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Who is This Guy?

February 1, 2012 1 comment

Dave loves the ancient Mediterranean world. He’s a well-travelled writer and photographer who has explored Classical and Bronze Age sites throughout the region. From the pre-pyramid Mastabas of Saqqara in Egypt to the storied cities of Magna Graecia to the mysterious Megaliths of Malta, he’s wandered in the footsteps of mysterious, fascinating and mostly unknown Antiquity.

A few years ago, he spent some time amidst the three-millennia-old stones at Mycenae in the Peloponnese, and then at Knossos on Crete. This experience ignited a deep interest. He plunged into the the churning sea of scholarship about the age of Homeric legend, the time when a thousand black ships sailed to war, the high towers of mighty Ilium fell and wise Nestor ruled sandy Pylos.

Out of that study, the outlines of a lost time appeared. It was the more than four centuries that followed, until the bard we call Homer finally wrote down his epics.

For most of that chaotic, danger-filled time, a Dark Age reigned. Perhaps a generation after the Greeks’ conquest of Troy, history’s terrible club, bristling with long, poisoned spines, slammed down on the victors. It smashed their world to bits in just a dozen years. Only a scarred and battered few survived, For those remnants, warm sunshine that nurtured a high, fertile plateau of civilization had just winked out. And, amidst the ruin and death, Fate arose, terrible and merciless, to hurl them into twenty generations of bloody, barbaric night.

Why? How? And, what happened after whole civilizations were snuffed out? Especially, what happened then that later spawned the ideals of Classical Greece, those thoughts that form the core of Western Civilization and have been a shining beacon for humanity ever since? Dave sees amazing stories in the answers to those questions, ones that need to be told.

Thus began his journey as a novelist. And, now, most of his first book, False Light, has tumbled across his keyboard into a rough manuscript. It’s a tale of adventure, passion and sorrow, civilization and barbarism, fools and wisdom, cowards and heroes, true friends and implaccable enemies.

The story is set in a prosperous ancient world that doesn’t yet know it’s on the brink. Little time remains before all is swept away in one last, screaming plunge into the Abyss. For those who care to delve, this epic novel may also hold an insight or two about the fragile stability of modern times as well.

……………………………….

The Dave of today is a former Marine and Navy man. Degreed as an engineer, he spent more than 10 years in the service, enlisted and officer. Then, he worked far longer as a businessman. He has always lived as an outdoorsman. Dave’s personal philosophy aligns in many ways with that of author Robert Heinlein, where narrow specialization is best left to insects. Also, his outlook resembles Mark Twain’s: moderation in all things, including moderation.

Home for Dave is near a pristine river in the clear, bright High Desert of Central Oregon. Proud of his whole family, Dave shares their deep respect for his Cherokee great-grandmother.

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

As you might surmise, copyrights apply to everything about the book, False Light, and The First Dark Age series of which it is a part.

Snooze and Ski in Santorini

January 29, 2012 2 comments

Dave the WriterWe were on a mission: find the perfect hotel for our upcoming anniversary. So, high above the deep, blue Aegean waters, we explored Thira Town on one of Greece’s most fabled islands.

With some Traveller’s Luck, we managed to achieve our objective by mid-morning: three nights booked in a romantic room with a phenomenal view for two people who were cozily sipping their morning coffee in bed.

We strolled back past the island’s whitewashed homes, shops and churches. Most of them had bright blue trim and dazzled us in the morning sun. We also marveled at how fortunate we were to be on Santorini for the first time when so few other visitors were around.

Every few feet, I’d stop for another photo op or she’d be drawn through another open shop door by that primal urge to declare “Look what I found!” when we linked up again. I have to say that whenever she does tell me that, she has found a small treasure. Not everything is a perfect green velvet riding coat, but all are ‘just right’ for the time and place.

The most scenic part of Thira town is built on the interior crater wall. In a few places, white structures hug the very steep slope all the way to the water. But, mostly, they spread down only fifty yards or so from the ridgeline. Narrow main streets run parallel to the ridge, so there’s the happy situation where you can mostly have a clear view across scenic, well-kept roofs toward the dark, barren lava island in the crater’s center.

As I finished taking the photo to the left, my bride grabbed my arm and guided me to see a roof she’d found a little way ahead. There, snoozing blissfully was a handsome cousin of Max, her beloved German Shepherd from girlhood. I couldn’t begin to describe how much she’d loved that dog, or how safe she’d felt with him by her side. But, every big, healthy ‘Max’ who we meet just melts her heart—perhaps this one most of all.

Later, we took the funicular down from the town center to the small-boat quay. The conveyance looks more like a ski lift than a typical European funicular. Each small, windowed cabin holds four people comfortably—or six whose sense of personal space has been forever ‘adjusted’ by Riechsfuhrer Napolitano and her Gropen SS Battalions.

We rode down with a couple whose ship was anchored close to the crater wall below. After a little small talk, I asked where they were from and what they did when not cruising the Aegean. The well-dressed and bejeweled woman smiled under her broad-brimmed white hat and replied in a smooth voice with just a hint of Southern Belle. They were skiers from Connecticut.

At our puzzled looks, she let out a soft chuckle and delivered her punch line, “Yes, skiers, as in Spending our Kids’ Inheritance.”

In the few minutes remaining of our descent, we learned that they traveled a lot, and always in style.

After saying our farewells at the lower station, my bride and I realized that now we must be skiers in two ways!

SKIers Ship

Time is Hungry

January 26, 2012 3 comments

Dave the WriterIt ate the Etruscans and then, eventually, those upstart Neo-Etruscans, the Romans. Time is funny that way.

One day some years ago, it had also eaten most of an Italian hill town named Civita di Bagnoregio, east of picturesque Lake Bolsena and south of the much more famous hill town of Orvieto in Italy.

My bride and I had walked across the long, narrow bridge to the Civita one cool morning, pursuing our duties as Card-Carrying Etruscophiles. As you may know, the Etruscans thrived in what is now eT(r)uscany from about 800 BC. They also launched a lot of what we think of as Ancient Roman culture.

Around 2,500 years ago, when the Etruscan rapper, Big ‘E’, and his crew founded the Civita, it was much larger, though still a very defensible place high above the two surrounding stream valleys. One of the plusses for them then was the soft tufa rock. It erodes fast and offered a steep approach to deter Bad Guys. It could also be easily shaped into walls, structures and stone-cut storage rooms inside the hill.

One of the minuses today is that more than two-thirds of the ancient town has fallen away, a loss hastened by the big quake of 1695 AD. Long ago, the two valleys were filled with gently-sloping, fertile fields. Now, they’re a relatively barren landscape of what the locals call calanchi (gullies, ditches and small ravines). That’s what happens in a few thousand years wherever tufa overlays sand, as it does in this countryside. But, intense Medieval agriculture surely hurried the process. The medievals weren’t as into maintenance as the ancients.

The fertile terrain of ancient times was likely quite well-preserved until the Fall of Rome in the West, when irrigation and terracing systems were no longer maintained. Those pesky barbarians just thought that plundering wealth would produce the same quality of life as civilization. kind of like today’s Occupy movement. Even so, though we don’t see now the landscape that the ancients saw, it is a lovely and fascinating view.

Normal Italians live back along the ridge line in the rest of Bagnoregio (literally ‘The King’s Bath’, a name given the place by Medieval Lombard invaders). Only about thirty people still live in the small Civita area, mostly Brits and Americans, for uniquely Brit and American reasons. There’s a simple church, though, so at least one Italian priest probably lives there as well.

The evening of our visit day, over another in a long series of relaxing Italian dinners, we were moved by what we’d seen to wax philosophical about Time’s perspective on human history. Incidentally, we measure human history as starting when dogs finally domesticated us, about 15,000 years ago.

No Sequoia or Gingko tree alive today was alive then. Yet, 15 millennia is far less than an eye blink in the time of life on Earth. And, science has only been around since, say, Galileo, maybe 400 years. That’s long enough to be perverted and corrupted by power-hungry politicians (a redundant phrase, I know), but  it’s s not nearly enough time for many of us to give up the Old Ways.

A sizable percentage of us still freak out over an extra-snowy winter or a few extra-dry summers. Just a century or so ago in similar circumstances, many people wondered why God was punishing them and offered sacrifices to appease His wrath—human sacrifice in the more barbaric cultures.

Today, the High Priests of Climo-hoaxuality tell us that we have sinned against The Earth and The Mother of All Dooms rushes down upon us for our transgressions. So, we must sacrifice our evil and unjust Prosperity on their sacred Altar of Perpetual Tax. Our prosperity, not theirs. And, many Believers rush to do so.

Surely a deep, fundamental aspect of human nature is in there somewhere when so many people worship this foolishness. Theirs’ is not a set of feelings subject to the mind. But, it must have had some survival value for small groups of hunters and gatherers chasing primeval food or we wouldn’t still be so easily duped by Preachers of Wrathful Cataclysm.

Thankfully, for people with time to relax, sip Chianti and reflect on a day with the Etruscans, Galileo’s new-fangled notion of reason does a good job putting things in perspective.

I highly recommend it.

Phase Boundaries

January 19, 2012 Leave a comment

Remember High School Physics? Solids, liquids and gasses? That sort of thing? zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…

Big blobs of stuff can be boring.

For me, not boring mostly comes at the contact points, in the places where they touch each other. Lots of not boring has also happened when I leave one for another. Dive off a rocky black ledge and fly through some thick, balmy air. Then, land in a tossing, turquoise sea and tell me if you agree.

This notion of excitement at the boundaries hadn’t really come together in words for me until recently. My bride and I were once again out on the ever-fascinating Oregon Coast. To us, the land around there is pretty much a non-descript temperate jungle. In the other direction, the North Pacific isn’t really much more than a huge, monotonous backdrop for The Deadliest Catch.

It’s where land, sea and sky meet that grabs us, making us pay attention. We go from bored to exhilarated just rounding that last turn before the beach, especially if it’s stormy or even just a bit breezy. At least, I and my bride do.

And that started me reflecting on my newly articulated phase boundary principle. I looked back on the most exciting moments of my life in the natural world and dozens of personal examples jumped out at me. Here are a few:

  • Standing in the deck-edge catwalk to see maybe a hundred flying fish leap out of the water near our bow, fins glinting in a glorious South China Sea sunset.
  • Balancing at the top of a sharp, craggy ridge on a golden day to see the same river sweep by on both sides far below.
  • Feeling ice-cold sheets of water pour down my neck in the pitch black a thousand feet underground while surveying an abandoned gold mine High Cascades.
  • Silently observing a Water Moccasin glide across my rifle barrel, disappearing into the foliage and roots while I was almost submerged in swamp, waiting to ambush ‘the enemy’ during training.
  • Watching from the Bridge as a twenty-foot wall of green water swept down the length of a thousand-foot flight deck time and again during a typhoon.
  • Body-surfing the perfect wave too long, getting pounded into grainy, green sand by the shore break, then sucked out again to pop up ecstatically and swim further out for another ride.
  • Hearing a gifted boatman sing O Sole Mio in the magical light of Capri’s Blue Grotto.

All these vivid memories and many more tell me something. Nature calls the loudest and experiences are the most alive when I’m near the phase boundaries.

King Tarquin’s Town

January 13, 2012 4 comments

Dave the Writeror How a Day-Trip Paid for a Year of Italian Classes!

First, though…

Quick! Who was the 5th king of ancient Rome? You remember, back in 616 BC, before the Republic or the Empire. Any guesses?

That’s right, old Lucius Priscus Tarquinius. He was an Etruscan who’d moved to Rome seeking his fortune. Then, he’d made himself useful, becoming right-hand man to the old king.

Given Rome’s eventual conquest of Greece almost four hundred years later, it’s interesting that Tarquinius’ father was from Corinth. He’d left that city to make his own fortune at a time when it was perhaps the most prosperous in the Greek World, plunking down colonies left and right.

But, this post isn’t about the Corinthian or his son, the King. It’s about Tarquinius’ home town and how my bride and I got the chance to explore it.

Working out the plan for a long trip is fun. But this one, many years ago, had a glitch. My bride and I had agreed that a day in Tarquinia was a must. Since our stint among the downtrodden ranks of graduate student slave labor up around Siena, we’d become Etruscan Groupies. So, Tarquinia, it’s museum and it’s tomb-filled archaeological park was centered in the crosshairs of our Slavering Groupie travel sights.

Here was our problem: given the rest of our travels on that trip, the closest we’d get to Tarquinia was Rome’s port of Civitavecchia (literally Old Town, though it’s much newer than ancient Rome’s original port of Ostia).

The planning glitch was cost and time. Isn’t it always? Except for Vasari’s Corridor, but that’s another story.

I didn’t want to hassle with renting a car. Unlike most Americans, I enjoy driving in Italy; it’s the parking that makes me crazy. And, my map showed that parking near Tarquinia’s old town center would be more sanity-stressing than most places in Italy. So, driving was out. But, the other touristy alternative, a taxi, would be €450! Grrrr.

It was time to pull out the new weapon in our arsenal. We had to jump into Italian travel with both linguistic feet, taking the train and then Tarquinia’s town bus. We could do this!

The past year, we’d taken all three 100-level Italian courses at our local community college. It was just too lame going back as often as we did but still speaking only English or our meager and awful mash-up of Pidgin Italian. Now was the time and Tarquinia was the place to use what we’d learned —Verbs on the Ground, so to speak.

So, I jumped online to find schedules and prices. Back then, Trenitalia didn’t have an ‘English’ option on its website. So, I got my real Final Exam right away. I knew the cost would be pretty reasonable, but I was shocked. The price for a roundtrip for two was €9.60. Even adding in our tuition costs for a year of Italian, the total would be far less than a tourist taxi would have been!

I’ll have more to say in other posts about the Etruscans. Here, I want to attest to Tarquinia’s delightful Medieval-with-a-dash-of-Renaissance look and feel. We spent happy hours wandering around the oldest part of town, with its tall, square towers (think Montagues and Capulets) and old stonework. Beyond that, the town’s excellent Etruscan museum is in an old palace that’s almost as fascinating as its ancient contents.

Take a day, treat yourself to a place most visitors never see. Visit King Tarquin’s Town when you get the chance. It’s only sixty miles from Rome (or Civitavecchia).

Fishin’

January 10, 2012 2 comments

My first memory of fishing is waking up a little before dawn in the bow of an open aluminum boat. We were shrouded in thick, pea soup fog out on the Puget Sound, somewhere off Mukilteo. A buoy bell called to us through the muffled dark. We could even hear the small splashes as it bobbed slowly on its chain not far away. I was five.

Our little vessel rocked gently, drifting with its motor off at zero-dark-thirty on a late autumn morning. A dispersed flock of deep-voiced fog horns sounded at different intervals in the invisible distance. Thankfully, there was no wind or rain, though the cold air cloaked us in Seattle’s heat-sucking damp. Dad, Uncle Bill and Uncle Tom had their lines in the water, talked quietly, sipped coffee from their thermos mugs and shivered.

I didn’t recall how I’d gotten where I was. I must have fallen asleep in the car and they must have carried me to the rented boat. They shivered because I was bundled in in their coats and covered with their rain slickers.

All of them were combat veterans lucky to have come home alive from Nazi Europe, Tojo’s Pacific and Mao’s attempt to swallow Korea, so there wasn’t a murmur of complaint from any of them. Still, they were glad to get their stuff back now that I was up.

 

By the time we got home in mid-morning, I knew two things for sure: big fish were really heavy, and my dad and uncles had the patience of Saints with a rambunctious boy full of a zillion questions, ricocheting around, tangling their lines and spilling their coffee. 

Fishin’ all over the Pacific Northwest and working together in the garage were Dad’s and my main ‘guy time’.

I loved it.

A Pisa This a Pisa That

January 7, 2012 Leave a comment

Dave the Writer“A toast,” I said, raising my glass of Chianti toward my bride sitting across the small table at a sidewalk cafe. She raised hers for a satisfying, gentle ‘ting’ and we both took a relaxing, well-earned sip.

We sat in the pleasant late-afternoon sunshine just outside the north entrance to Pisa’s magnificent Campo di Miracoli, site of the famous Leaning Tower, and the lovely Duomo with its beautiful acoustical wonder of a Baptistery. The sun was sending its clear, golden rays low across the Campo, making a show of that marvelous, incomparable Italian light. We could both truly say it had been a fantastic first visit to Pisa.

Tired in the second best possible way, we had just begun to relive our day via relaxed conversation when that Nigerian Prince who’d sent us so many emails a few years before came over to see how we were.

(Click here for a larger image)

He was just as we’d pictured him: tall, slender and handsome with broad shoulders and jet-black skin. But, it seemed that he was still down on his luck. His parka, sweater and jeans looked quite worn, though clean and neatly mended. Before we could react, he began his patter in the best Pisan tradition.

You may know that in the Middle Ages, Pisa gave Venice and Genoa quite a run for their money at creating a trading empire along the coasts of Byzantium and the Muslim east. The relentless, smiling, hard-sell was one of their specialties. So, the young Prince fit right in to a centuries-long pattern of Pisan merchantry.

In similar situations, when my bride and I are focused on our explorations, we most often make a polite wave away, saying, “No, grazie,” to street vendors who put themselves in our path. But, for some reason, we were both intrigued and pleasantly amused. We had nowhere to be for a while, so we let him proceed. I think it was a combination of our happy fatigue after 10 hours on our feet and the unique air of earnest sincerity that seemed to underlie his pitch. Our talk went something like this:

“No, we aren’t interested in a large, carved elephant, but where are you from?

“I don’t think a small wicker shield with a jagged red and yellow painted pattern would really go with our décor, but how long have you been in Italy?

“The little drum is nice, but our grandchildren make their presence known quite well already, thank you. Do you have any family here in Italy?”

And so on. Still giving no buying indication, we asked him to sit with us and have a glass of wine. At that, he looked around a bit nervously—apparently for his ‘supervisor’—and began to gather his wares back into the two large, black plastic sacks that he’d set down at the start of his spiel. His whole demeanor had shifted a bit.

(Click here for a larger image)

Most young guys of his ilk who we’ve met in Europe communicate strong negatives through their body language, regardless of their words or apparent smiles. This guy was different. He’d done his best, and now he might get in trouble for us taking too much of his time. So, as he reached for his re-filled bags, I passed him a folded five euro note in my palm as I took his hand and shook it to say farewell.

His eyes widened in surprise for just a second, and then the smile we’d first seen returned. He nodded and walked off to entreat a Canadian couple (maple leaf ball cap and a hockey t-shirt) with his irresistible offerings.

You will always find something interesting around the Campo when the sun is low in the sky, the wave of visitors begins to head home and the vendors have their last chance to sell a piece of Pisa.

Arrivederci, Prince. May things go well for you.

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