Saturday, November 29, 2008

Have Award Meow

Cue the orchestra. Blicky Kitty is honored to confer the coveted prize — Blicky Kitty's Blogs Worth Stalking. He will of course be stalking each blog personally. Please know that the nominees are so many that we must hold various ceremonies to include all candidates, so be on the lookout for more awards. The first goes to my awesome bloggie friend Cynthia at Muse Swings. She holds forth on everything from Victorian social codes to wonderful creative cyber happenings and parties that bring so many fun bloggers together. Blicky adds "social security number 352-86-0286, many Bit 'O Honey wrappers found in refuse, monitor for subversive content, must subdue canines."

The next award goes to Anna at Life Just Keeps Getting Weirder for making female facial hair cool again and for being a reliable source of audible mirth. I'm just one of a lively throng of acolytes over there. Blicky adds, "SS# 637-87-0246, found one discarded dental hygiene calendar in garbage, subject is a master of disguise, must stalk with caution."

If like me you've been searching for a blog that would provide updates on Middle Eastern beauty pageants for goats, and the best letter ever written to soon to be ex-boss look no further than Granny Goats in Panties. She actually needs a separate link for her trophy case, so Blicky coated this jpg with an extra layer of dust-resistant Scotch Guard. Blicky notes, "SS# not on file, flagged by the FBI. Found in garbage: empty take-out containers, board game rule books and scrap pieces of shelf-liner."

Friday, November 28, 2008

Seattle For the Culturally Sensitive Traveler

Well, I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving. We just disembarked in Boston this evening. Here's a picture of the event because it's about time I realized that you, gentle readers, need to see my actual visage (I know, my milkshake brings all the boys to the yard).
Before I share my groundbreaking cultural observations about Seattle, I wanted to briefly impart some techniques for surviving the 6 hour flight with a 3 and 7 yr. old without the benefit of the cartoon network that features 24 hour feed of sea creatures with athletic, prominently-veined eyeballs and commercials peddling products designed to turn little girls into Slutz and little boys into thugs. Unfortunately, this technique requires a black felt pen and opposable thumbs, but luckily I got a little help from Blicky. Oh, and also my Awesome-Rock-Star-of-a-Sister manages to get cooler and more awesome every time I see her, which is perplexing because she pretty much ruled the world when I used to sneak in her room and steal her Bonnie Bell soda-flavored lip gloss.

I really feel like my knowledge and experience of Seattle is so vast now that I know it better than most residents. In fact, if you live in Seattle and have any questions feel free to email. The first surprising fact is that they don't all sit around and talk about the rain all day, and if you repeatedly refer to their meteorological challenges (So, how about this rain? Hey, don't overdose on vitamin D out there! What did the swarthy REI-clad raindrop say to the cute, socially conscious female raindrop? I'm falling for you! Hey how's your Seasonal Affective Disorder doing? You're all 'Whoa! Look at me, I'm so depressed!' Seriously, we should really call for help. I'll dial 1-206-WHOA-ITS-WICKED-RAINY) they don't clap and pronounce you the most culturally sensitive visitor ever. In fact they seem to just avert their eyes and shoot glares at the person who invited you. The other interesting fact is that even footwear in Seattle is apparently expected to be functional and English riding boots do not impress anyone as outdoorsy. 

Now, on a professional note: I was lucky enough to document for the first time, some real native Seattle-ites of Medieval European origins in their indigenous surroundings. I have already been contacted by the National Anthropological Archives at the Smithsonian, but remember you saw them here first. Below, we see a sword battle in a local park that still contains some true indigenous Euro-Seattletonians (as one should say in culturally sensitive circles). They were quite bloodthirsty by the looks of them, so we just tried not to make any sudden movements and hid our young. 
That whole Microsoft/Boeing thing must be a myth too because their technology was quite crude. Their weapons were held together with duct tape (which of course finds it's origins in European Medieval heraldic tradition) and I believe that's a garbage can cover in the battle below. They must be privy to some amazing forms of traditional healing because we observed that after a vigorous sword battle where several of them are slain and the victors skulk away furtively, they are inexplicably resuscitated and fully able to return to their habitat in a mysterious region of Seattle called Parentsbasement.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

While I'm Away...

I'll take advantage of the superior creative energy of others while I'm out of town:

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

Fancy feast? Check. Running shoes? Check. The entire staff here at BK is off to Seattle for a fun-filled week-long fiesta with The-Most-Awesome-Rock-Star-Of-A-Sister and her family. Perhaps we'll do some blogging from the top of the Space Needle, perhaps we'll just sit around on our cyber arses and do nothing. We've been there before so we know how to blend in: 
1. Don't wear anything stylish. It has to come from REI and no high heels.
2. Do outdoorsy stuff. We're planning to climb Mount Ranier -- for about 15 minutes. 
3. Know how to behave like a native. We plan on spending most of our time drinking tons of awesome coffee and doing socially responsible stuff.
Said Old Gentleman Gay, “On a Thanksgiving Day,
If you want a good time, then give something away.”
So he sent a fat turkey to Shoemaker Price,
And the shoemaker said, “What a big bird! how nice!
And since a good dinner’s before me, I ought
To give poor Widow Lee the small chicken I bought.”

“This fine chicken, oh, see!” said the pleased Widow Lee,
“And the kindness that sent it, how precious to me!
I would like to make some one as happy as I—
I’ll give Washerwoman Biddy my big pumpkin pie.”
“And oh, sure,” Biddy said, “’tis the queen of all pies
Just to look at its yellow face gladdens my eyes.

Now it’s my turn, I think; and a sweet ginger cake
For the motherless Finigan children I’ll bake.”
“A sweet cake, all our own! ’Tis too good to be true!”
Said the Finigan children, Rose, Denny, and Hugh;
“It smells sweet of spice, and we’ll carry a slice
To poor little Lame Jake—who has nothing that’s nice.”

“Oh, I thank you, and thank you!” said little Lame Jake;
“Oh, what beautiful, beautiful, beautiful cake!
And oh, such a big slice! I will save all the crumbs,
And will give ’em to each little sparrow that comes!”
And the sparrows they twittered as if they would say,
Like Old Gentleman Gay, “On a Thanksgiving Day,

If you want a good time, then give something away.”

—Marian Douglas.

Source: A Treasury of Verse for Little Children, edited by M. G. Edgar, illustrated by Willy Pogany

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Mo Vengo!

We are on our way to Roma for the Grape Escape thanks to Cynthia at Muse Swings and Lavinia Ladyslipper at the Birdbath Chronicles. We at Blicky Kitty Mousing Around Tours take your cultural enlightment very seriously, so we have scanned the blickosphere for our humble contribution. All you'll need for the tour is an updated version of Quicktime and your Mouse. Oh sorry, could you wait here while I give the servants instructions for my absence (feel free to use your mouse to enjoy the view)?

Here you can see the great travails suffered by armchair travelers of yore; destined to squint into a small device for hours on end, only to emerge cross-eyed and tripping over the ottoman or the children. We, gentle readers, now have the advantage of miraculous mousing technology at our fingertips. Let us start our tour in the Vatican Square where we see the stunning scale and measured elegance of Bernini's colonnades. Be sure to press the green turning arrows then click where you want to view so you can have a good look around. Mmmm... I can almost smell those roasted chestnuts and the soft rustle as a flight of pigeons takes wing.

OK back on the bus. Lavinia, Cynthia stop teasing each other. Did Willow wander off to the opera? Stevie, oh no, she's being swarmed by a crowd hoping to see the sketches she's just made. Anna's being hounded by a tall dark stranger who thinks mustaches are hot. Next stop? Sant'Andrea al Quirinale, OK move your mice on the image to look around. This was built between 1658 and 1678 by Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Giovanni de' Rossi and is one of the finest examples of Roman Baroque architecture. Here we see a masterful fusion of architectural form and sculptural detail.
Walking Along the Tiber, Rome

OK I think we've lost half the group. They've wandered into a local bar... Oh good Deb, Kat, Queenie you're still here right? Well let's just poke our heads inside of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, shall we? Designed by Francesco Borromini, this masterpiece of Baroque architecture was constructed between 1638 and 1641. Want some more classical antiquity? I'm just going to step into my new time machine sponsored by Google, just click the play button.

The Villa Doria Pamphili, Rome

On the way home we'll just stop in Florence to see the 15th century Pazzi Chapel in Santa Croce designed by Brunelleschi. I love it for it's utter simplicity. Last time I was there I was too busy ogling the Giotto frescos and finding the tombs of Rossini, Alberti, Galileo, Michelangelo and Dante (whose mortal coil resides in Ravenna) to appreciate this space.

OK that's about it! Hope you enjoyed your tour. Feel free to email if you've experienced any mouse-related or technical difficulties on our tour. For those of you whose flights connected in France, you might want to make a quick pit stop in Amiens to see the cathedral architecture (click on any of the bulls eye shapes to view). Or if you've always wanted to soar through the clouds like Daedalus into the apse of a gothic cathedral while a wicked smart English dude provides a personal tour but never knew how, click here.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Blicky; the Baleful Scourge of Your Inbox

I try not to let this get out, but you know those email forwards you get? "Forward this to seven people you care about in the next ten minutes and you will have good luck." As some of you know, I love to devour a good book just as much as good cuisine. So... if Light in August by William Faulkner is a nice roasted chicken in bitter orange and garlic deglazing sauce, and the Sedaris book you fished out of the dump book swap is like a decent pizza, the email forward is the literary equivalent of a week-old pile of fritoes found next to an old pair of shoes in the garage. Well, Blicky actually authors the majority of them. He is out of town this week. I think he and some undisclosed associates have hired a psychic to help them channel the ghost of Lee Atwater so Blicky can make his big comeback in DC. He asked me to write a few in his absence and left me some pointers.
1. Meow lay on the saccharin.
2. No font size is too big, meow.
3. Meow never have too many wiggling animals.
4. Include cute animal or spurious political claim -- or both.
5. Meow, don't be a slave to coherent thoughts.

Ok let's give it a whirl. Feel free to chime in with your own ideas and we can start circulating it. I'm embellishing things from actual email forwards:
Just think, if the entire population of China walked past you in single file, the line would never end because of the rate of reproduction. 
Which, apparently they can accomplish while staying in line which is a little disturbing but nevertheless impressive and...
Did you know that  111,111,111 x 111,111,111 = 12,345,678,987,654,321? Weird huh?

I believe that children are the future and they will have a future as long as the president isn't a secret Muslim bent on our destruction. 

And we all love children, especially if we've given birth to them while being cruelly forced to stand in line with your entire country.  Always remember that the love that you carry in your heart is many a splendid thing and, like a festering illness, will grow if you pass it along.
Send this to five people you love. If you do, you'll receive an email telling you which common vegetable might be poisoning the children in your life. If you don't, then you probably don't love them anyway. Ok, now I just need a cute animal.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Ljubljana, March 1990

Ljubljana is a lesser-known artistic gem of a city. These pictures were taken in March, 1990 about a year before the Ten Day war that established Slovenian Independence and I have often wondered how that war and the strife in Serbia and Croatia touched the lives the people I met there. Dragons are the symbol of the city because, according to Greek myth, Jason and the Argonauts sailed up the Danube after finding the Golden Fleece in Colchis. Jason slew a monster in a lake between present day Vrhnika and Ljubljana. Dragon sculptures grace the whole city. All I really wrote about in my travel journal of a sophomoric 20-something a were the tall handsome men. My journal wouldn't be anything like Eat Pray Love. Maybe a better title would have been  Wander, Drink, Flirt.  Or maybe Drink, Flirt, Behave-Stupidly followed by Wander, Wander, Wander.

This is the marketplace. Countless stalls lined the square selling fresh flowers; daffodils, roses, narcissus as well as fruits, vegetables, herbs, sweaters, baskets and pottery. We stayed with a woman who looked a bit like the vendor pictured above. She rented rooms in her lovely little cottage with an overgrown garden and a little shrine covered with ivy. She was a diminutive person with a broad, warm smile. She wore a black kerchief on her head, a woolen shawl tied around her waist and heavy black woolen socks. She moved so slowly I remember, even when she spoke. German was our only common language. My abilities are usually only good enough to find out someone's zip code, but my friend was able to discern from her the admonition, "be sparing." Yeah didn't make much sense to us either.

This is Ljubljana castle in the background. A year later it would house a TD, (Territorial Defence forces) air defense unit.

There were relatively few American tourists in Yugoslavia in 1990 because countries were just starting to open up after decades of Soviet control. Two young women (one of them six feet tall) attracted some curiosity and this became more pronounced as we traveled further east towards Hungary. Lacking the proper transit vista, we were unceremoniously dumped off the train late at night in downtown God-Knows-Where Yugoslavia. There was a little hotel not far from the station where a large group of people gathered to celebrate the Festa della Donna (like Mother's day). Two very nice women vouched for some young men willing to drive us the 30 KM to the border station in Gorbican where we could obtain vistas. "They are nice boys," they said in lightly-accented English. We had no Yugoslavian money left to buy a train ticket or a hotel, so I guess we thought our best bet would be to get the vistas, then come back to wait for the next train. All I wrote in my journal of course was that one of the boys was good looking, but now it strikes me as an extraordinary kindness. 
We made it safely to the border station and left all our stuff with the boys, who remained in the car and drank. They only had an hour to spare so they asked us to hurry. The Hungarian vistas were relatively easy to obtain. My companion had struck up a conversation with an Italian truck driver whom I was trying to ignore. When they informed us that our vistas were only good for crossing then and there, he offered to drive us in his 18-wheeler to Budapest. Only one of us was allowed to cross back over to get our stuff. I volunteered, yelling "You better love me for this." This apparently earned me some derisive snorts from the Hungarian soldiers who were yelling "Bye-bye, I love you!" after I had run off. I ran the entire way, knowing that the Yugoslavian boys who had helped us would need to get going.  At one point I heard a loud shout and the sound of a rifle being cocked so I slowed down to a walk. Only then did it dawn on me that I was running from one communist border station towards another at full clip in the middle of the night. Later Alberto (the Italian truck driver) informed me that he had heard about someone being shot dead for doing the exact same thing. I guess the important thing is that we made it to Budapest safely (after sharing a meal with two middle-aged Italian truck drivers in the kitchen of a recreation hall in rural Soviet Hungary while a wedding reception took place outside) and that the kittens will not be permitted out of the house until they're 30.

Monday, November 10, 2008

A Mother's Haiku

Photograph credit: Mopsy

Sippy cup under
The carseat has made cheese
I call shamenbert

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Gallo Nero

Pour a glass and pull up a chair! In our eager anticipation for the upcoming Grape Escape hosted by Cynthia at Muse Swings and Lavinia Ladyslipper at the Birdbath ChroniclesBlicky and I thought we'd crack open a nice bottle of Chianti and tell some stories we learned from Blicky's Italian friend, no he's not Joe Sixpack, he's Giovanni Damigiana. Not translating for you? Probably not, because most of the working class Joes I met in Tuscany were (*gasp*) socialists. Ruuuuunnn! Hide the children! Here's a damigiana:

 You lug it home (getting un ernia in the process) and bottle it yourself. It holds a few months worth of wine, or a month for the truly sodden and committed. After capping about thirty bottles, Giovanni Damigiana told us a wonderful tale about Chianti.

The story hearkens back to the medieval days when the Ghibellines (behind their swallow tail crenelations) warred with the Guelfs. Italy was not yet Italy, but an unruly conglomerate of city-states presided over by petulant and ostentatious dukes and lords. The Italian language had come into use only recently when Dante wrote the Divine Comedy, establishing the Florentine dialect as standard Italian.

The Florentines and the Sienese had been locked in a long, often bloody territorial struggle. It was finally decided that the dispute would be settled in the fairest way possible. A party of men would depart from each city at dawn when the cock crowed and the point at which they met would constitute the border between their territories. Now the Florentines, being an extraordinarily clever people, had a beautiful rooster ready to serve this most important task. They took this black bird and starved it half to death in the days leading up to the contest. When it was at last the appointed night the poor creature woke up in the middle of the night, screaming for food. The Florentines lost no time setting out. They met at Fonterutoli, which is only about 12 kilometers from Siena. All the area that they acquired through their ruse became known as the gallo nero region; some of the best wine growing land in Italy.

You can always tell a good Chianti from the black rooster, or gallo nero on the bottle. The red background indicates a good, solid Chianto Classico, and a gold background indicates the higher quality Riserva. In order to bear the gallo nero, vineyards must adhere to stringent standards. We here in the states often associate wine with privilege and culture, so I was surprise when Giovanni Damigiana just looked at the alcohol content to see whether the wine was good. "Oh 13, must be good." For those who really want to taste the best, the Brolio Ricasoli is the standard by which all the other Chianti wines are judged. But if you're like me, you'll just look for a high alcohol content and a black bird. Now for our toast: "Qui non beve in compania è un ladro o una spia." (He who doesn't drink in the company of others is either a thief or a spy.) Hey Blicky, why aren't you having any?

Oooh Pretty Award!

Thank you, thank you Cynthia at Muse Swings for sharing this beautiful award with Blicky Kitty. This is a beautiful one to post. It was created by Lavinia Ladyslipper over at the Birdbath Chronicles, where you can find a treasure trove of beautiful imagery.

It was the perfect moment to log on and see it because we were tromping around Boston, crunching leaves and drinking Chianti in celebration our nine year anniversary.

Here's the little Rhode Island church where we got married. The artist totally sucks and she made the church crooked (idiot) but she was free. I think she used a bamboo pen and ink, which she probably stole from a baby panda knowing her.

Sonnet 104

To me, fair friend, you never can be old, 
For as you were when first your eye I eyed,
Such seems your beauty still. Three winters cold 
Have from the forests shook three summers' pride,
Three beauteous springs to yellow autumn turn'd 
In process of the seasons have I seen, 
Three April perfumes in three hot Junes burn'd,
Since first I saw you fresh, which yet are green.

William Shakespeare

Thursday, November 6, 2008

An Exaltation of Blicky: BK Scores an Interview with James Lipton

I have long wanted to do a post on a lovely little book that I've pored over keenly for years. Every time I've told people about An Exaltation of Larks by James Lipton, I've always scoffed at the suggestion that it's the ten questions dude from the Actor's studio. "No this is an academic book," I derided with a snort. Um, so imagine my surprise when I googled his name and found that the handsome young academic pictured on the jacket was actually a clean-shaven version of the ten questions dude.

The book is subtitled The Venereal Game, but lest you think it's a drinking pursuit for infectious frat boys, read on. The root of the word comes from Venus, and while we usually associate it with physical love, it may also be defined "to desire (and therefore) to pursue." The words venery and venereal were used to describe all things associated with the hunt.

Lipton's Exaltation of Larks is really a celebration of the English language with all it's rich shades of meaning, confluence of sources, and playful expressiveness. He traces the origins of traditional hunting terms known as "nouns of multitude." Lipton describes his thesis simply: "when a group of ravens flaps by, you should, if you want to refer to their presence, say, 'There goes an unkindness of ravens.' Anything else would be wrong."

His sources for the book were social manuals or books of courtesy that codified the terms. From the Middle Ages, the hunt was traditionally the exclusive realm of the aristocracy. These books were created to provide gentlemen a "means of social acceptability," or to prevent awkward conversational blunders when in polite society.

Some of my favorites include:
  • a murmuration of starlings,
  • a bouquet of pheasants,
  • a richness of martens,
  • a murder of crows,
  • a dissimulation of birds,
  • a siege of herons,
  • an ostentation of peacocks
  • and, of course, a clowder of cats
In hopes that "a charm of poetry will have quietly slipped into our lives," Lipton included a chapter of terms that were created later as pure fun and play and threw in some of his own. In this spirit, we should create some terms with contemporary relevance:
  • a parsimony of lenders,
  • a ribaldry of teenage pop stars,
  • an intemperance of halloween candy,
  • a this-is-the-big-one of Elisabeths
  • a cupidity of consumers,
  • a cuchi-cuchi of 70's tv icons,
  • a rapacity of investment bankers,
  • a salaciousness of Giraldo Riveras,
  • a potence of voters,
  • a deliciousness of toddlers' thighs,
  • a babbling of news anchors.
Feel free to add your own...

Unfortunately, Blicky's interview withy James Lipton was cut short:

Blicky Kitty: Meow, What is favorite word?
James Lipton: Those are my questions.
BK: Meow, OK, is it true, meow worked as a maquereau in post-WWII Paris translating for prositutes and taking American tourists to sex shows?
JL: Damn you, Blicky Kitty! I knew I should have done the Giraldo Rivera interview instead.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Blicky Bipartisanship

Now I realize that many of you, gentle readers, don't love this man the way I do. So perhaps you're not sharing in my feelings of pride, jubilation and hope today. I decided to do a post in the spirit of bipartisanship because some of you need to be cheered up and frankly who isn't sick of divisive, vituperative attacks in our national conversation? Here's what each candidate has to teach us about bipartisanship:

Barack Obama:"As Lincoln said to a nation far more divided than ours, we are not enemies but friends. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.

And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn, I may not have won your vote tonight, but I hear your voices. I need your help. And I will be your president, too."

John McCain: "Senator Obama and I have had and argued our differences, and he has prevailed. No doubt many of those differences remain. These are difficult times for our country, and I pledge to him tonight to do all in my power to help him lead us through the many challenges we face. 
I urge all Americans who supported me to join me in not just congratulating him, but offering our next president our good will and earnest effort to find ways to come together, to find the necessary compromises, to bridge our differences, and help restore our prosperity, defend our security in a dangerous world, and leave our children and grandchildren a stronger, better country than we inherited."

Now as you know we here at Blicky Kitty live in a bipartisan household. The humans are all quite liberal and our cat is a neo-con. 

But we have come together in the true spirit of bipartisanship to create a list of basic truths that all Americans can agree on:

  • Angelina Jolie is hotter than I am.
  • Death is bad.
  • Cleaning the toilet is not a fun job.
  • Those rich wall street guys suck.
  • Hitler was a bad man.
  • Children are our future.
  • It would be funner to sleep with Brad Pitt than Ruth Buzzi.
  • Teasing French people is tres amusant, n'est pas?
  • Good stuff is usually better than bad stuff.
  • We should generally strive to avoid nuclear holocausts.
  • The macarena is no longer hip but still fun.
  • Madonna should maybe think about wearing more clothes even though her body is totally rocking.
  • Rupert Murdoch tortures small, furry animals.
  • Charo could still say "Cucchi Cucchi, but it wouldn't have the same effect on Captain Merryl.
  • Either candidate would have been better than the last guy.
  • Feel free to add you own...

    Tuesday, November 4, 2008

    Have You Voted Yet?

    I just had to share this, in case you want to spend a little time with John Cleese on Election Day. We'll make him proud today.

    Monday, November 3, 2008

    Whoa! Blicky Was Ready to Settle for Miss Congeniality!

    Thank you so much to the talented Poetikat over at Poetikat's Blasts from the Past for the honor of the Superior Scribbler award. It means a lot to me --especially when I think about an over-privileged New England professor told me that my writing was sub-par and good writing was a lot like truck driving. Hmmm, soooo, it's hard work with long hours? No way lady, writing is playful and joyful and rolicking good fun -- at least in the Blickosphere! Thank you Kat for being more encouraging. It's an honor coming from you. I look forward to all your new posts. OK I'll pass along the rules:

    1) Each Superior Scribbler must in turn pass The Award on to their most-deserving Blogger Friends. 
    2) Each Superior Scribbler must link to the author & the name of the blog from whom he/she has received The Award. 
    3) Each Superior Scribbler must display The Award on his/her blog, and link to This Post, which explains The Award. 
    4) Each Blogger who wins The Superior Scribbler Award must visit this post and add his/her name to the Mr. Linky List. That way, we'll be able to keep up-to-date on everyone who receives This Prestigious Honor! 
    5) Each Superior Scribbler must post these rules on his/her blog. 

    hehee I literally have a small 3-yeaz old gnome-type person scaling my shoulders as I type, so I'll think about how to pass it along and update this post anon...
    OK all gnome-type humans are all asleep so I can name Blicky's picks for the Superior Scribbler Award. I am excited to have my first shot at passing out awards. All the blogs I follow are really amazing in different ways, so at some point Blicky might have to devise his own award for the blogs that make him laugh until he disgorges a furball (you know who you are...yes I mean you and you). Many are smart and funny, many are exquisitely beautiful and these are my favorites for the Superior Scribbling:

    Muse Swings: I am consistently amazed by how Cynthia is able to move so deftly from being hysterically funny to amazingly profound while maintaining a consistent, beautifully expressed voice throughout. She's a fun person to have in the Blickosphere!
    whatmamasaysgoes: I will link to Mama's post about gratitude because I think it's absolutely beautiful. I think she is a great and brilliant person and a truly gifted writer.
    Skillful Means: I always love to learn from Dharma over at Skillful Means. Her posts range widely -- from travel, music, politics to Second Life and technology -- and her thoughtful prose has a way of sticking in my mind.
    Willow Manor: Few blogs utilize the medium quite so beautifully as Willow Manor. She narrates stories beautifully and like a 15th century MS, she uses images and prose together in such a beautiful way. She also plays with words and their meanings with a real sense of fun.

    Sunday, November 2, 2008

    Meanwhile in Fifteenth-Century Italy...Part 2

    Click here for a link to Part 1
    The Este Dynasty

    So who is this Borso d’Este? Let’s briefly look at the Este dynasty of marchesi that had ruled Ferrara since the late Middle Ages just because they’re such a fun and colorful bunch. From the late 1100’s on the Estensi already powerful landholders began to take an interest in Ferrara,[1] eventually establishing the Este lordship.[2]

    Borso’s father, Niccolò III, reigned from 1393 to 1441. Niccolò had three wives, and fathered between twenty and thirty acknowledged illegitimate children. That works out to between eight to 18 more than Bob Marley and from 13 to 23 more than Mick Jagger. That's him looking very confident on the mount.... The Este women, on the other hand will have the macabre distinction of perishing in very unfortunate and sometimes dramatic circumstances as you’ll remember from Browning’s My Last Duchess. His first of three wives, Gigluola da Carrara died of the plague. Niccolò then married Parisina Malatesta, who was beheaded along with Niccolò’s first born son (for their sakes I will forebear mentioning the reason but it has to do with his *ahem* and her *cough*) and legitimized heir Ugo in 1424. This reads like a renaissance soap opera: Niccolò’s favorite mistress, Stella dell’Assassino, bore him many children, Leonello (b. 1407), and Borso (b. 1413).[3] While Niccolò had Leonello declared legitimate by Papal bull in 1429, our friend Borso was never legitimized.[4]
    In 1429, Niccolò summoned Guarino da Verona, one of the most famous and influential humanists of the fifteenth century, to Ferrara to tutor his heir Leonello.[5] From all accounts, Leonello d’Este was an ardent and gifted student of ancient literature and unfortunately for Borso, both contemporary and modern accounts depict him at the golden child.

    Now meanwhile, our Borso received a markedly different education than that of his elder brother. From a young age, Borso was taught chivalric values and traditional noble skills such as jousting and hunting and was never schooled in Latin. Borso d’Este's military career lasted for ten years and met with limited success (and some gloriously stunning defeats).

    When Niccolò III died in 1441, Borso returned to Ferrara with his troops to honor and support the succession of his brother. Throughout Leonello d’Este’s reign, he undertook ambassadorial duties at the Visconti and Aragon courts. Borso’s position within his brother’s court was so secure that when Leonello died in 1450 he became the uncontested successor.

    Both contemporary and modern literature on Leonello and Borso employ the divergent proclivities of the two brothers to illustrate the respective merits of Ars and Mars in the education of princes.[6] While Leonello was encouraged in the pursuit of letters, Niccolò III secured a more traditional, chivalric education for his younger son.

    But has Borso been labeled unfairly? Although contemporary writers were less critical, modern scholars assume that Borso’s illiteracy in Latin reflects a lack of interest or ability.[7] Scholars often describe the rule of Borso d'Este (1450 - 1471) as an epoch of cultural decline.[8]. An overwhelming majority of scholars interpret his patronage of illuminated manuscripts like the Bibbia as the result of an ignorant love for splendor conditioned more by vanity than erudition.

    But because Niccolò took actions to ensure Leonello’s succession,[9] Borso’s education was probably not intended to prepare him to rule. His propensities for letters were considered only in retrospect, after his ascent to power. Let’s look at the courtly culture established by Leonello to place Borso as a patron in his proper context.

    The Culture of Learning During the Reign of Leonello d’Este (1441-1450)

    Although scholars tend to cast Leonello as the model of the enlightened Renaissance prince, many aspects of his court patronage reflect the medieval, chivalric ideals that are so pervasive in the art commissioned by Borso. Even his patronage of letters bears some resemblance to the courtly pastimes of his ancestors.

    One of the most important pieces of evidence that scholars use to study Leonello d’Este’s court, his patronage of literature and the marchesanal library is the work De politia letteraria by the Milanese humanist Angelo Camillo Decembrio. The work is constructed in the form of a contrived dialogue where Leonello and members of his entourage conduct a search for normative standards in various fields of learning and how that relates to good governance.In much the same way that the characters in Castiglione’s The Courtier construct an idealized archetype of a what a courtier should be, the protagonists in De politia seek a paradigmatic vision of the perfect intellectual culture.

    In some ways, the beguiled fascination with ancient learning demonstrated in De politia reflects what scholars describe as the driving force behind the Renaissance: the revival of ancient Greek and Roman culture. Scholars of the Este family during the Quattrocento treat variations in styles of patronage as exhibiting either progressive or traditional tendencies in relation to a static definition of "Renaissance humanism". Unfortunately history is seldom so tidy or so linear.

    One of the ostensible objectives in the work is the construction of an intellectual Arcadia ruled by a Platonic Philosopher-King where characters were permitted to temporarily abandon their particular role within the complicated hierarchy of social codes in order to participate more candidly in the dialogue, but this is not a true reflection of the power structure of the court which was still essentially medieval and chivalric in nature. In this light, De politia seems as much an anachronistic fantasy for the delight of courtiers as the Arthurian legends.

    But while the political importance of the humanist in Leonello’s is overstated court we must not underplay their importance in the formation of courtly culture. The humanist coterie surrounding Leonello valued books more for their practical usefulness to the ruler and the enrichment of courtly discourse and the illuminated manuscript functioned as a tool. The courtly culture that took shape under Borso shows a markedly different relationship to the written word.

    Guest Blogger: The Big Cat Weighs In

    The single estrogen-challenged, human inhabitant of the Blicky homestead has been getting more hits in a single day writing comments on the NYT Web site than I've gotten ...ever. Aside from being a stud, he's very wise and knowledgeable about American history. Here's his latest post. It's a response to op-ed writer Frank Rich's latest piece Guess Who's Coming to Dinner:

    Barring an unprecedented reversal over the next three days, Barack Obama will be elected as the next President of the United States.

    McCain’s apologists and allies will decry a so-called “media bias” toward Obama. If they look honestly at the last three months, however, they will place the blame squarely on McCain and his handlers. Conceding that McCain is a good man and would have made an adequate president, he ran a campaign so tone deaf to the needs of the country that he blew his big chance when it finally came to him.

    Americans have been worn out by divisive, sleazy, low-blow campaigning, and yearn for an articulation of common purpose that has been absent in the last eight years. George Bush missed an opportunity to provide this kind of leadership after his disputed election in 2000 and again after 9/11. He was either too small-minded or insecure or overwhelmed by ideologues to recognize it. The majority of people in the country apparently see that a McCain presidency would provide more of the same.

    Obama played rough in this campaign, to be sure, but he also consistently staked out the higher ground when compared to his Republican opponents. It will now be his opportunity and responsibility to lead the country in a moment of crisis. What the United States needs right now is what it has received from great leaders like Lincoln and Roosevelt in other times of difficulty: a recognition of the need to inspire hope in all Americans – not just those who helped elect them – and to deal decisively with the nation’s problems in ways that foster the greater good.