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2022-01-07
Annus novus
The coming year looks kind of tidy in Latin numerals - MMXXII - yet I suspect the next twelve (okay, XII) months are going to be somewhat untidy.

For a start there is this dratted pandemic, for which I've just got my third shot for the fifth wave (it's getting hard to keep track) which means I shall continue to travel widely. In the past year I have attended a Christmas party in Cambridge, meetings in London, given a lecture in New York, discussed book projects in the Netherlands and video games in Australia. All without leaving the computer chair in the snowbound mountain home where I now sit.

Since covid the world has got a lot better at virtual meetings. I'm still unsure whether this is a good or bad thing, but I've been doing it a lot, and I suspect that now people are more used to it, I'm going to have to keep scheduling meetings before breakfast. (British Columbia is behind most of the planet, chronologically speaking.)

Also next year is going to be busy. I should have two new books out, and will be working on three more. There are also various other projects about which non-disclosure agreements force me to remain silent, but I'll spill the beans as soon as I am able. On which topic, congratulations to Nick and his Roman-themed award winning Forgotten City video game, on which I was an enthusiastic collaborator through all of last year. It's a great game, though I tend to die often and gruesomely while playing it.

Finally, the snow outside is currently almost deeper then I am tall, and I want to spend a lot of time wandering around the mountains on snowshoes taking in some of the best scenery in the world (while gasping desperately for oxygen - those mountains are high and steep, but that's another matter). I also want to get a new kayak for summer and explore the local lakes, and there's backwoods trails to scout for suitable winter firewood. Meanwhile that paneer press I ordered as a Christmas present for myself should arrive any day now, and in the meantime I continue to explore Mexican cooking with home-made fajitas, tamales, quesadillas and of course tacos.

Naturally the year is going to throw some unexpected developments at me also, and I'll have to fit them in somehow. I'll eagerly await the next scientific breakthroughs on cloning, as I already have enough on the go to keep three of me busy all year long.

I do hope your 2022 is a good one!

 
2021-12-06
Knowing their place
Recently I've been spending quite a bit of time in Iolcus – virtual time that is – since modern technology (thanks Google!) has allowed me to stroll the streets and pay especial attention to the harbour. This is because around three thousand years ago Iolcus was the little Thessalian kingdom from which Jason set off and returned to on his travels with the Argonauts on his quest for the Golden Fleece.

I've likewise visited Jason's destination, the ancient kingdom of Colchis most of which is in modern Georgia. The result of these virtual travels has left me deeply impressed with the research of the ancient writer Apollonius Rhodius who described Jason's travels and pretty much nailed the geography. You'd think that a man who peppers his tale with mythical creatures and misbehaving gods would feel free to indulge in flights of fancy on other matters, but no, islands are where he says they are, and when the good ship Argo takes a fork in a river, that fork was – and still is - there.

It's one thing I love about Greek myths. They didn't happen 'long ago in a far away kingdom', but at specific times and places. One day I hope to visit Iolcus and enjoy a beaker of wine in a harborside tavern, perhaps on the very spot where Jason and his heroes had a last drink before setting off on their epic adventure.
 
2021-11-04
The Cimbri are coming!
For a tribe that made a brief appearance in Roman history in the late second century, the Cimbri are getting some attention twenty-one hundred years later. When I wrote Book One of the Panderius series, my editor was a bit worried that no-one had heard of the Cimbri, but as the story was mainly about stealing treasure (The Gold of Tolosa) we didn't worry too much. Then Ron Miller reconstructed the Cimbric nation in a medieval fantasy. (The Spirits of Cimbri) and my hero defeated them on the plain of Vercellae (The Blood-Red Sunset).

Now another writer, Jesse Hein, has joined the fun with his debut novel (The Cimbri Appear: Out of the Northern Mists), which is intended to become a series. Also I'm never one to leave research unrecycled if I can get more mileage out of it, so I collected together my research for the Panderius novels and a great deal more besides, and wrote what is - as far as I know - the only military history of Rome's Cimbric wars in print. Or it will be, once it comes out next year.

The problem with all this new research is that I'd now like to go back and change some of my assumptions in the first novel. On the other hand, when I wrote The Blood Red Sunset, I was a bit worried about taking liberties with the text of Plutarch. Now, after reading a very detailed study of the Tridentum campaign in the Journal of Roman Studies, I'm reasonably sure I was right and Plutarch was wrong.
 
2021-10-04
Where we come from
This month I have been looking at foundation myths. The main reason was that a friend pointed out that the USA has an extremely well-documented history, yet many Americans prefer to believe a past that is, well, not true. Some random examples include George Washington's famous admission that he chopped down his father's cherry tree ('I cannot tell a lie'), that witches were burned at the stake in Salem, that cowboys always wore Stetsons (Wyatt Earp usually wore a bowler hat) and so on.

The same is very much the case with ancient Rome. We have the legend of Aeneas which explains that the Romans were basically Trojans, the legend of Romulus and Remus that explains that the Romans were Martians (in the sense that they were sons of Mars, the war god). Horatius defending the bridge told that Romans that they were brave and self-sacrificing, and Virginia and Lucretia told Roman women that they were noble, fearless, and preferred death to a fate worse than death.

In many ways foundation legends are more realistic descriptions of a people than the actual historical events, because they create the societies they allegedly describe. For example, once books about the 'Wild West' started filtering into places like Texas real cowboys took from these imaginary stories ideas of how they were meant to act and dress and changed their conduct accordingly.
 
2021-09-07
Digiti viridi?
This blog is a bit later this month, because I've been doing some intensive gardening. The basic reason for this is green salads, and particularly the e.coli that come with it. After being laid low during the winter by a bug which I strongly suspect came from a contaminated lettuce, we're set about growing our own.

The problem is that a mountain environment populated by hyperphagic bears, foraging raccoons and a yard that's six feet under snow for seven months of the year doesn't really lend itself to vegetable gardening. So we've cleared out a corner of the house, put in shelving and installed grow lamps. Currently there's kale, lettuce, spinach in the veggie section and basil, parsley and rosemary in the herbs.

Because you can't sterilize fresh greens by cooking, contaminated salad from the market is always a risk. I recall one of the letters of Cicero in which he complained that after a salad had given him the runs, at the next dinner party 'I avoided all the leafy greens but still got done in by a beetroot.' Hopefully by controlling the production process from seed to plate I can avoid such a fate in the future.

(And by the way, try beetroot with home-made yogurt and you'll see why Cicero couldn't resist it. It's good. Here's a more modern take https://www.dimitrasdishes.com/greek-beet-yogurt-salad-pantzarosalata/)
 

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