Book That Obsessed Me – Norse Mythology, by Neil Gaiman. I first became interested in mythology playing a video game as a child. I was fascinated to learn that there had been religions before the one I was being brought up in. Not just that, their beliefs seemed cooler than mine. They had heroes with swords who fought monsters, traveled to hell and challenged gods. I read obsessively about these religions. The big three that I cared about were Greek, Egyptian and Norse. The Norse myths had a special place for me. They were the only ones with a cold setting, and I live in Canada. The cold is present for most of my year, and these myths somehow incorporate characteristics endemic to cold worlds. These stories still carry weight today; how else should we explain that the only ancient gods still present on center stage in our modern pantheon of Marvel heroes are Thor, Odin and Loki? A higher proportion of the world know Thor today than did when he was actually worshiped! In this book, Neil Gaiman shares with us his own telling of the classic tales of our ancient heroes. He tells them to us as though he were a druid and we, the village folk, listening around the fire at night. Every time I opened this book, the world around me disappeared, and I found myself in the hall of Odin, or watching Thor as he defended Asgard, or following Loki as he schemed. I highly recommend this book.
One of my Favorite Pictures Ever – Logar Province, 1984, by Steve McCurry.
I have been paying attention for some time to Steve McCurry’s pictures. He doesn’t ever seem to give you context, captions, or anything else to think about. Just a picture. And what pictures they are. I think you should all go to his Instagram page (he will interact with you if you comment on his pictures, as I’ve discovered), or look him up on google. He seems to have been everywhere and seen everything. This picture shows three shepherds, or warriors, in Afghanistan. The man gesturing outward could be signaling anything for all I know, but I like to think that he’s looking at the world, marveling at it, and expressing that to his two companions. The Logar Province is in the north eastern part of Afghanistan, and borders Pakistan. The people living there have been the denizens of the mountains since before Alexander the Great’s army tried to subdue them, and they will be there, living an ancient way of life in the mountains, long after all our civilizations will be nothing more than paragraphs in history books. I will go there one day.
Documentary That I Loved – Vesuvius. This documentary is about the eruption of the volcano named Vesuvius in 79 AD. We know this event today as the eruption which engulfed the city of Pompeii, a popular touristic destination in Italy. If you do not know, the site is famous because the volcano preserved the ancient Roman city, and many of it’s inhabitants, in a perfect time capsule. Today, much of the debris has been cleared, and visiting the city is supposed to be as close as one can get to time traveling. This documentary however, focuses on the city next door named Herculanum, which though not as famous as Pompeii, was also covered by the eruption. If you’re reading this, it’s probably no surprise to you that I like history, but I honestly didn’t think much of this documentary when I started it, but I was so wrong! It covers so many things I didn’t know I wanted to know! For example, one archaeologist takes us through a roman manor where a fresco painter seems to have been at work as the volcano awoke. Paint doesn’t normally last thousands of years, but thanks to the ash deposits, it is still clear as day now. We can follow the painter’s progress, because his scaffolding, and even the pots containing his paints are still set up against a certain wall. It seems as though the painter had his brush on the wall when the volcano first shook the ground, as the archaeologist points out an obvious mistake, where the brushstroke went wildly astray. It was probably the last stroke the painter ever made in that house, and one can only hope he got out on time. Moments like this, isolated in time for eternity, are so special to me. The documentary covers a variety of topics related to volcanoes, to the roman empire, to engineering, and to the people who lived in the shadow of the deadly mountain.
Interesting Article I Read – China’s Most Secret Weapon: The Messenger Pigeon. I had always thought that the messenger pigeon was a species of bird that went extinct in the last century. I’m not sure where I got that information, but I was clearly wrong since I now read that in the event of a grid blackout, the Chinese military’s backup communications plan lays in the feathered wings of trained messenger pigeons. Today, we take it for granted that our marvelous technology will always be available to us, and marvelous it is: we are in the midst of a worldwide epidemic, but many people manage to work from home thanks to our communications technology. The same technology has made military logistics far more effective. One can read of past warfare, and discover that battles were often won or lost because of something as mundane as bad communication. Even in World War One, 230,000 Russians were defeated by 150,000 Germans at the battle of Tannenberg, primarily because of poor Russian communications. We often assume that the worst weapon in any arsenal are nuclear, but it might be the case that the most effective weapons a modern military could wield are EMPs (electromagnetic pulse), a device which can disable all electronic devices. We can only imagine how devastating such a weapon would be in our technologically dependent world. Would we even know how to keep the world working without technology? Perhaps we have forgotten. I’m not sure, but the Chinese military has a plan, and it seems likely that others do too. http://content.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2049569,00.html