New York property market had begun to boom…

1988.150_CAMPrior to setting off to make himself a fortune in the New World, Jonas had spent time in the Netherlands, where he also met and married his wife, Teuntje. By the late 1630’s, things were a bit shaky in Amsterdam. The tulip boom had come and gone, leaving a number of people in financial ruin (and one must love a people that goes wild and crazy over tulip bulbs, mustn’t one? Seriously: ONE bulb could be priced at the equivalent of a house…).

The powers that were in the Netherlands were less than happy with how things were progressing in their American colony. In difference to the English colonies, things weren’t happening, so to say, starting with a depressingly low influx of settlers (What can I say? Those spectacular tulips kept all of them at home…). To encourage more settlers, land was offered at discounted prices, and our Jonas quickly saw the oppotunities this might offer. Together with his Danish friend Jochem Kuyter (and yes, this is an indication that Jonas could potentially have stronger Danish connections than us Swedes want to recognise), Jonas leased a boat with the rather epic name “The Fire of Troy”, loaded it with cattle, other wannabee colonists and set off for this beckoning brave new world.

It was a new world. Magnificent and wild, it offered the intrepid man endless opportunities to improve his lot in life. Jonas was most definitely intrepid – as way Jochem. One of them settled in present day Harlem, the other – Jonas –  chose land on the other side of the Harlem River, with Jonas ending up the proud owner of close to 700 acres, some of this land bought directly from the Lenape tribe. Unfortunately, Jonas would not be given the chance to truly explore this new land of his. For unknown reasons, Jonas died early in 1643.

Jonas Bronck signing-the-treaty-with-the-indiansAt the time, a certain Wilhelm Kleft was the Dutch Governor. This gentleman is infamous for his treatment of the Native Americans. In early 1643 he had Dutch soldiers slaughter 120 Native American refugees – in flagrant breach of the treaty signed in 1642 at Jonas Bronck’s homestead. This event sparked a two year period of hostilities between Colonists and Native Americans. Those most at risk were those living on the fringes of things – Like the Bronck family – so maybe Jonas fell victim to a retaliating attack by the angered Native American tribes. We don’t know.

bauer-elk-cottongrass3

See? She’s riding a moose

What we do know, however, is that Jonas was a literate, multi-lingual man, possessed of a library numbering well over 30 books and a number of pamphlets when he died. From his reading matter one can deduce he was also very devout – further substantiated by the name he gave his homestead, Emmaus. Several of the books in Jonas’ possession were in Danish. Quite a few were in Dutch, one or two in German or Latin. None seem to have been in Swedish – but this may say more about the sad state of the Swedish publishing industry at the time than Jonas’ nationality. After all, Sweden was at war! We had no time to print books when we needed to produce weapons and tame moose for the cavalry. (And yes, moose were domesticated, were broken in and ridden, but the poor beasts died quickly, having no liking for hay and oats. Plus they leapt like March hares at the sound of muskets…)

A Peter Bronck was named as Jonas’ heir. Whether this was a son, a brother or a cousin we don’t know. We do know Jonas’ widow remarried in the summer of 1643, so either she wasn’t all that grief-stricken, or women were such a valuable commodity in the colonies that she drowned in potential suitors, all of them vying for her hand. We also know that a Peter Bronck was to build a house in 1662 – the oldest existing building in the New York vicinity.

For some years after Bronck’s death, his farm seems to have been left untended, indicating there were concerns with living so far away from the centre of things (well, the collection of houses and the wind-mill right at the southern tip of Manhattan that went for the centre of things back then). But people still referred to the area as “Bronckland”, and the nearby waterway was called Bronck’s River. The name of the land changed with new owners, but the river retained its connection to the very first white settler, even if Bronck’s became Bronx. And so the name was still around when the five boroughs of New York were named, which was how present day The Bronx came about. A small, tenuous connection to Sweden, right there in the Big Apple.

Manatvs_gelegen_op_de_Noot_Riuier

JB’s homestead was where the smudge, middle right, is (over Harlem River)

So, was Jonas Swedish? Well, Brian Andersson seems to think so, and given that Mr Andersson is a historian and genealogist who has been researching the topic for several decades – and he’s also the former Comissioner of NYC’s Department of Records – he should know, right? After all, Mr Andersson has chosen to celebrate the 375th anniversary of Jonas’ arrival in the New World here, in Sweden, at the Jonas Bronck Centre.

What further proof do you want, people? Jonas Bronck was as Swedish as moose and lingonberries, as Swedish as meatballs and cinnamon buns. And as to why he left Sweden to begin with, I’m thinking it all had to do with that dratted Thirty Years’ War: any young man in Sweden risked being conscripted into the royal armies. Maybe Jonas was a pacifist. Maybe he didn’t relish the idea of having selected parts of his body shot off by muskets or cannon-balls. Or maybe he was one of those boys who was always looking at the horizon, wondering what might lie behind it. Whatever the case, his life took him on a very long trip given the times, and he must have made a very lasting impression on the people he met along the way – why else keep on calling the spread he lived on for four short years by his name?

 

The adventures of a modern medicine man

This post is about a man who wanted to become a medicine man – or at least that’s how I understand it, based on the little snippets of info I’ve gathered. Being blessed with a rich imagination, the huge blank spots not covered by what I’ve read have been filled in by yours truly.

Scultze winter streamYoung man sits in a cold Arctic winter and stares at the snow. It’s cold, it’s been cold for two months, will be freezing for another three, and everywhere is this damned snow. Due to the very low temperatures, the snow is brittle and dry, rising like puffs of smoke around you when you move. The man – being afflicted with being both young and male – has a tendency to brave this weather in jeans, a too short down jacket, a rather ugly purple scarf his ex-girlfriend left behind and downtrodden trainers. As a consequence, snow makes it’s way down his socks, his neckline, his …
“Agh! I hate this!” expresses our hero, stamping to free himself of all this frozen moisture. He scrubs at his hair. “I should emigrate,” he mutters,and as he says it, he realises there’s nothing stopping him, is there?
Our young man – and as of now we’ll call him Anders – is a third year medicine student, he’s single, has no pets, no financial obligations, and besides, he really needs a change of scene to get over Klara. (He does, actually. Klara may have left her scarf behind, but she pretty much cleaned out everything else, leaving poor Anders with the sum total of three glasses, one mug, two chipped plates and a very worn leather sofa. Oh; and the TV)

Said and done. Two weeks later Anders hands over his down jacket to his sister at the airport, kisses his mother farewell and gets on the plane to Brazil. Why Brazil? For one, it’s hot. And it’s green – no snow. Plus Anders has acquired some funding for this madcap venture of his by selling the idea that he will set out to learn traditional medicine from medicine men living in the jungle. In actual fact, Anders is planning on lying in a hammock and flirting with the Indian girls while sipping at whatever intoxicating beverage might be available in the wilds, but why tell anyone that?

Homer Homossasa jungleNo one told Anders about the downsides to this new life of his. Or rather they did, but Anders didn’t want to hear about mosquitoes and snakes, about rabid bats and steamy heat, about nights so humid and cold your teeth chatter so hard your jaws ache. It’s only as he begins the slow journey up the Amazon that he understands this won’t be a walk in the park, but heck, he’s young and heartbroken, and he needs to liven up his CV somehow.

Life on the riverboat is slow. It is also conspicuously lacking in comforts, and for a man who’s lived his life in hyper-clean, hyper-organised Sweden, it’s all something of a shock. Even more so when he sees his first cockroach. I mean, the thing is huge! (You ain’t seen anything yet, Anders. Wait until they swarm, and the air fills with flying cockroaches. Yuck.) The hammock he’s been allotted makes his back ache, he hates being this close to so many people all the time, and guess what? No showers. (This is due to Anders being thrifty and opting for the cheapest ticket, something he now regrets. However, all his attempts to upgrade to the better side of the boat have been met by a resolute head shake.)

This is the furthest Anders has been from home, his previous travels restricted to Mallorca, the Canary islands and Kos in the Greek archipelago. It surprises him that everything is in Portuguese, and that every single meal consists of beans and rice. The first few days he rather enjoyed the black beans, but now, after five days straight he wouldn’t mind a hamburger. Which is why he is thrilled to bits when next afternoon the captain offers him “meeeeet, good meeeet”. It’s only after he’s gobbled down the chunks of spitted meats that he begins to wonder what kind of meat this is – it isn’t as if he’s seen any cows or pigs lately. The captain grins and holds up the head of a monkey. Anders decides to stick with the beans.

After three sweaty days in Manaos, a long weepy phone conversation with his mother who begs him to come back before he is eaten by the cannibals (Anders knows for a fact that she’s got that wrong, there aren’t any cannibals in the Amazon) – and a very long, very wet night in a Manaos nightclub which results in all his money being stolen, Anders sets off on the last leg of his journey, hitch hiking with two very silent Indians as they paddle up the Amazon. He would have preferred to go by riverboat all the way to Iquitos, but no money = no ticket. Anders doesn’t like it when his canoe turns right into the Japurá, even less when they turn into an even narrower waterway, talking amongst themselves in low melodious voices. It makes him nervous when they laugh, and he is beginning to worry that maybe there are cannibals here what with how they’re looking at him. Anders tries out a wide, placating smile. They smile back, but it isn’t exactly reassuring what with their filed pointed teeth.

Henri_Rousseau_-_Il_sognoFive hours later, Anders disembarks. His canoe buddies are swallowed into the welcoming horde of the tribe, and Anders feels rather conspicuous, more than a head taller than everybody else and with a rather unbecoming bright red sunburn. Still, so far he hasn’t been eaten, and right now he is very glad to have solid ground under his feet, even if it does squelch quite a lot when he moves. Two more hours, and Anders believes he has succeeded in explaining his errand, this via a combination of six Spanish words, a number of intense charades and very many wide smiles.
“He wants to do what?” the tribal leader whispers to his medicine man, regarding their strange visitor.
“I have no idea. But he seems harmless enough, don’t you think?”
“Hmm,” says the tribal leader, not at all liking how Anders is gawking at his eldest daughter – and how said daughter is gawking at Anders. “Ugly,” he sighs,”poor guy. Imagine going through your life with hair like cotton wool and skin the colour of a roasted pig. And his eyes …” He shudders.
“Yes,” nods the medicine man. He purses his mouth. “They’d make quite an amulet, those eyes.”
“No way,” the tribal chief says. “Last time I let you have your way with a bloody tourist we had the military here for six months straight!”
“But they didn’t find him, did they,” the medicine man grins. They throw a look at the offal pile in which a number of pigs are rooting.
“Pigs eat anything,” the chief says. “Thank the gods for that.”

RousseauThe CharmAnders decides to embrace his new life and appears at breakfast next day as naked as his hosts. The resulting hoots of laughter have him retreating like a greased monkey.
“Now THAT is what I call an amulet,” the medicine man says, pointing at Anders’ scrotum. The chief glowers, the medicine man holds up his hands. “I won’t, okay? But a man can dream, right?”
Anders has no idea what the potbellied man sitting beside the chief is saying, but he doesn’t like how he keeps on smacking his lips and decides that this medicine man must be approached with some care. He edges towards the chief, lips stretched into a wide, friendly smile.
“What’s the matter with him?” the chief asks. “Why is he grinning like a sick iguana?”
“I think he’s trying to be friendly. Remember that German dude, Heinrich? He was always showing us his teeth like that – well, until I…”
The chief sighs. “No, he didn’t like that much, did he? Poor Heinrich.”
“Poor Heinrich? He was going to steal our secrets and sell them to Bayer – and what did he offer us? A handful of glass-beads, I tell you. Glass-beads! What does he think this is? The 15th century?” The medicine man shakes his head. “Maybe that’s what this guy wants to do as well – didn’t he say he was a doctor?”
“A doctor?” The chief scowls at Anders, happily unaware of this as he is looking the chief’s eldest daugher over. Not at all like Klara, Anders concludes (well, duh! Klara was an anemic, tall Scandinavian girl, all legs and blonde hair. This young lady is curvy and dark, with hair like black coarse silk that falls straight to her waist) Definitely someone Anders could consider getting friendly with – even if he has no idea how to get really friendly with someone of the opposite sex in a hammock. But being young and optimistic, he is quite sure he will work that out when the opportunity arises. (Anders shows some nasty streaks of colonialism here, taking it as a given that all the young ladies will swoon at the prospect of bedding with him, when in fact they consider him to be somewhat revolting, like a two-legged maggot with very much pink skin – and a rather big appendage between his legs)

Days pass. Weeks pass. The tribal chief has no idea what to do with his unwelcome visitor, but word from Manaos has it that the man may be in league with the government – which now and then has the chief considering just how to dispose of Anders. The man is clumsy and inept, so it would be a child’s game to have him fall off a tree trunk into a swamp, or arrange his drowning in the river.

Rosseau The_Equatorial_JungleMonths pass. Anders has at last cottoned on to what exactly this primitive people mixes together to induce that wonderful, dreamy state when it is no problem at all to make love in a hammock – or hanging upside down from a rafter. In actual fact, this very potent drug combination seems to Anders a miraculous cure against anything he has ever encountered, and he is thinking that if only he could find the energy to do so, he could pack this stuff into nice, green little pills and call them The Cure for Everything. People these days like stuff that comes directly from nature, he snickers, and this is most definitely nature – at its best.
The medicine man just chuckles and nudges the chief in the ribs.
“A druggie,” he says. “He wanted to learn about our medicine, I’ve given him hallucinogens and mushrooms and he’s as happy as a sloth in a beehive – well, happier, even, as he doesn’t need to worry about the bees.”
“But what does he want?” the chief asks. “Why is he here?”
“Hmm,” the medicine man says. In his private opinion, Anders is here to get laid and have a good time with as little clothes as possible on. The chief’s daughter is already swelling up like a giant melon, so the young man must be blessed with vigorous seed.

“Marry?” Anders stutters, backing away from the chief. “How marry?”
“What do you think?” the chief growls. “You take her to Manaos, you walk into the registry office and you make an honest woman out of her – before  she has the baby!”
“Err,” says Anders,  trying to clear his head from the constant hang-over his drug consumption induces.
“Now,” the chief adds, “or else…” He makes a slashing movement over his throat – an international gesture Anders has no problem interpreting, and he is rather fond of his jugular. But he doesn’t want to marry the chief’s daughter – an opinion he shares with the young woman in question, who just stares at her father.
“Marry him? Why on earth would I do that?”
“Because you’re having his baby!”
“Me?” The chief’s daughter laughs. “No I’m not – this is all excessive flatulence.” She rubs her rather round belly. “I really have to stop eating gluten,” she mutters, before returning her attention to her father. “And even if I was, so what? There are at least five other girls who are potentially pregnant with him, and anyway, what’s with the moral tone, huh? How many babies do you have in the works?”
“Your father is a most virile and powerful chief,” the medicine man puts in. The chief scowls. His love life is neither here nor there. “He’s been sleeping around?” he asks his daughter, jerking his head in the direction of an oblivious Anders. “Where are young people going, eh? No morals, just sex and drugs…” He sets his jaw. “I want him gone – or dead.”
“Dead? I could do dead!” The medicine man brightens. “Now, I could dip him upside down in the water to feed the fishes, or I could cover him in honey and leave him for the ants, or…” His face acquires a dreamy look. The chief eyes him, suppressing a little shudder. “Bloody psycho,” he mutters under his breath, and with a sigh discards the idea of having Anders killed. Plus he doesn’t want the military to pop by – last time it cost him a fortune to bribe those bastards.
“I say let him go,” the chief’s daughter says. “Not much use to keeping him around, is there? He was cute at first, you know, like an overgrown pet, but these days…Nah, the novelty’s worn off. Plus he’s no major thrill in the sack.”
“He isn’t?” The medicine man leans forward. “But he’s so well-endowed.”
“Sheesh!” She rolls her eyes. “Size doesn’t matter, okay?” She crosses her fingers behind her back, because size does matter – to a point – but from the wide smile on the medicine man’s face, she can see she’s made his day.

RousseauThree days later, a still very high Anders is bundled into a canoe, handed a large package of various “herbs” and sent back home. “Ticket, passport, credit card,” the chief mutters, reviewing Anders’ documents before stuffing them in Anders’ back pocket. “Seriously, no phone?” he asks, glaring at the medicine man.
“Nope,” the medicine man says. “No phone.” He shrugs. “They don’t deliver out here, okay? he’ll have to buy one in Manaos.”
After what Anders perceives as a very emotional farewell, the canoe shoves off, and Anders twists so that he can wave to his tribe for as long as he can see them.
“Finally!” says the tribal leader. “Now where are my jeans and my Nikes?”
“I don’t know,” the medicine man replies, adjusting his Ray-bans. He sighs. “Too bad; he would have made a great addition to my collection.”
The chief decides not to ask.

Anders does his trip here in reverse, but with every additional layer of civilisation his anxiety rises, and he clutches his precious bags of herbs, not quite grasping how on earth anyone can live in all this noise, with all these people. Still, the young man has money to make, women to conquer, and so he gets on the plane, returns to Stockholm where he is greeted by a weeping mother – and the Customs officers.
No matter that Anders insists all those herbs he is carrying are for medicinal purposes, the Customs officials remain unconvinced. “Hemp,” one of them repeats. “Marijuana. Hashish.”
“Yes, yes,” Anders waves him quiet. “But it’s for making medicine – good medicine!”
“Huh!” The other Customs official snickers. “And you think we haven’t heard that one before?”

And so it is that Anders ends up in jail. It has its advantages, he reflects, being very clean and very quiet. But now and then he can’t help but dream himself back to that little tributary to the Amazon, to the deep green of the jungle.
“My people,” he sighs (he has a rather dramatic streak) “I will never forget them. Never.” He produces the only photo he has of the chief’s daughter and kisses it, thinking that surely the poor woman is weeping her eyes out, longing for him.

Not. Why on earth should she, when gorgeous Peter from Switzerland has just arrived?

A reader comes a-visiting

I can never emphasise enough how important book bloggers are to us writers.  Not only do they take the time to read and review our books, but they also come with advice and smart suggestions, and they generously give of their time to spread the word about our books.

So I felt it was about time that some of these book bloggers are given some “air time” of their own, and today I start with dear Stephanie, who, despite never having met her in person, I count among my real friends. Internet does have its upsides, doesn’t it?

Should one go browsing, this is what one finds about Stephanie:

StephanieStephanie M. Hopkins conducts author interviews, helps promote the B.R.A.G. Medallion and participates in the Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours. She has reviewed books for the Historical Novel Society, is Co-Admin of English Historical Fiction Authors Group on Facebook, and is an avid reader of Historical Fiction, Alternate History, Non-Fiction and History. She currently has several writing projects under way.
When she is not pursuing her love of a good read, chatting with authors and fellow readers (which is pretty much 24/7). Stephanie also enjoys creating mix media art on canvas. She is into health, fitness and loves the outdoors. These days she has no idea what rest is!

I would like to add to this that Stephanie is one of the more supportive people I have ever met, always generous in her comments, never snide. Not that many people are, these days… (And I can see her squirming on her chair, peeps. She doesn’t really like being in the limelight) Plus she now and then goes into these bouts of super-healthy living when she posts about her gym routines and her food (no carbs, no fat, no chocolate…)  – but I forgive her for this ;)

So dear Stephanie, welcome! And before we start chatting about the real stuff, how about some tea or coffee? I’ve even made my famous carrot cake to go with it. 

Thank you for having me visit with you, Anna! It is always a pleasure to chat with you. I would love a cup of tea and your carrot cake sounds divine!

(As an aside, I can assure you my carrot cake IS divine…)

 I read in a recent post with you, that your reviewing career sort of happened because of another book blogger spurring you on. But I would suppose that the main driving force would be your love of books, right? So, do you have any favourite genres?

Right on both scores! My favourite genres are Historical Fiction, Non-Fiction History and Alternate History. One of the things I love to do is talk books and spread the word on great reads. What better way to do than with writing book reviews?

I bet there are also some types of books you stay clear off. Any tip on what not to send you?

I’m not a fan of- Ahem- erotica, western romance, werewolves or vampire stories….
No, I’d sort of understood the paranormal is not for you ;)

You have a pretty strict policy when it comes to your reviews: if you don’t like the book, you will simply not write a review. Some people could argue this is the coward’s way out – and also, if only positive reviews are posted, what’s the point? What are your thoughts on this?

Well, I would have to disagree with those people about it being the coward’s way out. We all have our personal- and different – purposes in how we review or why we review for that matter…. I strive to share my love for reading and the books I love by writing positive (but honest) reviews…that is my purpose and personal decision. It is also my purpose to share what I find worthy of a reader’s time and money.
I have on occasion shared thoughts to fellow bloggers and friends about books I did not find agreeable to my taste-privately and occasionally in book groups or on my wall on facebook. And I have been known on occasion to give a bit of constructive criticism in my reviews…. Lol. Most of all, I know how hard writers work, what they sacrifice in their own personal life and their families lives to write stories to share with the world. So I respect writers too much…. 

One more thing….I have been known to reject a book for review and I will tell the authors why. Kindly and with respect that is….it is my way of helping the writer and letting know what I expect in the stories I read.

If you’re looking for a book, do you go to a real bookstore, or do you go to Amazon? 

I do both. My first love is an actual standing bookstore, of course. There is nothing like brushing your hand across the books on the shelves as you walk by them and seeing all the wonderful books surrounding you. I could probably live in a bookstore. I am the most comfortable there.
That makes two of us – as long as there’s a steady supply of tea and cake….

 Do you see a conflict between e-books and real books? Will one cannibalise on the other, and if yes, is that a problem?

E-books are here to stay and I’m sure e-books will eventually take over whether we like it or not….but there is still a small hope in me that won’t be the case. I love printed books way too much.

If you were to have your own bookstore, what would you not serve in the adjoining café? (Of course you’d have an adjoining café, right?)

A Café is a must in a bookstore….I probably wouldn’t serve alcohol. I wouldn’t want people drinking irresponsibly in my store and causing scenes or damage precious books.

 I know for a fact that you’re presently working on a novel of your own. How do you think your book blogging has affected your approach to writing? 

Yes, I’m hoping to get my first draft of, Poison Letter, done soon. It is so hard to find time in the day to focus solely on my own writing. Which – I know – I need to make a priority at some point during the day. 

Hmmm…..book blogging has given me a great deal to think about in my style of writing, how to proceed with it. Not only from what I’ve written and posted but from other guest authors on my blog. 

I believe there is a positive approach to writing and a negative one. Blogging has helped me discover the joy in writing. I have to admit, long ago I struggled with it and was too worried what other people thought of my writing, so I wouldn’t write stories. I would just write down my thoughts, ideas for stories and poems I love. Now, I write for myself and for the people who are encouraging and appreciative of what I do. I love to tell stories and by golly, I will. 

What drives you to write? And how do you find the time? 

As I said above, I love telling stories. There is putting my imagination to the test. That is a great thrill in itself. These days I am finding very little time to write but hopefully I will find more time when my daughter’s school starts back. That remains to be seen. As I type this, I’m planning on writing today. Ha!

Finally, if you were stranded on a desert island, what three books would you bring along? And why them?

Just three? Yikes! Oh, dear. The pressure is on. Okay, here it goes….

  1. The Holy Bible. Because it is the written word of God and is my instruction book on how to live the life that God wants me to live as a Christian. 
  1. The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Kay Penman. If I recollect this book is the first I have read of Sharon’s. It is a brilliant rendition of the controversial Richard III and the first historical fiction story I had read about him-if I remember correctly.
  2. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. The first two lines in the book says it all. “A secret’s worth depends on the people from whom it must be kept. My first thought on waking was to tell my best friend about the Cemetery of Forgotten Books.”

Good choices – but I would not be without Lord of the Rings…

Thank you so much for stopping by, Stephanie! 

Anna, it was an absolute pleasure! Thank you!

If you want to know more about Stephanie, why not pop over and find her on:

Layered Pages

Layered Pages Facebook Page

indieBRAG

indieBRAG Facebook Page

With the attention span of a gnat

When I was a child, dear reader, we had at most two TV channels. (No, it wasn’t black & white, I’m not that old…) In some parts of Sweden, the two Swedish channels were augmented by the Danish single channel. In others, one could peek at Norwegian TV. In the far north, the Finnish channel offered variation. (Woohoo! In an incomprehensible language…) Whatever the case, wherever you lived there were maximum three channels. The viewers were, to some extent, hostages to the educational and political purposes of the TV-makers. If there are no options, watching a documentary about World War II in the Baltic States can be quite intriguing, as can the two-hour programme depicting the history of the Swedish Social Democrat party. (No, we were not being force-fed. Swedish TV is a democratic institution and would therefore just as likely show a documentary about the industrial bigwigs as about the political party in power)

If the powers that were decided to show anything in English, chances were that this would be a British “quality production” where polished gentlemen detectives (think Dalgleish) solved complicated murders without ever becoming ruffled. To this day, Swedish people have a particular fondness for British series – Emmerdale Farm has been as much an institution in our lives as in that of British people…

In retrospect, this narrow selection made us all a bit more educated. Good at English, as the British shows were subtitled, not dubbed. Somewhat more knowledgeable about the world that surrounded us. Quite opinionated, which is why Swedish people so totally boycotted produce from apartheid South Africa, or why we staged loud protests against Pinochet in Chile. It felt good to exercise that world conscience most of us toted about, all of us quite convinced that we lived in the best of worlds, namely the egalitarian paradise named Sweden.

In the eighties, Swedish Television decided to broadcast Dallas. Life in Sweden was never the same again. Gone was the yearning for good black&white documentaries, for world peace and democratic processes. Instead, we hungered for anything American, preferably starring women with lots and lots of hair and men who swaggered and exuded self-confidence. You see, that is the conundrum that is Sweden; on the one hand a proud and very independent nation that believes we’ve cracked the code to the good life by ensuring all our citizens get affordable dental and medical care, free university education and generous parental leaves. On the other hand, a nation that can never get enough of dazzle and glamour, still somewhat enamoured by the dream of the good life in America (well, basically anywhere else but Sweden – as long as it is warm and has palm trees).

These days, viewers are bombarded with a selection of channels. Just flipping through them gives me a sore thumb, and I don’t even have them all. What I do notice, though, is that almost all channels offer similar infotainment fare. No in-depth documentary, instead it’s American Idol, a host of crime shows, an even larger selection of soaps, and an endless supply of rather inane entertainment shows.

Obviously, we get what we want, and apparently most viewers do not want to be made to think. We prefer slouching on the sofa, feet propped on the coffee table, as we watch a sequence of entirely inter-changeable shows, all of them defined by starring people with very white teeth, perfectly coiffed hair and toned bodies. Bleh. Double bleh. (Which is why I rarely watch television these days)

Just goes to prove that those old Romans had it right, didn’t they? Give the people bread and circus, and they’ll not worry overmuch about other matters such as politics and human rights. And seriously, people, isn’t that exactly what is happening? With the exception of that glowing minority which always exists, no matter culture or period in time, that elite of erudite people who never compromise when it comes to value and integrity, we seem to be evolving into uninterested ego-centred beings. The selection on TV isn’t helping (and may I just stop to say that there are exceptions; thank you for shows such as House of Cards, The Newsroom, Game of Thrones) Nor is the present development in news reporting, where it’s one punchy headline after the other, rarely accompanied by an in-depth analysis. Of course not: most of us can no longer be bothered to read about the background to the Israel/Gaza conlict, or the emergence of IS. We conclude, based on six words strung together by a snazzy wordsmith, that the truth is this or that. Guess what: the truth is far more complex, and politics and conflicts requires hundreds upon hundreds of words to set into context.

So where does all this leave us?
First of all, it makes us uninformed.
Secondly, it makes us surprisingly easy to misinform.
Thirdly, it makes us shallow – extremely shallow, having no understanding of context, and not caring overmuch to begin with.

People who are uninformed, misinformed and shallow are scarily easy to manipulate. If we’re not careful, soon enough we’ll stand tightly packed in town squares and roar our approbation as one savvy character or the other explains that all our woes are due to the XX (read as you wish: Muslims, Jews, red-headed people, Norwegian Oil companies, pygmy cannibals, men in pin-striped suits…)  Ring a bell anyone? Does it bring to mind a certain person with a distinctive mustache? Sheesh, I forgot: no it doesn’t, not anymore – after all, who ever bothers with stuff like history and analysis anymore?

Humans have great intellectual capacity. Humans are also per definition lazy creatures who like maximum output on minimum of effort. Let’s just be careful our inherent laziness does not result in the rather depressing title of this post – after all, who wants to be a gnat? And even worse, a MANIPULATED gnat.

Post Navigation

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 331 other followers

%d bloggers like this: