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We wants it!

It’s a curious thing, but every time fall starts to set in seriously, I am seized by the urge to reread my Francis Parkman.  This year is no exception: I pulled out the first volume of his France and England In North America on Friday and am already up to the point in The Jesuits In North America In The 17th Century where poor St. Isaac Jogues sets off on his return to the Mohawks.

It must have something to do with the association of cold wind, dank leaves and Canada.

Which reminds me: A few years back, somebody (I forget who) posted on a collection of Catholic Halloween costumes.  One of the pics featured a little boy dressed as a Jesuit missionary and the poster had added the caption, “Just add Hurons!”

That made me laugh and laugh.  And it still does every time I think about it.

Concealed carry comes to Renaissance sculpture:

Michelangelo’s David might have held a secret weapon in his overly large right hand, according to new controversial research into the towering depiction of the biblical hero who killed Goliath.

Presented at “Florens 2010: The International Week of Cultural and Environmental Heritage,” during a three-day tribute to Michelangelo’s masterpiece, the study concludes that David’s right hand is gripping the cylindrical fragment of a weapon.

“Bulging with veins, the right hand is holding what remains of a terrible weapon used in antiquity until the 17th century,” art historians Sergio Risaliti and Francesco Vossilla wrote in the book “L’Altro David” (“The Other David”).

Called a fustibal, or staff-sling,the weapon was used to throw stones.

“With a leather sling attached to the end, the staff acted like a portable trebuchet (a large catapult-like device),” classical folklorist Adrienne Mayor, who was not involved in the study, told Discovery News.

The Bible says that when David went to fight Goliath, he took up his shepherd’s staff, five smooth stones and his sling.

Of these, only the latter is represented in Michelangelo’s sculpture, as David holds the pouch of the sling in his left hand, above his shoulder.

Crossing his back down to the right hand, the straps of the rather long sling appear to be attached to a mysterious object.

“We believe the object is actually the handle to which a staff had to be mounted, much alike a golf pole,” Risaliti told Discovery News.

Combining the right hand and the left hand, the staff and the sling, Michelangelo would have actually fitted David with a fustibal, according to the researchers.

Standing high atop the Cathedral — this was the destination first envisioned for the sculpture — the weapon would have remained secret, as people would have only seen David holding a staff in his right hand and the sling’s pouch in his left.

“The staff was perfectly fitting a statue originally commissioned for Florence Cathedral. It would have rendered the biblical depiction of the shepherd boy,” Risaliti said.

Boasting a range of up to 600 feet, the fustibal was known since Roman times, and was first mentioned by the 4th century A.D. military writer Vegetius.

According to the researchers,  it was also well known when Michelangelo (1475 –1564) begun sculpting his David in 1501.

I’ve never heard of a “fustibal.”  Here’s a Medieval rendition of it in action:

Pretty neat, but I wish the name did not sound so much like that of a certain field sport beloved by much of the world, although pretty generally despised as nothing more than a way to ensure the kids get some exercise here in America.

Now, every time I think about David dropping Goliath, I’m going to hear a voice in my head yelling, “GOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAALLLLLLL!!!!!!!”

I haven’t yet got that “Thanksgiving” feeling this year.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve been rayther busy with work and rayther exhausted by adolescent soap opera at home.

Perhaps it’s because we’re free-loading on my Godparents this year and therefore don’t really have any preparations to make.

Whatever the case, I hope the feeling strikes soon.  Thanksgiving is perhaps the least corrupted of all holidays in this country, largely immune (so far)  to crass commercialization or public indifference, and I heartily approve of it.

Reading Evelyn Waugh’s biography of St. Edmund Campion recently put me in mind to resample Playing Elizabeth’s Tune, a Beeb documentary featuring the sacred musick of William Byrd, a staunch Catholic who nonetheless thrived during Elizabeth’s reign because she trusted his loyalty and loved his musick.

What I hadn’t known before I put these two pieces together was that Byrd actually set to musick a poem lamenting the martyrdom and execution of Campion (and other priests) under Elizabeth’s reign, called “Why Do I Use My Paper, Ink and Pen.”  Here it is:

Why do I use my paper, ink and pen,
And call my wits to counsel what to say?
Such memories were made for mortal men;
I speak of Saints whose names cannot decay.
An Angel’s trump were fitter for to sound
Their glorious death if such on earth were found

That store of such were once on earth pursued,
The histories of ancient times record,
Whose constancy great tyrants’ rage subdued
Through patient death, professing Christ the Lord:
As his Apostles perfect witness bare,
With many more that blessed Martyrs were.

Whose patience rare and most courageous mind,
With fame renowned perpetual shall endure,
By whose examples we may rightly find,
Of holy life and death a pattern pure.
That we therefore their virtues may embrase
Pray we to Christ to guide us with his grace.

The criticism is seemingly subtle, but the point would have been got instantly by anyone at the time.  I marvel that Byrd felt secure enough in his patronage to take such a bold step.

I’m suddenly getting quite a bit of comment-spam, spam, spam, spam, spam.

If only I could get Lobster Thermidor a Crevette with a mornay sauce served in a Provencale manner with shallots and aubergines garnished with truffle pate, brandy and with a fried egg on top along with it, this might not be such a bad thing.

Italy and Sicily as seen from the International Space Station.  Absolutely brilliant.  Go here to see some more.

Flipping about the devil’s website, I came across a delightful new discover:  The Exploits and Adventures of Brigadier Gerard by Arthur Conan-Doyle (yes, that Arthur Conan-Doyle).  According to the copy, it is a collection of stories about a soldier in Napoleon’s Grand Armée, told by himself in his old age.  Any of you read these tales before?  Unlike Flashman, Gerard is bravery incarnate on the battlefield, although like Flashy, he seems to spend his off hours chasing skirts.  And as if to seal the deal, this edition includes a forward by George MacDonald Fraser his own self.  Needless to say, I one-clicked without a second thought.  I am looking forward to reading it very much.

Speaking of Fraser, I also came across a book of his that I was previously unaware of, The Candlemass Road.  It is a short historickal novel about the Anglo-Scots Border Wars in Elizabethan times, which he apparently wrote in conjunction with or as a result of all the research he did for his non-fiction history of the Reivers, The Steel Bonnets.  It is my impression that this is a more serious work and quite unlike the Flashy series.

Oh, and speaking of books and just to show you how easily I fall to temptation, I couldn’t help noticing that the author of the Telegraph article I linked to below about Prince William, Harry Mount, has written a book entitled Amo, Amas, Amat….And All That: How To Become A Latin Lover. Well, as it happens I’m already a Latin lover (I’m still waiting for someone to clang me for using classical pronunciations in Mass), so I feel it my obligation to read this book and see if the formulae (as we Latin sharks might say) proposed therein are correct.

UPDATE: Whoops! My email just reminded me that while I was surfing, I went ahead and picked up a copy of Chesterton’s Heretics, as well.  I’ve been thinking about doing so for the past couple of weeks and I suppose that I just got caught up in the one-clicky ease of it all.  Perhaps it’s time to step away from the seductive book store for a bit before Mrs. Robbo starts making me eat peanut-butter sammiches for dinner again.  Vade retro, Amazonas!

Regular port-swillers might suppose that I would have something to say about the announced engagement of Prince William and this Kate Middleton person.

Well, the truth is that I really don’t.

Alas, the whole biznay reminds me of the sad reality that the Royals are nothing more than “celebrities” these days, having been stripped by a combination of historickal tides and their own foolishness of the last remaining vestiges of, well, royalty.  Poor old Elizabeth soldiers on, bless her, but I wouldn’t give you tuppence for the rest of them.

And that’s mighty hard for someone of such a Tory temperment to admit.

The physics of Fluffy’s milk bowl manners explained:

Dr Roman Stocker, a biophysicist from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, US, was inspired to investigate the physics of cat laps after watching his own pet Cutta Cutta as it drank.

“I realised there was an interesting biomechanics problem hidden behind that very simple action. The project then snowballed from there,” he said.

Working with researchers from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and Princeton University, Dr Stocker trained a high-speed camera on his cat.

While humans and animals such as sheep or horses use suction to draw liquid upwards, and dogs curl their tongue into a cup-like shape to ladle liquid in, the footage revealed that cats use a more subtle mechanism to drink.

The study was inspired by Cutta Cutta the cat

The scientists found that the tip of the cat’s tongue curls backwards, not forwards, as it darts down towards its bowl.

Then, instead of penetrating the surface of the liquid, the tongue just lightly touches it.

Dr Stocker explains: “The fluid comes in contact with the tongue and sticks to it, then the action of the tongue being drawn upwards very rapidly creates a liquid column.

“Then, by closing its jaw, the cat captures part of that liquid.”

This strikes me as just the sort of smug, supercilious stunt one would expect from a cat.

But they’re not fooling anybody with their faux superiority:  Our pair get canned, wet food these days and they do a pretty thorough job splashing the stuff about and making a mess.  Sophisticated? Gawd!


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November 2010