Sunday, August 30, 2009

Allee Couverte

Allee Couvertes are Neolithic era gravesites, usually short little tunnels made of stone. This one, the Allee Couverte du Morgau Bihan is in Brittany, France. Kids were climbing all over it. I guess it's pretty hard to hurt stone after the third millennia or so.

That's the top of a home beyond the stones, which stand on private land, I believe. People stop there all the time. Those giant slabs of rock have been resting on the standing stones since around 2,500 B.C.

There are carvings inside the allee couverte too, but my pictures didn't capture them too well. A shepherd's crook, and what looks like spearheads or tools, possibly. A descriptive sign (in French, of course) called them palettes.

These structures predate druids and Celts by two thousand years, and nothing really is known about the people who set them up--except they liked to raise incredible stone monuments. Did they disappear, merge with the Celtic tribes that came later? In the case of the Allee Couverte du Morgau Bihan, I think the Celtic tribe would be Ossismi, since the site is near Quimper.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

New England Writing Sites

OK, this will be the last post on great places to write, promise. At least for awhile.

This Los Angeles Times story lists the vital data of the homes of six late lamented literary giants, all in New England. Address, phone numbers, and admission charges, of the home of:

  • Louisa May Alcott (Orchard House)
  • Emily Dickinson (actually, two houses but the one pictured was her home, the Homestead)
  • Nathaniel Hawthorn (the real House of Seven Gables)
  • Mark Twain (the most expensive to visit, at $14)
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • Herman Melville (Arrowhead)

Being a Californian who's never ventured to New England (although I did hopscotch over it into Canada), I wonder what role cold weather and lush green springs play in literary creativity. Possibly none; most writers seem to love the landscape they land it, desert or seacoast, cold or hot, rural or urban. The exceptions that come to mind are adventure-seekers like Ernest Hemingway, or the chronically depressed who don't feel at home in any place.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

NOT a nice place to write

At least, I didn't think so at first. Would you like to write at Heathrow Airport for a week (Terminal 5, specifically), blocking out all the questions, the sights, the noise of people and machines, the smells, cries, booms, surprises, fussy parents and screaming children...d'ya think a guy who writes books with titles like The Consolations of Philosophy (shades of Boethius!) could enjoy that?

Alain de Botton is Heathrow's writer in residence for a week, and far from blocking out all the above-named distractions, he will produce a book about them, to be called A Week at the Airport: A Heathrow Diary. Read about him at the New York Times. But it's it all the papers, blogs, Gawker, etc. (this picture is from SkyNews). NYT has the best photo though, showing his desk in the terminal--pretty much cleared, except for an open MacLaptop...and a big ol' jet aeorplane sneakin up behind him.

It's a guaranteed book--de Botton got the advance AND expenses (he sleeps at a nearby Sofitel). Well, for that I'd sit in a nice airport. I'd sit in a dingy bus depot, too. Whatever it takes. BBC quotes de Botton as saying that airports encapsulate the modern world, featuring "interconnection, fast travel, the destruction of nature... dreams of consumerism and travel". Well, heck, I could make up something deep about Greyhound, the great economic equalizer, leveler of patrons, blah, blah. Really, give me an advance: you'll be amazed at what I can do.

Tried to find a free photo of Heathrow--found a surfeit of pictures of celebs arriving at the airport, many of whom I've never heard of.Here's one of the outside.

British Airways Announces Massive Losses

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Writers rooms....115 of them

Oh, ouch! I thought my idea--expressed here a few days ago--of posting pictures and a few paragraphs on nice places to write was a good and original one. I started with Zane Grey's office.

But now I learn--from an $8.95 desktop "website of the day" calendar--that The Guardian has a whole series of writers' rooms online...115 at last count. Another series covers artists' rooms, and musicians' rooms, and so on. Here's Jane Austen's. She died in 1817, but someone's obviously taking care of her things. Yes, Pride and Prejudice was actually written on this teeny table.

Roald Dahl, George Bernard Shaw, Charlotte Bronte--well, those are the oldies. How about Colm Toibin? I like his office; it's lined with books, floor to ceiling. Will Self has the most orderly and obedient post-it notes on the planet (right). Simon Callow is writing another book in dressing room 7 of the Haymarket Theatre, where he performs nightly in Waiting for Godot.

Clive James, Nicholas Mosley, Richard Sennett, Ciaran Carson...lots of writers, many of which I don't know at all. But don't let my ignorance slow you down. Go explore the site. I'm going to pour another glass of two-buck Chuck and visualize my office as the most-visited entry in the Guardian series.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Irish Timber Circle Dates Back 4,000-5,000 Years

The BBC announced that ancient ritual circles were excavated in Ballygawley (in Northern Ireland) over 2006-2007. The circles were not of stone, but of timber--which is great, because timber can be dated. According to venerable radio-carbon techniques, the circles date to the middle of the third millenniums BC, and some parts of the circles may be even older.

A three-year-long project turned up the circle while excavating and clearing ground for improvements to the A4 and A5 roadways. Pottery and charcoal were also found, but we'll have to wait till next year to learn what those artifacts revealed.

The archaeologists say that two concentric rings of wood beams apparently replaced an earlier series of pits. There was a "monumental porch" on one side, presumably the entrance. The outer circle of timbers likely supported wattle or planked walls between them, so the inner circle was hidden from the view of outsiders.

Here's the story in the local paper. But the Best Presentation is here--a PowerPoint slide show of not only the Ballygawley site, but other archaeological sites along the roadway. Pictures, maps, aerial views, and drawings--all courtesy of the Killeeshil & Clonaneese Historical Society!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

New Books with My Articles!

Yay! Two more editions of the F.Y.I series:

First, featuring my astonishing expose of lusty rabbits, presidential turkey pardons, and the history of Gypsies, Roman new years, battle chariots, toothbrushes, getting shanghaied and more:

In the second book, I blow the lid off fruitcake, cognac, Mother Goose, space junk, leprosy, Murphy's law, plank-walking, and a plethora of other topics.

Clicking on the link should take your right to Amazon, so you can buy them right away!

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Ancient Music of Greece

Here's a site that lets you listen to Greek music from a couple thousand years ago. Just click on any of the numbered items at the bottom, and listen in Real Player or Windows Media Player.

The music is actually written down--ancient fragments of tunes that survived, like the bit of parchment at right. This was copied from the music site, and apparently was preserved in a Middle Ages manuscript. (Medieval bookmakers often grabbed old parchment to press together into book covers) (my ignorant layman's explanation).

Perhaps my expectations were too high, but I'm kinda glad the ancients stuck to philosophy and writing plays. In fact, I suspect some of these ancient music authorities let their preschoolers sneak in a plastic recorder ditty or two.

OTOH, how do we know that these notes aren't intended more as cheat-sheets for professionals (fake books, IOW), who could probably improvise, harmonize, and in general give a much fuller sound than what we hear on these recordings? Just a guess.

You can also click on "Homeric singing" to hear what the Iliad sounded like, way back then. All courtesy of the Austrian Academy of Sciences.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Zane Grey Wrote Here

I'm cheating just a little, because I wrote about this historic house on my other blog, HistoryLosAngeles. That was more on the history of the home, but this is where the man actually wrote: a second-story office and library that includes this fireplace. (Did you know his real first name was Pearl? Pearl Zane Grey?)

There's a lot more to the space--the picture below (from Unreel Locations) gives a long view of the room. In that one, the fireplace is to the far left, just before the end of the room. The entire area is 3000 feet (the house is 15,000 sq. ft)--two or three times the room most apartments and homes have. The ceiling beams are so massive that they dwarf the space below, and it doesn't look huge--rather, it seems downright cozy. So yeah, I could get some work done here....

Of course, that was back in the days when cutting edge technology was a manual typewriter--and they've got a couple of those in the house, just for show. Actually, I think lined writing pads suit the environs better, don't you?

I'm gonna create a new category for this: Writing sites. Just great places to write. If I get desperate I'll take pictures of Starbucks or Coffee Bean and post them.