Friday, June 23, 2017

In Search of Vlad

Where the research and exploration took place

A very warm afternoon in late June found J and L landing in Bucharest, Romania.

We were on a quest to discover the true identity of Bram Stoker's infamous villain - Dracula.

Exploration and research was afoot - to borrow a phrase from the greatest detective in all literature, Sherlock Holmes.

The dynamic duo - J and L, not Holmes and Stoker, flew nearly fourteen hours from LAX to Charles de Gaulle  and then on to Otopeni International in search of this legendary badman. Of course, in certain sections of Transylvania, Wallachia and most of Romania itself, Vlad is not cursed. The fourteenth century prince is actually exulted as a hero.

The Hero - Vlad Dracula
Then why paint him as a killer? Why did Stoker pen such a sinister character based on Vlad III of Romania? Could it be because the Ottoman Empire had dubbed him 'Vlad, the Impaler' after the nasty habit he had of impaling all those with whom he disagreed? That would include Turks fighting for the Ottoman Empire, the Boyars (those rich nobility who often looked down their long noses at Vlad's family), the local people, the peasants, and pretty much anyone else who, in his eyes, had committed a crime.

A German woodcut depicting an impaling lunch
Vlad, according to many historians, was a product of his times. The thirteen and fourteen hundreds in Eastern Europe was not for the squeamish. Rulers fought other rulers for the right to rule. Sometimes those wars would last months or years and then start over again. Land was at a premium in Europe and the nobility was not against killing tens of thousands of their own people, soldiers and peasants, for as much land as they could obtain.

So, Vlad Dracul (his father - the suffix 'a' means 'son of'') raised Vlad and his two brothers to fight like champions because they would need the skills to rule. Without warrior talent during those years in Eastern Europe, you could not hold onto any land. It would be taken from you by a mightier warrior.

Vlad Dracula - the son of Vlad Dracul - would take the lessons learned to an entirely new dimension. But once the research started, we discovered that there is much more to the story of this man - this prince.

And this is why J and L found themselves in Eastern Europe in the summer of 2017. To learn more and more about this man of many faces. This Vlad Dracula - Vlad the Impaler - Vlad III - or the voivode (war-lord) of Wallachia.

Who was he? Why did he obtain the reputation he either deserved or did not deserve?

The real Vlad Dracula
There were trails to be hiked, bridges to cross, castles to explore, and libraries to research all through Romania, in search of the answers to such questions.

Many steps to numerous deserted castles
That's why J and L were there. And, J was doing research for a new historical-fiction on Vlad the Last Crusader.

Not just curiosity but a more long lasting purpose - a new book - a new genre than J is used to writing. The research would be done, the exploration complete, and then the challenge of putting all the pieces into a piece of literature would come to light.

But - for now the traveling had just begun.

Let the sleuthing begin!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Our Friend - Robert Brickman

Bob and John at Oktoberfest - 2016
Life is a wonderful experience, and one we are hopeful will extend into the after-life, regardless of religion, or other belief to which one subscribes.

The idea that life ends at death is not something one wants to think about.

But recently J and L received the news that a very close friend of ours - more like a brother than a friend had passed from this realm.

Vicki and Bob - blissful
J had known Robert Brickman, 'Bob' for over thirty years. Bob had come to the United States from Germany as a kid, worked hard and became a citizen. His German was flawless but his English better. He loved these lands we call 'our country'.  In all the decades Bob lived here, there was nothing but praise for the country Bob proudly called his home. Sure, J would tease Bob about this or that but it always came back to the fact both men were true patriots - they loved America.

Bob loved America and a good meal
After a courageous battle with multiple cancers, Bob left this earth. That hideous monster cancer had taken a man who could snow ski better than J knew how, could navigate his 26 foot ski boat like a man born to water, and always have a sparkle in his eye when things got rough. It wasn't fair that he was taken so soon.
Captain Bob at the helm
It wasn't fair to his young son, Jeremy or his loving wife Vicki who stood by him day and night as Bob endured every treatment that was 'to cure' him. It broke our hearts when Vicki called us to break the news. But life isn't fair - it is just life and with that burden fair has no place. It's just life.

Bob loved large parties at the river house
 Yes, this isn't the typical blog that J and L put out but there is a point.

J traveled with Bob for over three decades. Their adventures covered states, countries, adventures, misadventures, and just being great and loyal friends.

John giving Bob directions which were ignored as always
As friends, when there was a need, no matter who needed what, they were there for each other.

J loved Bob and Bob loved J as brothers.

So, this is a very short blog honoring one of the most special people both J and L have had the pleasure to know and love.

Bob's greatest joy - his son Jeremy
Head skyward our friend - we love you and will always miss you until we meet again.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Spillway Trail

Silverwood Lake spillway into the Mojave River

Max, Skippy, Nicker, and Diamond were splashing in the water enjoying themselves. And why shouldn't they? After all, for the past forty-five minutes they had been carrying human cargo through the Mojave Desert.

Laureen and Skippy
 enjoying the waters
with their other four-footed friends
Now, this isn't the beginning of a new novel but a simple blog about a wonderful day horse back riding in Apple Valley with friends.
J and L were invited for an early morning ride by their friends, Allen and Carol who are the owners of about a thousand horses - well maybe only about a dozen, but to non-horse owners it looked like a thousand on their large ranch in Apple Valley. Each of the couple's horses are treated like royalty - private stalls, fly masks, daily showers during the summer months, plenty of edible treats - heck, one horse is even named 'Princess.'  How royally can one be treated?

Carol and Allen checking L's stirrups

So J and L went for the morning ride in an area just north of Silverwood Lake in San Bernardino County. The trail, we'll call it the 'spillway trail', meandered through beautiful Joshua Trees, mesquite bushes teeming with wild life - mainly rabbits darting here to fro - and ended up at the spillway for Silverwood Lake.

Thus the reason for the moniker - 'spillway trail.' Not sure that's the real name but it is for this piece.

This huge section of desert used to be open for off-road vehicles but the BLM and Army Corps of Engineers deemed it too dangerous after several fatalities and near-fatal accidents occurred in the area. People imbibing too much and then deciding to see if they could dive into the shallow waters of the spillway proved really fatal for some. Steel and cement barriers now block all access to motorized vehicles leaving only room for two- and four-footed entry.

Allen making sure the riders stick to the trail

This Sunday, the two-footed animals were atop the four-footed animals.

The morning was bright and very warm, which was fine as the trail swooped through the spillway where the riders sat atop their steeds who leisurely lapped up the cooling and sparkling clear waters from Silverwood Lake.

Cool and refreshing for both horse and rider
With waters reaching nearly the bellies of the horses in some spots it was also cooling for the riders who occasionally received splashes from the horses hooves. No one complained as the trail continued for what seemed like miles through river bottom created by the overflow from the lake.

Clomp, clomp went the horses as the two human couples chit-chatted about this and that. A delightful way to spend the morning.

Of course, a careful eye was kept out by both Carol and Allen since this was only the fourth time on horseback for Laureen and John had not been in the saddle in decades.

It was like riding a bike - a big alive bike - J stated as he leaped (okay, climbed laboriously) into the saddle and road off eastbound. The problem was the rest of the group was heading due south. With a flick of the reins Max, the horse J was riding, turned and soon all four were side by side on the trail.

Where's the next trail ride?
No accidents, no sore bums, and no one (J or L) being dragged down the desert trail by the stirrups. An hour and a half later back at the horse trailer the riders dismounted knowing it had been a great ride.

Back at Allen and Carol's ranch, the horses were unsaddled, showered off , bathed with anti-fly spray, and given numerous carrots and horse treats for a job well done.

The riders - well they weren't showered down or sprayed, but were satisfied nonetheless with a day well spent.

A horse is a marvelous creature. Powerful but gentle at the same time - they take lead easily and will keep the rider safe knowing where to step to ensure all stay upright. Though it had been decades, J felt like he had stepped back in time and loved every minute of the ride.

Decades won't slip by like the proverbial tide before he finds himself in the saddle again.

How this 'Cowboy' cooled off after the ride

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Medal of Honor

J and L Research and Exploration
His citation reads, in part, "For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty: Major Bruce P. Crandall distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism as a Flight Commander in the Republic of Vietnam, while serving with Company A, 229th Assault Helicopter Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile)." 

The full text of citation tells the dispassionate details of a commander who completed 22 flights under relentless enemy fire to evacuate 70  wounded soldiers.

There is a distinction between the celebrations of Veterans Day and Memorial Day in this country. Veterans Day honors all military veterans and celebrates their service. Veterans day coincides with Armistice Day as we noted in a previous blog post (see Armistice Day by J and L). Memorial Day honors those who died while in military service. Those who payed the ultimate price. Because of men like Major Crandall, (later promoted to Colonel) we have fewer men and women to honor on Memorial Day -- and for that fact, we, their families and fellow countrymen, are eternally grateful.

Memorial Day began as Decoration Day after the Civil War when soldiers, Union and Confederate (albeit on different days), decorated the graves of their fallen comrades. During this same era, the Medal of Honor was established by an act of law by President Abraham Lincoln, calling for the awarding, in the name of Congress, of  a US Army Medal of Honor and US Navy Medal of Valor to soldiers who "most distinguish themselves by their gallantry in action." Since its inception, the Medal has been conferred upon more than 3,400 men and one woman (Mary Edwards Walker), including the youngest recipient, Willie Johnston, who was 11 when he earned this distinction, and one president (Theodore Roosevelt for his service with the Rough Riders).

Though Memorial is just around the corner and we all owe a great deal to those brave men and women who have given the ultimate sacrifice we can not help to mention those who have received the highest medal in the land.

As we spoke with Colonel Crandall,  what struck us was his great sense of humor and his humility. This man who saved dozens of fellow soldiers while taking an unbelievable amount of enemy fire thought little of it.

"It was my job," was all he stated simply. "Anyone in my position would have done the same."

We're not sure of that but we're glad, just as those families who received their loved ones back after the battle were glad that men like Colonel Crandall was there looking out for them.

These recipients - we made the mistake of saying they had won the MOH and were instantly corrected by Colonel Crandall who stated that he received it, not won it.

"No one in their right mind goes into battle to win a medal. We go into battle to protect our brothers and sisters in arms - I received this medal and cherish it in the memory of those who never made it home. It's not mine - I'm just the caretaker."

With the day over, we returned home in almost silence with thoughts of this man who shared a horrific time in his life with them and were humbled to have met such a hero. Of course, they wouldn't tell Colonel Crandall that - he would have laughed and said he wasn't a hero.

This we could argue.

On that day in November 1965, a young man flew into harm's way without a thought about his own safety. It was such a privotal and brutal battle, that his story was later made into a film starring Mel Gibson, entitled 'We Were Soldiers.'

The battle was so desperate a film was made

So, in this latest blog J and L swept up both Memorial Day and Veteran's Day - that's okay, In out pages all these self-sacrificing individuals don't get the attention they deserve by keeping the United States free.

Each branch has its own medal

Sunday, April 30, 2017

A Tale of Two Towers

A Dickens of a Tale - by J and L - that's J there in Sacramento
 It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness . . .

When Charles Dickens penned that immortal opening for his work A Tale of Two Cities - which by the way is still the number two best seller in fiction of all time only overtaken by Don Quixote - he was writing about Paris and London during and after the French Revolution.
London's Tower Bridge
But we're blogging about the two cities of London and Sacramento.

We just like Dickens and when we get the chance we mention his name. Besides, what he wrote 159 years ago could be taken to the be the world as it is in 2017.

Sacramento's Tower Bridge
That's it for judging present society. We're not political. 

What do both these cities have in common besides being capital cities? They both boast a tower bridge. Seriously, they are referred to as Tower Bridge both in England and California.
Coincidence? We think not!

Sacramento's bridge moving skyward supported by the two towers
London's would open at an 86 degree list supported by the two towers
The tower  at the Tower Bridge - Sacramento
London's bridge opened in June of 1894 and Sacramento's not until December of 1935. The similarities are both span a busy river - the Thames and the Sacrament River. They each rise when large ships need to pass beneath by means of engines hoisting sections of the bridge - London's by two equal bascules or leaves which move up at an 86 degree arc and Sacramento 's by using a vertical lift actually moving a larger section of roadway straight up and out of the way of boat traffic. Boat traffic has the right of way over foot or vehicle traffic on both he bridges. Both contain two large towers which act as anchors for the sections being lifted. And they each are and still are marvel of engineering.

Sunset in Sacramento by the Tower Bridge
The differences are many but here are just a few. We hate to admit it but London's bridge is much larger and has more people and vehicle traffic moving across the bridge than Sacramento's annually. London's is more iconic since it has been seen in thousands of films, television shows and photographs and Sacramento's can't even come close to the number. It took an act of Parliament to decide to build London's where it only took an act of a few county government employees in Sacramento to decide to replace the existing bridge at M Street,
London's is not falling down but . . .
then Sacramento would be the number one spot to go!
Just seems so cool to have an Act of Parliament in lieu of a bunch of city planners. There are other differences but the point is made.

Both capitals have great bridges spanning rivers where a bunch of people cross daily to go here and there.

One thing Sacramento doesn't have to worry about though is no one confuses the name of the Tower Bridge with any other bridge. In London, frustration reigns when tourists point to the Tower Bridge and say, "Lookiee there - it's the London Bridge!"

We can only imagine Londoners dropping their cup of tea and smashing scones on their foreheads when they hear that statement.

Our hearts go out to our English cousins. 

And then there' this  - - - 

Not only does Sacramento have a Tower Bridge but an artist who likes to hang out on a major highway during the night. !
We wouldn't recommend dating him - just saying.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Easter Eggs

Easter is one of the most recognized Holy Days or Holidays throughout the world - be that if a person is religious or not. And with Easter comes the idea of hiding colored eggs for little children to search for before screaming in delight at the discovery of one of those elusive little treasures.

Hiding eggs or just sort of CREEPY?
An Easter egg is something to marvel about.when looked closely at with an artists eye. The decorative talent, the colors of paints but the question why would someone spend so much time illuminating an egg is always there.  It's that very thing - the why, the how, the when questions which are constantly driving a researcher.

Questions abound within the minds of explorers and thus J and L did a little of their own research on this subject.

Colored ostrich eggs of at least 60,000 years have been found in Africa. For what purpose is still being debated.

Talent from 60,000 years ago - okay recently but . . . 
Early Mesopotamia and Egyptian people looked upon eggs as being associated with birth and death. Five thousand years ago the Sumerians and Egyptians placed golden eggs within tombs as a reminder of the rebirth after death.

Okay - not an egg but a nice watch - it is gold though

Sumerian death golden egg - not a Rolex but cool anyway 
The idea for Christians to use painted or colored eggs during Easter came from a story - some say a myth at the time of the death of Jesus Christ. As Jesus was dying on the cross Mary, his mother supposedly brought a basket of eggs and laid them at the foot of the cross where her son was crucified. Drops of his blood spilled down staining the eggs red. The early Christians celebrated coloring eggs red after that as a memory of his sacrifice for humankind.

Red - the color of blood
Around 1610, and some researchers believe earlier, the Christian Church officially recognized the painted eggs as the sign of resurrection of Jesus Christ. From there the eggs became more and more decorated through the ages.

During Lent (the forty days prior to the resurrection of Jesus) many people fast as a show of penance. The idea is simple - if Jesus gave his life for all of us surely I can give up something meaningful to show my respect. But the forty days of giving up something can weigh on a person and many can not make it resurrection Sunday.

The term Mardi Gras actually refers to the last day before giving up rich and fatty foods. And what does one usually have related to rich and fatty foods (like cakes, sweets and every desert our doctors complain about us eating) - eggs. Chickens unfortunately do not fast from producing eggs. At the end of the forty days there are a lot of eggs laying around and should not be wasted.

I  like  Fat Tuesday - not saying I'm fat but you gotta love the beads
So, there is a great idea - color them, hide them, hunt them, and eat them. No sense in wasting eggs but they do have to be eaten quickly!

But there are still current traditions.

Even today in the country of Romania the practice of keeping gaily painted eggs within a household still stands. They, the eggs, will deter evil spirits from invading the abode and provide assurance of good luck.
We hate eggs - you're safe . . .  unless you have some good Salsa!
In the town of Haux in France on Easter Monday a huge omelet is served in the town square which feeds up to 1,000 people. Over forty-five hundred eggs are used - that's a lot of eggs!

They want hash browns too - you've gotta be kidding!
And of course in the good old U.S.A. there is the Easter egg roll on the south lawn of the White House. Rolling hard boiled eggs with a wooden spoon doesn't sound like fun but it is for the folks, mainly little ones, who partake in this annual tradition.

Drop the spoon and just run!!! There's a big bunny after you!
So the Easter Egg has been around a very long time in many traditions but the point is that it is an important aspect of a day respected world wide.

No matter the reason you and your family decorate the little creation from a chicken just enjoy the thought behind it - no matter what that thought would be.

Happy Easter from J and L.