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