Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Travel Tuesday: The Port at Kirkwall, Orkney Islands

I spotted this rusty old tub in the port of Kirkwall, on a rare sunny day a couple of summers ago. Kirkwall is the main city of the Orkney Islands, which are just off the north coast of Scotland. They are most famous for their Neolithic monuments such as the Ring of Brodgar and the Standing Stones of Stenness. The landscape is alluring too, with windswept coastline and impressive cliffs where puffins and other sea birds nest. Jump the cut for some more photos.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Old West Photo Friday: A Saloon in Alaska

Here's a fun photo of a little saloon called the Road House, in Bluff City, Alaska, c. 1906. This was one of the many mining towns that attracted prospectors to America's last frontier. Of course, all that digging made them thirsty.

As you can see, the Road House wasn't much of a place. Some saloons were even worse, being simple tents or, in warmer areas, just a board propped up by a couple of barrels and set alongside the path to the mines. Many saloon owners were basically traveling salesmen, going from mining town to mining town with their tent and booze packed in a wagon. When the diggings got scarce and the miner's money ran low, they'd head to a more promising town. The miners moved from place to place too, always hoping to hit the Mother Lode.

Most miners never struck it rich. A better way to make a living was to "mine the miners" by selling them overpriced booze or tools or canned goods. While everyone talks about the lucky prospectors who struck it rich, the real moneymakers in these towns were the businesses that supplied the miners.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Travel Tuesday: The Roman Theater in Merida, Spain

Welcome to Travel Tuesday, a new feature here on Midlist Writer. I'm active with the #traveltuesday hashtag on Twitter, so I decided to bring it on over to my blog too. Every week I'll be posting one of my travel photos and talking about it.

This shot shows the Roman theater in Mérida, western Spain. In Roman times it was called Emerita Augusta and was capital of the province of Lusitania. The city was founded in 25 BC. There are several well-preserved Roman buildings that make up a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The theater was one of the first buildings to be erected in the new city and was finished in 15 BC. It seated 6,000 people and, as you can see, its backdrop is in a remarkable state of preservation. It was improved between 333 and 335 AD, a time after the Roman Empire had converted to Christianity. The Church took a dim view of theater plays so its surprising the builders didn't remove earlier statues of pagan deities such as Serapis and Ceres. It looks like some folks in Emerita Augusta still valued the old ways.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Military History Photo Friday: Spanish Artillery Uniform for Morocco Service

I'm recently back from one of my regular trips to Morocco, where I saw old friends, made some new ones, and got some writing done. I managed not to take any photographs when I was there, otherwise I'd share them with you.

Luckily, there's an exhibition here in Madrid about the history of artillery in Spain. One of the pieces was this Spanish artilleryman's uniform from the 1910s. Part of Morocco was a Spanish colony at the time and men posted there wore special uniforms more adapted to the climate. You can compare it with a contemporary standard uniform to the right.

The material is lighter and seems to be local cloth. It looks like the cloth still used in some Moroccan djelabas today. It's light and breathes well, and also gets nice and warm if you layer it. Morocco is a cold country with a hot sun, as the local saying goes, so you have to dress properly!

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Book Review: The Betrayed

The Betrayed (The Lost Words, #1)The Betrayed by Igor Ljubuncic
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
The Betrayed is the start of a promising grimdark fantasy series. There are multiple POV characters who provide different viewpoints on an escalating religious war. As you'd expect with grimdark, there's a lot of violence and a fair amount of gore, although it's never gratuitous. The world is nicely fleshed out and the various cultures are drawn in a distinct manner and really come alive.
My one problem with this book was that the characters are a bit superficial. We never get deep inside their heads to find out their motivations and how they made it to where they are. This is especially true of Adam the Butcher, who goes from being a male prostitute to Pol Pot without batting an eye. The monk character is drawn better than the others, but even he at times seems to be going through the motions. It reminded me a bit of Game of Thrones (the show, not the books) where too many characters were hardened warrior/political types who rarely showed much personality beyond a knack for survival.
Still, this is a good read and a bodes well for the author's career. If you like grimdark fantasy, consider picking this up.

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Thursday, 8 January 2015

Muslim Depictions of the Prophet Muhammad

Considering recent events, this is a good time to point out that the ban on depictions of the Prophet Muhammad are not universal in Islam. There have been eras in the past where Muhammad was depicted in visual form, and he continues to be depicted in parts of the Muslim world today.

The above picture is taken from the Siyer-i Nebi: The Life of the Prophet, written in Cairo circa 1388 and illustrated in Constantinople (modern Istanbul) in 1595. The book contains several images of Muhammad. This one shows him and his followers marching on Mecca accompanied by angels. In all of the images the prophet's face is covered. More illustrations from the book can be seen at the website for Bilkent University in Turkey.

The University of Bergen also has a webpage of Muslim art show Muhammad. One of them is this Shia image from Iran. Most Persians have never followed the belief that Muslims are forbidden to create images of humans, and this has extended to including Muhammad in their art. Most Sunni believe that such depictions are wrong, but as the Ottoman image proves, this hasn't always been the case.

Monday, 5 January 2015

Book Review: Too Far From Home By Paul Bowles

Too Far From HomeToo Far From Home by Paul Bowles
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bowles is famous for his surreal study of foreigners enthralled by Morocco, The Sheltering Sky. He wrote numerous books about the country and other North African nations during his decades of residence in Tangier. Too Far From Home, first published in 1991, was one of his last.
Like many of his works, this follows the lives of foreigners who, for various reasons, have settled in distant places. In this case it’s Anita, a recent divorcee who has come to a remote town on the Niger River to stay with her brother Tom, a painter.
Anita’s reaction to her new setting is mixed. She finds the harsh scenery strangely alluring, but the people disturbing. Her middle-class American racism makes her uncomfortable around the locals, especially Sekou, a minor chief who helps around the house. Soon Anita is dreaming of Sekou, and a run-in with some callous tourists starts a series of events that bind Anita and Sekou in a relationship far closer than the one she initially feared he desired.
All this is told in Bowles’ precise yet dreamy style. This is a short novel, less than a hundred pages, and acts as a good introduction to the master’s writing.
My 1994 Peter Owen edition has some wonderful line drawings by Marguerite McBey, herself a longtime resident of Africa. These sketches really add to the text, so get this edition if you can.

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Looking for more from Sean McLachlan? He also hangs out on the Civil War Horror blog, where he focuses on Civil War and Wild West history.

You can also find him on his Twitter feed and Facebook page.