marina_bonomi: (book) one of my favorite characters would say.

Among the people and groups I follow on Twitter there is (a wonderful resource on its own account), through them I discovered Unbound and a very special book.

Unbound is a British Kickstarter-like site, for books only, and the project posted about is The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth. The wake is an historical novel set in the aftermath of the Battle of Hastings, in the author's words it is a story of the collapse of certainties and lives; a tale of lost gods and haunted visions, narrated by a man of the Lincolnshire fens bearing witness to the end of his world.

As if it wasn't enough (for me it definitely was), this is what the author has to say about the a very specific struggle I'm sure many on my friends' list will relate to:

More than three years ago, I began to write a historical novel which made me realise why I don’t read many historical novels. I couldn’t make the words fit, and I gradually began to see why: the language that we speak is so utterly specific to our time and place. Our assumptions, our politics, our worldview, our attitudes – all are implicit in our words, and what we do with them. In order to have any chance of this novel working, I realised I needed to imagine myself into the sheer strangeness of the past. I couldn’t do that by putting 21st century language into the mouths of eleventh-century people.

So I constructed, almost by accident, my own language: a middle ground between the Old English that would have been spoken by these characters and the English we speak today. The result is a book which is written in a tongue that no one has ever spoken, but which is intended to project a ghost image of the speech patterns of a long-dead land: a place at once alien and familiar. Another world, the foundations of our own.

Here is a short excerpt:

when i woc in the mergen all was blaec though the night had gan and all wolde be blaec after and for all time.a great wind had cum in the night and all was blown then and broc. none had thought a wind lic this colde cum for all was blithe lifan as they always had and who will hiere the gleoman when the tales he tells is blaec who locs at the heofon if it brings him regn who locs in the mere when there seems no end to its deopness
none will loc but the wind will cum. the wind cares not for the hopes of men
the times after will be for them who seen the cuman
the times after will be for the waecend

who is thu
who is thu i can not cnaw
what is angland to thu what is left of angland
i spec i spec i spec
no man lystans

I know this book will drive me crazy, but I also know I'll enjoy every minute of it.

Read Today

Oct. 1st, 2012 09:13 pm
marina_bonomi: (facepalm)
Because of sexual discrimination, women in ancient China seldom received education. Women were not expected to write so their work were usually lost to the time.

Really? Everywhere in China? Always in ancient China, never mind that (restricting it to imperial history) 'ancient' (or 'traditional') China goes from 221 BCE to 1644 CE (if you don't count the Manchus, 1911 CE if you do)?

And how come, then, that one of the most famous ancient Chinese historians is a woman, one who was  also a poet and  court librarian, taught the Empress and the ladies of the court and whose daughter-in-law was  a writer too?

How come that Stanford University Press has published Women Writers of Traditional China a 928-page anthology including works by about 130 female poets (and poets only) from the Han dinasty  to the end of the empire?

This kinds of extreme generalizations drive me crazy, they tend to pass from a divulgative book (or article) to the next without anyone bothering to check, much like the 'dirty and brutish' view of the European Middle Ages or the fable of the widespread hate of cats in said Middle Ages for being witches' familiars  (never mind that the animals most often quoted as diabolical were black dogs and that the height of the witch hunts was in early modern times).

It isn't the case of the OP, but often, when I see this kind of statement about women being oppressed in ancient China I can almost hear a congratulatory self-pat on the back, an unspoken 'here it was different'. Pray, tell: how many women writers can you mention for the Roman Empire? How many Greek female poets but for Sappho?
Today the postman brought me a little treasure, a paperback copy of The Assisi Underground by Alex Ramati, the book was published  originally in 1978 in the UK under the title Why the Pope Kept Silent, it is a non fiction work telling how a network of people in Assisi among which Father Rufino Niccacci hid and protected hundreds of Jews.

I was familiar with mr. Ramati through his And the Violins Stopped Playing an haunting, heart-breaking book on the Rom and Sinti genocide. I had seen the TV movie based on The Assisi Underground but didn't remember the book until I found it by chance, I ordered it on the spot.

This afternoon I was browsing the epilogue (more of an Author's Note, really), and found these words:

 The Yad Vashem  (...) had arranged a ceremony to honour the poor peasant monk (sic) who became the hero of a wartime rescue operation. A forgotten hero. His file was only number 876 and he was only the 300th person to be honored in Israel and only the twenty-fifth Italian. For, in spite of their love for the dramatic, the Italians showed great restraint in telling of their actions which had resulted in saving 80 per cent of Italian Jewry, the opposite of what happened in the rest of Europe, where, except for Denmark with its 8000 Jews spirited away to Sweden, 80 per cent of the Jews perished. All in all, 32000 Italian Jews and several thousands foreign Jews were hidden successfully by the Italian people, most of them in monasteries and religious institutions. Monsignore Montini, who headed the Holy See's Aid Service to Refugees during the war and who in 1955 was to become a Cardinal and later Pope Paul VI turned down the gold medal offered him by the Jewish Community of Italy. 'I acted in the line of duty' he answered, 'and for that I am not entitled to a medal'. 

The IndieGoGo campaign is still going, at the moment it has raised 211,168 US $.The promoters have decided to extend the fundraising deadline to try to reach their 1 million dollars target, but as of now the auction is STILL scheduled for this Saturday. If you have been thinking about contributing, now is the moment.

In other news the Rosebud Sioux tribe has allocated 1.3 million dollars to buy as much of Pe'Sla as possible (I'd like to point out that the Great Sioux Nation doesn't have a casino-based economy, setting apart that much is seriously going to hurt).

There might be some light in the distance: the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Professor James Anaya “urged today the United States Government and the local and state authorities in South Dakota to address concerns expressed by the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota peoples about an impending private land sale in the Black Hills region of the central-northern state, that will affect a site of great spiritual significance them” (quoted from the campaign updates), read more here

The auction, though, has neither been suspended nor delayed

If you can't do anything else, spread the word, please.

There is also this online petition I found today, asking that Pe'Sla be designated as historical landmark or nature preserve.
Since I first read about it a few days ago I've been following the 'Save Pe'Sla' IndieGoGo campaign, honestly with very mixed feelings:

Donations and support messages keeps coming in, true, but where is the public outrage at people scrambling to buy land that was stolen from them in the first place?

Where are all the advocates of religious freedom?
Where are all those guys and gals who went out of the movie theaters after seeing 'Dances with Wolves' declaring loudly that 'It is a shame how they were treated' and 'If it were for me...'?
Where are all the armchair warriors for minority rights?
Where are all the film-makers and writers that made millions off Native history and culture?
Where are all those who go 'Oh, their way of life and beliefs are so great, they are SOOO connected to the Earth, you know, I admire them a lot'?

I've seen more than one crowdfunding campaign for a videogame get overfunded by more than one million dollars in a few days, is justice less important than a videogame?

If you can't do anything else, just spread the world, there is still time if everybody does a little something.

My auction for Pe'Sla is still going on, see the last 4 posts in my journal.
Here is the last 20-postcard booklet:

Auspicious Chinese Patterns (papercut)

cutout patterns

Auction runs till midnight GMT on Wednesday the 22nd

Please comment to place a bid

Payment via Paypal as soon as your bid is confirmed as the winning one.

The Pe'Sla Indie GoGo campaign

This lot is a  20-postcards booklet called 'Splendid Slippers for Lotus Feet', photos of 20 different pairs of shoes for bound feet, from the Sung Dinasty to the early Republic


To place your bid please comment below.

Auction closes at midnight GMT on Wednesday the 22nd (meaning in the night from Wednesday to Thursday).

Payment: via Paypal as soon as your bid is confirmed as the winner

Shipping costs: none, I'll cover them myself everywhere in the world.

The Pe'Sla Indie GoGo campaign
marina_bonomi: (facepalm)
Before leaving I loaded my kindle with books, not a few Roman-themed, among these was The Forgotten Legion, set in  late Republican Rome. Characters end up fighting the Parthians with Crassus and being marooned in Central Asia after his defeat, very likely ending up in Liqian, China according to the author's note. I was very curious to see how someone else had treated the subject.

I didn't make it halfway through the book.

I could more or less tolerate two Gauls discussing a wolf-hunt and speaking of the 'alpha male' (time-travelling ethologists, maybe?), I could stomach late-empire typologies of gladiators thrown in to 'enliven' the arena scenes (it won't be either the first or the last time), the description of life in slavery felt more like Roots that the first century BC, but that is nothing new either (although, come on, slaves rarely allowed out of the house on their own for fear they'll escape? People kept in shackles all the time in a city house? ), one of the main characters being referred to as a 'rookie' in the gladiator school, though, was almost too much, and when I reached the scene where street urchins pelt Crassus' bodyguards with overripe tomatoes of all things, I couldn't take it anymore.

This is one of those times I miss reading paper books, throwing The Forgotten Legion against a wall and, this winter, using it as kindling would have been really satisfactory.

I need to cleanse my brain, De Bello Gallico sounds just about right. 

I'm back

Aug. 14th, 2012 10:29 pm
And I admit it in public: I fell head over heels for Rome, that city gets her hands on you and doesn't let go.

It's incredible. Not only the museums (statues everywhere, and mosaics, and paintings, and all those bronzes, oh, Lord! All those ancient bronzes!), but the stratification of history everywhere within the 'old' quarters, knowing that while one walks around one is threading in the footsteps of Caesar, Cicero, Horace, Gregory VII, Michelangelo, Raphael, Cellini; saints and sinners, artists, poets, musicians, princes and agitators, artisans and imperators.

One reads about her (forgive me, but Rome is, without any doubt, female), learns her history; the language of her citizens spread through alliances and conquests, one can well hate the rethoric sourrounding her, the ruthlessness of her wars, the appropriation of everything Greek and Egyptian (not a single philosophical school was originally Roman, for instance), and then this sorceress of a city unleash her charms...and that's it. Just like countless others who went there through the centuries, one fells in love in the space of a single afternoon.
The Vatican Museums are beyond description (we felt somewhat sorry for the modern art collection, sadwiched between the Raphael Rooms and the Sistine Chapel), as are the Capitoline Museums, but simply walking around one can be surprised, turning a corner, by Pasquino  , or the Temple of Hercules Victor or the Column of Trajan...

I naively believed that Rome would be somewhat just a bigger Verona (there are a lot of similarities between the two, honestly), but she disabused me of the notion immediately, I think I've a fair idea, now, how Vergilius and Catullus felt when they first set eyes on the Caput Mundi .

Capitoline museums
had been close allies for about 2000 years, how would world history be different?

A few days ago [ profile] ysabetwordsmith left a prompt to [ profile] thesilentpoet:

In 97 AD, Chinese General Pan Chao sent an embassy to the Roman empire, but little came of it. Suppose China and Italy had united, how would that change things?

This poem was the result, outlining a whole timeline. If you know me you can imagine the rest, I wanted more and wanted to see what [ profile] ysabetwordsmith herself would do with a few prompts related to this alternate-history universe, [ profile] thesilentpoet agreed as well.
The result were The Treasures of Marco Polo based on a couple of items listed in an inventory after Marco's death he never spoke about; The Lost and Found Legion about the idea of the embassy and the identity of the ambassador and the , as yet unpublished The Tea Tempest.
I was reading about the real embassy sent by general Ban Chao and how in Chinese documents it is said that ambassador Gan Ying turned back because of the info he got from some Parthian sailors about the lenght of the remaining leg of his trip to Rome and the dangers involved. Fact is that Parthians and Scythians were the middlemen of the silk trade and wouldn't have been too happy if the two empires started dealing with each other directly.

I couldn't help but imagine a pair of Parthians trying the same stunt on a very different ambassador, [ profile] ysabetwordsmith 's Cai Luoma, the result was:

Cai Luoma and the Parthians

They tried it on him, the two Parthian brothers.

The older spoke first, in sorrowful tones:

“This sea, o my friend, is so vast and large,

With terrible storms, and many hidden dangers;

It may take years  to cross it at all”.

Then spoke the younger, with honeyed words:

“ This we say to you  in token of friendship,

Your faraway lord, no matter how wise,

Could not have known  the dangers you face”.

Insisted the brothers, concern in their voices:

“Providing for many, your friends and retainers,

Will tax your resources, will leave you stranded,

Turn back while you can, we speak out of care”.

But in truth... )
marina_bonomi: (book)
This is another of my favorite Chinese poems (actually the first stanza, but I want to translate it in full).

It is older than the Tang, in fact it dates from the Northen Wei dinasty (386-534 AD) although the original collection it was part of is lost, and the ballad survived in another, much later, opus. I find it remarkable in many ways.

木 兰 辞
Mulan ci

Jiji fu jiji, Mulan dang hu zhi.
Bu wen jizhu sheng, wei wen nü danxi.
Wen nü he suo si? Wen nü he suo yi?
Nü yi wu suo si, Nü yi wu suo yi.
Zuoye jian juntie, kehan da dian bin,
Jun shu shier juan, juan juan you ye ming.
Ah ye wu da er, Mulan wu zhang xiong.
Yuan wei shi an ma, cong ci ti ye zheng.

The Ballad of Mulan

Whirr-clack and again whirr-clack, Mulan weaves facing the door.

(But now) no sound from the loom is heard, only (our) daughter’s sighs.

“ Daughter, what are you thinking of? What are you brooding over?”

Nothing I’m thinking of, nothing I’m brooding over.

Yestereve I saw the army register, the Khan is levying the troops.

The register is twelve scrolls, each one bears father’s name.

Father has no first-born son, Mulan has no elder brother.

I wish to buy horse and saddle, soldiering in father’s stead.

Mulan is an enormously popular character in Chinese folklore, it all started from this ballad, composed about 1500 years ago. From here came a novel written during the Ming dinasty, more poems, theatrical plays, TV series, live-action movies and cartoons, including the Disney one that gave Mulan popularity in the West (the downside of it is that many schoolchildren over here think Disney invented Mulan).

I liked the Disney movie for many reasons, and honestly I don't mind the chronological mish-mash overmuch, after all in China beloved stories are told and retold and undergo many transformations, so long as the 'layering' is evident and the different strata are there if one digs, I have no problems with the process.

But I like the original better, and some of the reasons are right there in the first stanza. For starters, Mulan is no freak: no girl out of place trying to conform to the norms of society and failing. She enters the scene fulfilling the expected duty of an unmarried daughter, weaving for the family, but is pondering on a problem,the call to arms her family cannot answer, and comes up with her own solution.

Mulan doesn't steal out of the house during the night. She has a plan and executes it with the full knowledge and consent of her parents. The Northern Wei was a troubled time, historians say that it's very likely that women (specifically in Northern China where the ballad originated) received weapon training as a matter of course, in Wei statuary there are images of female warriors. So why is she passing herself off as a man? I think (and it's all speculation on my part, mind you) that it may depend on a technicality.
The ballad says that the army scrolls bear father's name and also  Father has no first-born son, Mulan has no elder brother, my guess is that a son could fulfill his father's duty if the latter was incapacitated but there was no written rule about a daughter doing the same, so Mulan assumes a man's identity (later works say she takes her younger brother's name) to avoid a possible refusal.

Everyone has her or his pet pevees, I have a few of mine, often language related.

Recently I started bumping into the expression Eurocentric fantasy , it never fails to raise my hackles in 1 second flat. Why? Because it is shorthand for clicheed, sexist, ethnocentric, unimaginative, stale fantasy set in a world theoretically inspired by medieval Europe.

The fact is that there is very little of either medieval or European in those works. To me, an European weaned on mithology and sagas, they have the same relation to the real thing as a Mc Donald frankfurter has to the bratwurst I had in Koln last time I was there.

Let's see : women were oppressed and had no power at all (never mind that a woman's lot was far worse in the XIX century than it was, by and at large, in the XII), everybody was ignorant, only the clerics could read and they wanted to keep things as they were (never mind that universities were a medieval invention, where students were in charge and chose their teachers, also, most universities were of ecclesiastical origin), also everybody within a kingdom seems to be of the same ethnicity, speaks the same language and has a rather homogeneous mindset, thing that totally ignores the influence of such modern elements as a unified school system and television in spreading the official language and the dominant culture.

Moreover, everybody seems to live in a kingdom, monarchy is the default for this sort of fantasy, what about oligarchies of different stripes, what about city-states, what about dictatorships, for instance (do you know that dictatorship is an ancient form of governement and didn't have a negative connotation per se, right?)

If there is any research done before those books are written, it is based  on little more than divulgative books rehashing older texts and so called popular knowledge (aka things that get passed down and nobody bothers to check).
Let see for instance the case of the Norsemen: viking is almost a byword for 'barbarian with a lot of muscle and not much brain wielding an axe and wearing an horned helm'.
Well, there's a saying in France referring to the Normans (the people of Normandy, descendants of the Norsemen who settled there), it goes Normand, renard, Norman, fox. It was their cunning together with their ruthlessness they were famed for, the same cunning and political acumen that allowed them to get Normandy and conquer England, besides they built incredible ships and were great merchants .

And of course any Eurocentric fantasy has dwarves and elves. Folks, Europe has a lot of peoples in itself, each with their own traditions, legends and mythical creatures, from the domovoi to the anguana, from the lamia to the saliga and the salvani, and we have ancient history all around us, which in time turns to legend.

I live in a mid-sized town in a place that was inhabited since the Neolitic, our cavalry fought against Hannibal at Cannae. Later, roman buildings like our arena  became the matter of local legends.
The images of Charlemagne's paladins are sculpted on the portals of our churches and we still tell the legends of king Theoderic the Great   and sing of queen Rosamund .
A well known figure here is la Gran Contessa (born just a few kilometers away) and near my home is the fortress where Adelaide of Italy was held prisoner by her husband's murderer.

And this is just my small corner of Italy. In my country, besides a myriad dialects we have linguistic minorities speaking German, French, Occitan, Arbërisht and Griko each group with different habits, traditions, history, legends, a trasure trove for any writer looking for fresh materials and doing serious research, this in just a single country of old Europe.

Personally, I think of that kind of stale, tired fantasy clichè with an expression I got from [ profile] ysabetwordsmith , mcfantasyland, to me it conveys the idea of stale, bland and second-hand without slamming my background and cultural tradition, thank you

Link to a wonderful post I reached through[ profile] kateelliott that articulates this better than I can and sparked this rant of mine.



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