21 January 2014

How to win a war?

Pennsic is a test of arms between the East Kingdom and the Middle Kingdom. As such there has to be some "keeping score" to determine who bests whom, right? Traditionally this has been through "war points." 37 war points to be exact. Traditionally SCA combat has been fought on an honor system. If you get hit hard enough you "die." If enough of your guys "kill" enough of their guys, you get the war point for that battle.

Over the 23 years I have been coming to war I have heard all sides complain about their opponents not taking blows, not dying even when a shot is "good." And when your opponent doesn't die there is a natural tendency to hit him and all his comrades harder. This, of course, makes everyone angry, and angry fighters hurt others and get hurt themselves.

A great deal of this is based in a desire to "win," but this year the king of the East has taken that factor out of the game. He ceded the War to the Middle at the opening ceremonies. Now some are saying that he did this in a fit of pique that the East had fewer fighters and allies than the Middle, and some are saying he did this in hopes that if the "win" isn't a factor everyone will play nicer. Some are saying that the East fighters are so angry about this that they will fight harder, and some others are saying that many East fighters will not bother to even take the field since there is nothing to fight for.

The first battles go off in about an hour. So we'll have to wait and see. As for me I think nothing much will change. Honorable fighters will still fight with honor for the joy of the test of arms. Assholes will still be assholes. The question each fighter has to ask him or herself is: which am I going to be?

Honor, courtesy, and chivalry are still hallmarks of living the dream.

Off to Pennsic . . . almost . . .

At 6 am I can tell already that the day here is going to be hot but beautiful. There is something about early mornings, though, before the heat. The sun and sky move slowly from grey to bright. The air is cool enough to make hot coffee a treat as much for the warmth of the cup as for the caffeine. I haven't finished my packing, however, and I find myself lollygagging.

No ordinary vacation, I am off to live in a ger (or yurt) among Mongols in the 12th century on the Steppes of Western Pennsylvania. Yes, it is once more time for The Pennsic War.

So my packing for Pennsic is still not done. Somewhat because I didn't get out of the office until late yesterday. Somewhat because I was still at the computer at home at 11 pm redoing some of the text in the reports that the boss needed today. And somewhat because I am at a point where Steve needs to do his bit before I can do more. I wonder sometimes if all this stuff is really worth it. Mind you, the yurt is stacked and ready to be loaded on the trailer. My trunks (way more clothing than I will need) are ready. It is the kitchen box and the coolers I need to pack. And Steve hasn't yet begun to pack his trunks. I am letting him sleep in this morning a bit longer while I putz on the computer. Neither of us seems highly motivated about Pennsic this year.

I suspect it will be late afternoon before we get on the road. Fortunately Pennsic is just across the border.

Sorry, Frog! I had hoped to make your planning meeting for next year, but it just ain't happening!

Pennsic Living

Someone I love said to me that his camping days are over, implying that this is roughing it. Pennsic is a different animal. This isn't ordinary camping. I have a yurt with oriental rugs and a queen sized bed piled with furs and pillows. Enough candles to light Versailles. A kitchen set-up as good as home.

In fact, the best thing about Pennsic is that I get to cook. I actually have time to cook. Last night's dinner was grilled teriyaki marinated pork loin, garlic butter rice, tossed salad with fresh tomatoes, olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing.

Breakfast today was chocolate filled croissants, fresh strawberries, and Gevalia Stockholm Roast coffee. This is decadent-living-style camping.

Tonight, steaks on the campfire, fingerling potatoes with fresh rosemary, corn on the cob, baby watermelon for dessert.

And then there is the food court here. You can get anything from Middle Eastern delicacies to ice cream, from Medieval stews in bread bowls to killer burgers. Yesterday I found one of the beverage places can do iced mocha smoothies.

Oh, you could live on hotdogs and Gatorade if you wanted to, but what fun is that compared to Cornish game hens stuffed with pears and raisins, wrapped in bacon and tin foil and baked slowly over a campfire the served with a nice Chablis?

So many books, so little time

Well, the summer's half gone and I haven't accomplished one quarter of my goals.  The hallway wall paper is finished (thanks, Gillie!) although the staircase still needs doing.  The Pennsic A&S stuff is nearly finished--the book of classes went to press, but there are always additional classes left to schedule and the webpages need updating daily with changes as teachers cancel, add more classes, want to switch days/times.
On the other hand I have been able to do a lot of reading. . . .   
For you murder mystery fans I suggest checking out the Magdalene la Bâtarde series by Roberta Gellis.  there are three volumes which should be read in order: A Mortal BaneA Personal Devil, and Bone of Contention.  Magdalene is the whoremistress of the Old Priory Guesthouse in Southwark--which is what first caught my attention when I read the publisher's blurb. 
I once took a remarkable walking tour of the high points of Shakespearean London (including a death-defying stroll along a not-really-public-access walkway on the Blackfriars bridge underpass) with William P. Williams; and when we reached Southwark, William told us the story of the Bishop's Geese. 
It seems that the Bishops of Winchester have always lived in Southwark (pronounced sooth-ark) in close proximity to the Cathedral there.  And because of the laws against theaters in London, the theaters (the Globe, the Rose, the Curtain) were built outside of the city walls--many in Southwark.  Well, theaters tend to attract crowds, and crowds tend to attract sellers of all sorts of merchandise.  One of the most popular things a theatergoer in Medieval times might be able to pick up in Southwark was a "lady of the evening." And since it made sense for such ladies to have "rooms" nearby, and since Medieval bishops tended to be wealthy and own properties, the bishops of Southwark became the landlords of many medieval to early modern brothels (note that I said landlords, not pimps, though I must point out that the distinction is rather unclear historically).  The upshot of the story is that the prostitutes of Southwark were many and often under the protection of the bishops, but you don't say things like that out loud--so the euphemism for prositutes soon became "the Bishop's Geese." 
Now you see why a murder mystery set in the 12th century where the mysteries are soved by a very uncommon lady who runs a very uncommon guest house under the protection of the bishop of Winchester sounds interesting to me?
Am I going to review this book; give you the 50 cent synopsis?  Nah.  You'll have to read it for yourself.  I'll just say that if you liked Brother Cadfael or Sister Fidelma or Dame Frevisse, you'll love Magdalene la Bâtarde!  Gellis has done her research on the period, and yet manages to push the feminist envelope with her treatment of the gender issues all the while telling a darn good story with characters you can care about.  I picked up the first book on Saturday, went back for the next two on Sunday--simply devoured them and can't wait for the next one in the series.  

Packing for Pennsic

Steve putting the final touches to the trailer. Take off time to Pennsic is now 6 pm. I think we set a new record for leisurely packing...12 hours!

Erin of Darkyard

So this morning I went to help at Waterbearer's Point. Despite the controversy over liabilities, there is still a need for water on the battlefield. Put several hundred guys in metal armor in the hot sun on a battlefield for hours on end and you, too, can see the need.

Over the years the service has evolved. There is a system for sanitizing the water jugs. The water is filtered and the jugs filled. And then volunteers transport filled water jugs to the field.

This morning I met a young lady named Erin over the tedious chore of filling water bottles. Pleasant surprise! She is from my own area. She is also an incredibly hard worker who deserves much praise for her contributions to Pennsic services! The picture here is of Erin standing in front of a few of the jugs she filled.

Guest Post: by Baroness Brise (aka: my friend Kendra) at Pennsic

Pale orange morning arrives on a golden drop of dew, the whir of golf carts going by. Last night's festivities on the battlefield have long since made way for hangovers. Bleary eyed travelers are still arriving as they have been through the night--minivans, pick-ups, school buses packed to the point of madness.

Shortly, what was once a big field will be a small medieval town with majestic gates, pavilions, yurts and towering camp walls of fabric, wood and extruded plastic (which doesn't have a poetic sound to it but it's a church with stained glass, a rhythm all its own). Soon there will be Lords and Ladies dressed in garb, nicer than their Sunday's best. Kings and Queens processing about, shimmering in the sun--crowns almost too bright. Knights making believe they are something a little better, a little more refined than they actually are--for no other reason than it sometimes feels good to be that guy just for a little while. Night will eventually nestle itself on a bed of wood smoke, lulled in by the beat of drums. Few fires are without dancers, barefoot in the dust. Painted faces, feet and fingers move like liquid. One by one the campfires will go out as Pennsic falls asleep in tents nicer than some homes--rugs, pillows four poster beds with tapestries all around.

Tomorrow the sun will rise again and we will do the same as we have all done for decades. Each a little better than before. I love this Pennsic town.

For now there are things to do. Territory to negotiate. Lines to draw in the dirt--the same lines we negotiate and draw every year with the same neighbors.

It's not all drunken assholes. It's not all risk and liability. There is beauty here you will never find anywhere else.

If it is Tuesday this must be AEthelmearc

Today has been rainy off and on. No thunderstorms (as were predicted), but hot and damp. I worked at Water Point all morning. So damp and even damper.

The bitching this war is all about the book. No day by day schedule. I told Frog, next years Pennsic Mayor, I'd do Cultural Affairs next war, and I promise a day by day hour by hour schedule. For PW 39 I am back to running Info Services. So any of you reading this... If you want a job... Email me!

Tonight is AEthelmearc court. Daedez, our much beloved Khan, will be getting her laurel for Mongolian research. Party afterwards. I have about 10 dozen Chinese dumplings in my cooler to fry for the party. And 4 dozen stuffed grape leaves as well. The Ansteorran brothers are doing the "big hunk of meat" on a grill thing. Much wine. Emma's made the infamous cheeseball. Good times will be had by all.

Stay tuned for pictures!

Last Friday at Pennsic

Last night was the typical "party at the gate." Pug had a keg of beer he wanted to empty, and what was left of the cyzer. We fed beer to passers by on the road, saved the cyzer for ourselves. Then there was the remainder of the Kahlua, the Baileys, some cherry liquor that Devon had which could easily remove paint, some St. Germaine that Irene brought. And a bottle of chai liquor that Corun gave me. (That of course engendered many jokes about "having a taste of Chai" which of course led to choices: a kiss from Chai or a pull on the bottle of chai?) The thing that is so hard to explain to non-scadians is the easy familiarity among SCAdians. The flirting, the hand-kissing, the hugging, the courtly-love behavior, the puppy piles.

There is a level of intimacy among SCAdians that doesn't even happen among some mundane families. We sit around campfires or gates and rub each other's backs or feet or hands, we snuggle and cuddle and enjoy the warmth of human contact with people we see only once or twice a year. We hold each other's hands through crises, confide intimate details of our lives, trust each other with steel, with our our wallets, with our children.

It is hard to put into words what these people on this hill mean to me. How much I love each and everyone of them. We call each other "brother" and we mean it in all senses of the word: family, comrade in arms, child of the same parent, of the Society and the Dream.

We come from Texas, Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Louisiana, Kentucky, Ohio. And if you added all the real time hours or days I have spent with some of these people--somewhere between 2 and 4 weeks a year for somewhere between 2 and 20+ years--it comes to mere days and weeks. But I tell you, I know them all. Some of them I have known for lifetimes and will know for lifetimes to come. We are family, not by blood, but by choice. Even those who have left the household are still with us. Corun no longer rides this path, but he still is my anda, my bredu. Lance rides in Northsheild these days, but we still count him among our own and when he was Pelicaned this week we gave (okay, inflicted upon!) him the family medallion with its chainmail burden.

Through the years we have lost brothers. Some have returned--Bojei, Teg. Some we have been lucky enough to reconnect with fortuitously--Kashra most recently! Others will never return in this lifetime, but live still in our hearts. Christopher. Moriseqti. Chinua. Kit. Dwarf. Ulrich.

This afternoon after Kuraltai we strike the Mongol set. The Tugh comes down first, then the wall and the gate. Tonight we will burn a Viking longship for Ulrich. And there will be more partying, Moritu and Pennsic staff as well. More drinking, toasting laughing, hugging, loving, and some crying, too.

And then we go separate ways. This afternoon Bagshi leaves. After dinner so will Bryn. Tomorrow morning the Ansteorrans pull out. And Silver and I packup and head home then, too. By Sunday evening the rest will be gone. Monday there will be nothing but grass left on the hill. Like Brigadoon this will all fade into the mist, gone again until next August.

But Moritu continues. This is roleplay, yes, but it is more than just that. It is a lifestyle, a commitment, a family as well.

I love you all, Andanar.

in the wee hours

Long day today. Here it is nearly 2 am and I am still sitting here waiting for a class confirmation email before I shut down for the night and get some sleep. Been scheduling classes for Pennsic all day (807 now and counting) and I think my brain is simply overloaded. Cass and Zsof and Elizabeth were all here today to help work on and proofread the Pennsic book. . . and we get to start again at 9am tomorrow. I seem to be double booking my hours now as well as my days. So much to do--so little time. . . Haven't seen Silver half enough! Lisa and Michelle stopped by after dinner when I just couldn't get up the energy to work on the book any more--and we sat on the porch drinking wine coolers and listening to the rain. I need more of that in my life. But then don't we all.

Are We Still Sitting on the Backs of Our Sisters?

Yesterday, on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the Internet became suddenly incensed over a photograph of a Russian fashion model gracefully sitting in a chair that seems to be made of the naked body of a black woman tied in a bondage pose. 

Outrage: Buro 247 used the horrendously offensive image, pictured, of Dasha Zhukova Monday to illustrate an unrelated interview about the former model's new magazine, GarageI saw Facebook posts. Twitter trends. Lots of outrage and people shouting in various forums. Headlines in online news papers like: 

"Russian oligarch's girlfriend sparks MLK day firestorm after posing on naked 'black woman' chair for fashion blog"

I wondered: was the photograph meant to be making a political statement about hierarchies of exploitation, people as furniture? Fashion exploiting the naked? Wealth juxtaposed with the bondage of the consumer? A statement on what? Racism? Forniphilia? Hedonism? (Did no one else notice that the photo on the wall behind her looks like it is of a man in bed between two women?) 

I remember a coffee table book of photographs I have somewhere with a series of photographs by Judy Olausen called "Mother" from many years ago where the artist's intent (using her own mother as a model) was to see the way a mother becomes a background object in a sort of nightmare '50s suburban setting--pushing the imagery with an intent to depict the marginalization of woman as wife and mother by and within societal expectations. 

I wondered if there was a similar artistic intent here. I mean, really, does anyone chose to sit in a chair that is that ugly? (And I mean visually ugly as much as politically ugly!) What was the intent here? Who is Dasha Zhukova? Is this a chair she personally owns? If so why did she use that chair? Or is it a chair the photographer / interviewer placed her in? Was that purposeful? What is the take home message? 

So this made me go do some research on the "chair"--I wanted to know if it was intended as an artist's statement (albeit in bad taste) intended to encourage an understanding or at least a closer look at oppression. Apparently it is part of a series by a British artist, Alan Jones, circa the late 1960s. He made a series of pieces of furniture using naked or nearly naked mannequins (black and white) in bondage positions, "Strippers as Furniture." In the 1960s Jones' "furniture" outraged feminists, too. We may be able to give him some benefit of the doubt if his intent was to showcase the fact that women are demeaned by the porn industry, but I can't seem to find much of the artistic statement on this--just the outrage

In the case of Zhukova's chair all I can find is the outrage as well. No one has questioned whether she owns the chair, why she bought the chair, or what she was thinking by posing in that chair. Bear also in mind that this is a Russian woman--the same cultural baggage an American sees here vis a vis slavery and race may not be as evident to her. Mind you, her ethnicity and wealth (she dances with billionaires, afterall) doesn't excuse insensitivity; it just explains it. 
Zhukova,also posted the photograph on her own Instagram feed. Then when the firestorm hit,she and the magazine that interviewed her cropped the photo to take out all but the "boots" of the chair--a very mea culpa moment that tells me she never realized how ugly this photo could be. 

It really is doubly ironic that the picture was posted on MLK day and that a woman who made her fortune in the fashion industry is relaxing "on the back," so to speak, of a naked woman. I doubt that,in this case, that anyone actually intended the photograph as an artistic statement about the exploitation of women--especially of black women--since Zhaukov was simply posing for an interview about her new fashion/art magazine Garage. Yet in someways this photograph and its incarnations--the original and the cropped out chair--now become a part of the record of the process of cultural awareness and change. Just as Jones' chair in the 1960s made us think about women's issues, so the photo of Zhukova reminds us that times change and people forget. Do we blame her for being a part of a generation or that has not faced the struggle for equal rights? Or for being part of a priviledged class that doesn't see the implications to others in the iconography of oppression in the very art she wants to support? For ignorance or for nsensitivity? Maybe the very thing we need to remember is that we are all loaded with our own cultural baggage and that photos like this are the things that allow us to react, to express our anger and our fears and our positions. Maybe that is the take home message. That we need to rejoice that people do react with outrage at such things! And that in reacting to such things, we too need to be sensitive--this is a teachable moment, not a reason for a lynching.  

As exhausting as the dialog can be regarding race, gender, privilege, and exploitation, it will be when we stop being aware, stop talking, and stop making (or even just finding) the inadvertent artistic statements defining such issues that we will have lost the battle. 

02 January 2014

Landfill Harmonic...

In a place with so little beauty, beauty is created from garbage. 
This gives me hope for all mankind.