31 December 2009

Pepper Silk Peacocks Bankrupt

"A lady whom Time hath surprised," said Sir Walter Raleigh of Queen Elizabeth.  I, too, have been surprised by time, and I have been surprised by time even more as a historian. I love this "Compact Object" by Natsayuki Nakanishi* from MoMA for offering Time as precious and confusing, an egg in the hand, a bomb, surprising, a beginning, a never-ending curve.

Since I began this blog on 22 July 2008, I have written 84 entries, close to 90,000 words, or a good-sized book, while working on two other books and two articles.  Ten months of that time was in Athens, financed by an NEH grant.  To all of you who pay US taxes, my deep gratitude.

The main work-in-process is The Knight and Death: Krokodeilos Kladas and the Fifteenth-Century Morea, an examination of the Morea's anarchic, desperate, and beautiful culture during the final disintegration of the Eastern Empire. I took the title from the great poem by Nikos Gatsos which I was translating the night before time surprised us with 9/11. I stood in the street in New York watching the pillars of fire and smoke, his lines running through my head: I who saw your descendants like birds split open  . . .the sky of my country.
Gatsos also gave me the lines that serve as epigraph here: . . . a little wine for remembrance . . . a little water for the dust, which is what I have been offering in these 84 entries.

The second book, which should come out in early spring, is a second collection with John Melville Jones of letters by Bartolomeo Minio, these from Crete in 1500-1502, as a companion to the volume we published of his letters from Nauplion between 1479 and 1483. This makes 150 letters from one man, an incomparable archive from a difficult world, and testimony to the pit-bull persistence of a good and cranky man.

The first article, "Golden Hammerings," with my partner Pierre A. MacKay, is a study of three poems, conventionally credited to Cardinal Bessarion, but which I have become convinced were written by Theodoros II Palaiologos of Mistra. I have given early summaries of two of them here in the past year. The second article is an expansion of the material provided by "The Anonymous Naupliote" as I discovered an exactly contemporary Venetian manuscript discussing the anarchic events at the same fair of Ag. Demetrios and the same corrupt Greek governor where Anonymous was surprised by time.

Much of the material in the blog has come from topics I have been chewing over for the Kladas book, and I can give footnotes to anyone who asks. Other material has come from thirty-two years of walking and cycling my beloved Nauplion and the surrounding area. This writing has been a discipline in deadlines, concision, evidence, and translation, as well as a vanity production and self-indulgence in the topics and images that please me.

Lately the blog has been averaging about 100+ viewers a day, not a large public, but there are millions of blogs out there, and quite a few are people who come back again and again, or who follow certain topics.  The number is inflated by the unfortunates who were googling for "second-hand hats" and found a fresco from Mistra, or "pictures of Toufa island"** and found a crown with feathers, or dianawright fabrics and found description of cloth in a fresco, or "music for pavane for a dead princess" and found several more from Mistra. The googler for "cape of dogs" found the entry 15 months after it was posted and seems to have been delighted.  Strangely, "thumb injuries" produced the description of an image of Athena "the size of a thumb," and "country house rent Lefkakia" must have bitterly dissapointed someone. My favorite of the search terms to bring in a viewer -- I have a widget on the site that gives me your IP address, your town, how long you spend reading, what search terms you use, the resolution of your browser, and various other bits of information -- is "pepper silk peacocks bankrupt." That, I think, pretty well sums it up.

The most downloaded images have been St. Jerome's lion, a laying-on of hands, the Euphronios crater, and one of my favorites, Carpaccio's parrot. Various pretty women have been quite popular: a possible Maria of Trebizond, a stand-in for Cleofe Malatesta, the girl with the pearl earring, and my mother. Surprisingly far down the list is my favorite, the most beautiful of antiquities, the gem of Athena Cyriaco held in the lamplight one night on a galley. 

I had hoped for more discussion, more questioning of my assertions, more information.  Pavlos has done that with his note for Nick the Greek with more on Greeks who sailed with big-name explorers, and the Singular Stratiote with material on stratioti from Zakynthos and much material on Columbus.  Otherwise, there have been only Bill Caraher confirmed the advance wall with a similar wall at Corinth; Stazybo Horn who identified my Meteora elephant; and Opoudjis who supplemented my discussion of "improvements." Readers have been kind with compliments but scholarship needs kind correction as well.

2010 is about to begin. The Venetians began their year on March 1, the Eastern Empire on September 1 because that was the first day of Creation, and the date from which the Romans counted their indictions. I work back and forth among these three systems and it keeps me keenly aware that there are alternative views of absolutely everything I have written and will write. Mary McCarthy wrote of Lillian Hellman: "Everything she wrote is a lie, including "and" and "the."
  Nevertheless, I love Hellman and find McCarthy unreadable.

What happens with the blog in the next months is uncertain.  I am anticipating my mother's funeral, my grandson's birth, two eye surgeries, a wedding.  Two conference papers  So it occurs to me that perhaps an occasional guest blogger might be of interest. Pavlos?  As Alexandra used to say, "Whobody?" If you have something within the tone or topics of this blog, write me at the e-mail address to the left of the title, and let's talk.

May 2010 be full of surprises.

* Googling will show that quite a few bloggers have found this image appealing.
** As best as I can make out, someone named Sofie Toufa has recorded on Island label.

1 comment:

  1. I have learned so much here and have enjoyed it at the same time. I will of course contribute as much as I can from the little I know, and a little from the much I wonder.
    I am neither a historian nor a native speaker of English, so I am sure others can too, and I hope some will.

    Pleasant surprises in 2010,


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