Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Eustace, the Black Monk

"No one can live for a long time who has bad intentions all his days."

So ends the 1284 verse drama, mostly fiction and fancy, based on the tumultuous and violent life of the former Benedictine monk Eustace, son of the lord of Boulogne.  He was, as they say, bad as he wanted to be.
He served no master, king or God with any faithfulness.  It is said Eustace studied black magic in Toledo, Spain, before entering a monastery in Calais where he was known for his swearing and gambling, not his piety.  He left to avenge the murder of his father when about twenty, but the matter came to a duel which his champion lost; his adversary was then considered innocent.  With no prospects for justice, he somehow crossed the Channel and met King John of England, who must have been impressed, for the King gave the adventurer command of thirty ships to attack his former possessions in Normandy.  Losing John's support, probably due to intrigue by his enemies in Boulogne, his status changed from King's man to pirate.  He and his brothers established bases on the Channel islands of Guernsey and Sark, raided and plundered, and the Robin Hood-like legend grew.  Rumor had it that Eustace had made a pact with the devil to render his ships invisible, that he was capable of shape-shifting and employed impenetrable disguises.
When the French ejected him from the islands, he went over to their side.  Taking advantage of civil war in England in 1215, Prince Louis attempted an invasion to claim the throne the following year, sailing in one of Eustace's ships.  It failed, and in a second expedition the English attacked fiercely, boarded the flagship, and beheaded the Black Monk then and there.  A subsequent treaty required Louis to give up his claim to the English throne and remove Eustace's brothers from their lairs on the Channel Islands, which passed to English control.
Five hundred years later, the pirate Blackbeard had a quite similar life and death.  Had the Black Monk returned?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

It Was Ever Thus

With candidate "Psycho Rick" Santorum whipping up the evangelicals, the nightmare of a return to the Dark Ages where church and state are bound together in a frothy mix, and all safety and hope are lost, looms.
More insane things have happened over the centuries than any writer of fiction could conceive.  The prospect of going through them again horrifies.

An example:  there was a pope named Formosus ("good looking") who reigned in Rome from October 891 to April 896.  His successor (a lovely fellow -- he had been defrocked twice) was gotten rid of after a mere fifteen days by the Spoleto family faction, who put Stephen VI on the throne.  He was in turn imprisoned and strangled in August 897, but not until after conducting something known as the Synod Horrenda in January of that year.

Vicar of God on Earth Stephen had Formosus' corpse exhumed eight months after death, had it dressed in the vestments and propped up on the throne, so the poor thing could be put to trial.  Our dead friend was appointed counsel, who was wise enough to remain silent.  While accused of returning to Rome when he had promised not to, and of accepting the bishopric of Rome while still bishop of the diocese of Porto, the actual complaint was that Formosus had crowned an illegitimate descendant of Charlemagne as Holy Roman Emperor after doing the same earlier for a candidate of Stephen's faction (one Guy of Spoleto).  The popes continued in this deadly engagement in temporal politics within their spiritual domain until a really ticked-off H.R.E. thoroughly sacked Rome in the 1500s.  They then focused on killing heretics, native Americans, witches and Protestants rather than tangling with well-armed states, and thus survived.

Poor Formosus, though, was not just condemned at his trial and forgotten.  The three fingers of benediction on his right hand were chopped off, he was stripped and  thrown to the mob in the streets who dragged him to the Tiber River.  Some fishermen or a monk (stories differ after 1,000 years) retrieved the corpse, reburied it, and it eventually ended up back in St. Peter's Basilica (for a while).  All his ordinations, acts and appointments were alternately reaffirmed or rejected again by succeeding popes, culminating with Sergius III re-exhuming his body again to retry and then behead it.  Later it was declared he was never a pope at all (after all that effort to humiliate him).

All these fine leaders of us mere mortals were declared infallible by Pius IX in 1870 in Council, even though that idea had already been declared heresy in 1324.  Pius also stated that among the 80 Errors that his flock could never accept were rationalism and liberalism!

And that leads us back to our current situation.  No more rationalism or liberalism, says Rick...and no taxes, no civilization, and surely no public secular education.  He was born a millenium too late!

I hope.


Sunday, March 4, 2012

Don't Fade Away

After privately made postal cards were legalized in 1898, they were a craze, up to 1912.  Photographers and tourism sites benefitted.
What a difference colorization makes.  They were often done in Italy or India, and the actual colors were not known, so imagination reigned.
Stock or old B&W photos were colorized beginning in 1893.
"Dear Honey,
This is supposed to be down here some place But I don't know where

On the postcard's face side is a glossy black-and-white photo of Laurel Falls in the Great Smoky Mountains.

Snitz got around.

He was Paul B. Johnston, who called Dalmatia Pennsylvania home (it's due north of Harrisburg along the river), but by the postcard record he and his family left behind from the 1940s through the 1960s, home was where their hats were.  You wouldn't think that ordinary small town folks would have been such travelers, but over the years they visited Massachusetts, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ausable Chasm in New York State, the Big Apple itself (including the Empire State Building and the U.N., of course), the St. Lawrence Seaway, a cabin in Sullivan County, PA (I've been in one there, and on the covered bridge depicted), Alabama, Philadelphia, Niagara Falls, Waycross, GA, Florida many times ("it was about 120 degrees!") , and even Booger Hollow, Arkansas, which claimed a population of 7 countin' one coon dog.

World War II brought a lot of people out of their isolation in the countryside or within a square mile of a city, and took them to places they had never heard of.  Some, with cars newly available and small travel trailers, wanted to see this bigger world after 1945 and enjoyed sending back pictures of where they were to the home folks and how they wished they were there too.  Some G.I.s had passed through Hawaii or California, and didn't go home at all after discharge -- they wanted to live that postcard picture.

Paul B. spent 1944 at Camp Croft, South Carolina, writing to Mrs. Paul B. (mother? wife? hard to tell); the last one was obviously written in a hurry and began, "Honey get the coffee & Hot Dogs on the stove I'll be there to eat them before you know it tell Butchie to watch the Busses & I'll surprise him & step off of one..."  The area is a peaceful state park now, but was an infantry replacement training center then, whose graduates could well have expected short careers (the vets often survived, the green replacements didn't).  Paul B. got lucky somehow and returned home to those hot dogs and many memorable vacations.  A year earlier, in 1943, one L. A. Johnston sent a card home from the U.S. Naval Training Station at Sampson, NY, advising Paul "if they call you, you better join the Navy."  The last military-related card was sent in 1961, when the family received it from SGT Michael Weiss at Grafenwohr, Germany, saying he missed being home for Christmas, but appreciated their card.

Paul B. might have worked, when not traveling, for Capitol Iron & Steel in Harrisburg since a pocket memo booklet from that company was with the bag of old postcards all these were in.  The writer kept gas mileage records and three pages are taken up with notes on car purchasing: a Dodge with vinyl roof (1970s?) and air conditioning, payments after trade-in of $88 a month at 5.5% interest.  A "four-door automatic," brand unknown, at Keith Motors in Newport, PA was also under consideration.  It sported undercoating, a hood pad, plus the radio and light groups; $2250.  Whichever one, it probably was on its way to Florida within the year.

I wish there were a date on a unique nine-panel panoramic super post card depicting, in saturated full color, Bayfront Park in Miami.  It was more of a souvenir, not written on or meant to be mailed.  Surely, the printed caption deserves a quote:  "The great Pan American Airways System has its terminal here.  Its huge Clipper Ships make regular trips to the countries of South America, Havana and the West Indies.  Miami is truly a City of Allurement, whose spell enthralls all who have proved its charms and joy of life."  (Produced by the Eli Witt Cigar & Tobacco Co., Miami).  They could have used an editor at Witt, but the photo is luscious.

Believe it or not, a major postcard dealer has a card sent by Paul B. Johnston in 1966 depicting the Hershey Chocolate plant (Lotsofcards.com).  It's yours for $1.

Snitz sure got around.