Book Review #12

cymbalum mundi

This will be a review/discussion of a somewhat older book with the odd, Latin title of Cymbalum Mundi. First, let me just say that if, like me, you ever get a chance to read this book….DON’T!

Some time ago, I published a post about how The Church, at the beginning of the Renaissance, made torture a competitive sport, offering rewards, both secular and spiritual, for winners. Jim Wheeler made me aware of a book titled A World Lit Only By Fire, a history of the excesses and hypocrisies of the time.

I obtained it by asking for an inter-library loan. Within its pages, it mentioned another book which listed and mocked certain Church practices.  Always willing to learn more of the failures of the best of the Good Christians, when I returned ‘World’, I requested another special loan.

This book was written in 1537. The title is in Latin, because back then, all serious works were written in Latin, so that educated people in different countries could all read them.  I requested an English translation.  Two weeks later, I got a call to pick it up.  I left the wife in the car, and when I brought it out, I tossed it into her lap.  Fortunately, before I got out of the parking lot, she asked, “Do you read French?”

The author was a Frenchman named Bonaventure Des Periers. While he titled it in Latin, the original text is all French.  I might get the gist of a current French document, but not the detail this book required.  I immediately returned it, and the Library Lady told me, “You should have told us you wanted an English version.”   👿

Two weeks later, I got another call, and carefully checked it before taking delivery. The French copy came from the University of Waterloo, 5 miles north, in our twin city.  The second, English copy, also came from U of W.  I’ve personally borrowed from Wilfrid Laurier University, our neighbors’ second, smaller school, but let the librarians do the work on this one.

The Book – Cymbalum Mundi [The Noise of the World]
(The anticipated applause of his adoring readers)

The Author – Bonaventure Des Periers

The Review – I don’t know what I expected to get with this book, but I didn’t get it. It came with 4 pages of Foreword, 28 pages of Introduction, 5 pages of Notes, and 4 pages of Literary References – and none of it actually explained only 74 pages of allegory and allusion.

It consists of five small segments, beginning with a fake letter to a fake friend, explaining how he carefully translated this from the original Greek. This is followed by four small scenes from a Shakespeare-like play; only, A Midsummer’s Night Dream is lucid and crystal clear, compared to this.

Jupiter sends his son Mercury to Earth, to have an old book rebound. He falls in with three brigands who steal the book from his bag, by replacing it with a worthless book, the same size and shape, while they are drinking at an inn.

NOW:

Does Jupiter represent God?
Does Mercury, the Messenger, represent Jesus?
Is the book Mercury brings, the tattered Old Testament?
Does the new, rebound book represent the New Testament?
Are the thieves the rulers of the Church, who steal The Word, to sell to the masses and enrich themselves?
Is the fake book they substitute, the code of rules the Church uses to control the laity?
Is the hostess of the inn a stand-in for the Virgin Mary?
Is the real food and wine she serves them a denial of the Doctrine of Transubstantiation?

The problem is, he never actually says. One well-known historian, with a pile of evidence, says yes, while another, just as renowned, and with as big a pile of proof, says the exact opposite.  You can ‘make’ this book say anything you want it to.

I had hoped that it might show more of the excesses and failings of the Church. What it shows, is the tap-dancing necessary for any writer of this period to present some doubt, and cause people to think, without ending up chained to a post, tap-dancing on a large bonfire.

It was interesting, and in the end educational, but not really fulfilling.

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Fathers’ Day

Fathers’ Day is just past, and I would be remiss if I didn’t describe mine, not for me, but to spotlight some young-uns.  I’ve been a father for a long time.  Hell, I’ve been everything I am or was, for a long time.  I don’t get too worked up about birthdays or Christmas or Fathers’ Day.  The wife will shove a hot poker up my ass if I forget her birthday, or our anniversary, but otherwise, meh!

Since the son is almost as sentimental as me, (Remember that first part!  It’s SENTImental, not just mental) his Fathers’ Day present was a guided tour of Kings’ Buffet Chinese Restaurant.  It was also his Mothers’ Day present to the wife – kill two birds with one obesity stone.  He also picked out and purchased about $30 worth of gorgeous cholesterol beef tenderloin, from which we cut three thick, beautiful filets, and two small roasts for later.  The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, and I have an 8-lane super-highway, complete with on-ramps.

1986 Dollar

My darling daughter, LadyRyl chose to enhance my coin collection.  When she and the grandson came over on Fathers’ Day, she presented me with a Presentation Grade, 1986, Canadian Dollar coin.  This is different from the simple, bronze-colored, Loonie coin in general circulation.  These used to be ‘Silver Dollars’ but are now Nickel, and silver in color only.  This one commemorates 100 years of coast-to-coast railroad in Canada.

SDC10858

The coin came safely snuggled in a plastic holder, inside a black holding case with a gold panda embossed on the top.  It has never been touched by human hands – cotton inspectors’ gloves, but never oily skin.  The finish is immaculate.  Certain areas have a mirror polish.  Truly an impressive coin, and a tribute to a vanishing technology.  I just can’t imagine one with a semi big-rig on it.

***

Now we come to the grandson – the 6’ 2” little scamp.  (Fortunately) abandoned by his father before he was born, the son and I have tried to support and guide him through life as best we can.  We may have helped his mother do something right, because he has grown up to be a super young man.

He handed his uncle a $100 gift card to the Chapters Bookstore chain.  Knowing the son’s reading habits, that might last till the middle of July.  For something to munch on while he’s reading, he also gave him about two quarts of party mix snack, from the bulk food store.

He brought with him, a cardboard box, about 4” square, and almost 4 feet long.  Being a little slow on the uptake, I wondered what it was. He brought it over to me, slit open the seal on one end and handed it to me.  ‘Hmmm, doesn’t weigh much.’  And the dénouement began.

Rapier

The Well-Dressed Renaissance Gentleman

Of all the weapons I’m interested in, I’ve wanted a rapier for display for years – and that’s what slid out of the box.  This thing is fully functional.  I could engage in SCA (Society for Creative Anachronisms) fencing tournaments, but like the Dollar coin above, I don’t want to ruin some polished surfaces.

SDC10855

It has a 39” long, diamond profile blade, with no sharp edges.  This is a stabbing weapon.  It weighs 2-½ pounds.  Movies aside, real sword fights didn’t last all that long.  Your arm would tire quickly.  Interest in rapiers must be cycling/dying down.  A few years ago, it would have been possible to also purchase a matching ‘main gauche’, a left hand parrying knife – but no longer.

I am fascinated by the shiny, beautiful, swirling, interlaced-rod guard, developed over years of experience to protect the hand.  It has a heavy pommel to counterbalance the heft of the sword, and for punching or head-bashing, in close.  The handle is bone, perhaps giraffe, from Africa, spiral grooved and inlaid with twisted gold(-plated brass) wires, for solid grip.  At each end of the bone handle is an assembly ring which is engraved with flowers.

I have cast my bread upon the waters, and it has been returned to me seven-fold.  I have the love of my daughter – and an impressive coin, and I have an upstanding, generous grandson – and a mesmerising rapier.  I have displayed (pictures of) the sword on my blog site.  Now I have to find a place to display the real thing, proudly in my home – and stop waving it around, knocking over the lamp, and (gently) poking the dog.  Baseball bat?  Shit!  Now I’m waiting for the first stupid burglar.   😳

#477

I Can Read You Like A Book

I’ve read books all my life.  As I saw myself getting near to retirement, I laid in a stock to keep me interested, and my time filled.  There must be 25 or 30 lying around the house that I haven’t got to yet, with more arriving all the time. I promised poor Art Browne @ Pouringmyartout, that I would read his eBook by October, and here it is January.

I discovered blogging, and, composing my own pitiful output, as well as reading and commenting on what you guys write, has cut down on my book-reading somewhat.  The busiest year I ever had was 1977, when I read 72 books in the calendar year.  Usually I read about a book a week, or about 50 a year.  This past couple of years, the totals have been less.  In 2013 I read 31 books.  The following is a list of how I spent some of my time.

The first two batches are the community writing I posted about.  They are credited to a “James Axler”, but no such author exists.  Instead, 8 or 9 writers for each series, rotate publishing a book a month.

Deathlands Series:  Hell Road Warriors1-Hell Road Warriors

This is the book I had the most trouble with.  The action scenes are fine, but the story starts 50 miles from my home town.  Early in the book I was already saying, “That highway doesn’t connect to that one.”  Then it goes north across Lake Huron.  This is the passage where they got there early to get a good birth on the ferry, but forgot to chalk the wheels, and the breaks failed.

Then they went through the Soo Locks, to get into Lake Superior.  The “locks” are giant log and steel constructions, pulled across the river by 40 pairs of oxen, to prevent unpaid passage.  This ignores the 21 foot difference in water level between the two lakes.  Every chapter, sometimes every page had a word misusage.  This is probably the straw that broke this reader’s back.

2-Palaces of Light 3-Wretch Earth 4-Crimson Waters 5-No Man's Land

 

 

 

Palaces of Light – Wretched Earth – Crimson Waters – No Man’s Land

****

Outlanders Series:

1-Dragon City 2-God War 3-Gensis Sinister

 

 

 

 

Dragon City – God War – Genesis Sinister

***

One Day on MarsTravis S. Taylor – One Day on Mars

*

1-Grantville Gazette IV 2-The Eastern Front 3-The Saxon Uprising

Eric Flint – Grantville Gazette IV – The Eastern Front – The Saxon Uprising

***

4-The Tangled Web (Virginia DeMarce)

Virginia DeMarce – The Tangled Web

*

5-The Papal Stakes (Charles E. Gannon)

Charles E. Gannon – the Papal Stakes

*

1-Overkill 2-Undercurrents

Robert Buettner – Overkill – Undercurrents

**

1-Killing-Floor 2-Die-Trying 3-Trip-Wire

Lee Child – Killing Floor – Die Trying – Tripwire

***

1-Sinai Secret 2-Voodoo Fury

Greg Loomis – Sinai Secret – Voodoo Fury

**

Fire Ice

Clive Cussler – Fire Ice

*

1-The Knowland Retribution 2-The Lacey Confession

Richard Greener – The Knowland Retribution – The Lacey Confession

**

1-Tinker 2-Wolf Who Rules 3-Elfhome

Wen Spencer – Tinker – Wolf Who Rules – Elfhome

***

1-The Human Division

John Scalzi – The Human Division

This book was originally 13 long chapters, essentially short stories, published in an on-line journal.  They have the same general group of people, on and off the same interstellar spacecraft, but the paper and print compilation seems somewhat disconnected.

*

2-The Inquisitor's Key

Jefferson Bass – The Inquisitor’s Key

*

3-Deep Fathom

James Rollins – Deep Fathom

This is the first in a series new to me.  There are eleven more, and all available at no cost from an on-line library – if I can wrestle the Kobo away from the wife occasionally.

*

4-The Righteous Mind

Jonathan Haidt – The Righteous Mind, Why good people are divided by politics and religion

This is the deepest and most educational book I read all year.  The author explains how and why people make certain thoughts and ideas “sacred”, even when others, or the evidence, don’t agree with them.  It gave some nice insights into puzzling behavior.  I’m almost proud of myself for reading this one.

We all read, because we all write.  Anybody else want to brag about a book or two you’ve recently read?

Classy Manners

While I’m all for respectful social comportment, “good manners” is often like “good Christians”, just another way for those at the top of the pile to enforce their version of acceptable behavior on those subordinate to them.  Often, the reason for certain behavior is lost or changed, but the demand for ritual continues.  Kitchen forks and knives came into existence to reduce the slashings and stabbings with daggers at Renaissance banquets.

Much of good manners is either the rich trying to get the poor to imitate them, or the poor trying to pretend they are not poor.  Everything is relative.  The, a plate for this food and a glass for that wine, means nothing to a kid from Kenya who is lucky to have an old tin can or half a gourd to hold a little food.  When first married, my father always left a little something on his plate, and it disturbed my Scottish mother.  When asked about it, he said that an aunt had told him that it showed you were well-off enough to waste a bit.  Mom soon cured him of that.

Don’t pick up food with your hands, because we can afford cutlery.  Don’t lick your plate or bowl, because we can pay for more food.  The only one that makes sense is the, don’t lick your knife, admonishment.  You might cut your tongue.  You can be sure that the Kenyan kid is licking his food holder.

When it comes to manners, much is expected of us, simply because it is expected.  England, supposedly the home of freedom and democracy, even today, is rigidly stratified by wealth and region.  The lower the position on the social totem pole – assigned by those at the top – the more one is expected to know your place, and act your role.  In one of Agatha Christie’s mysteries, two murderers are caught for an otherwise perfect murder, because they didn’t speak to the housekeeper.  Why didn’t they ask Evans?

In a perfect world, no-one would be disturbed by anything, but the world is far from perfect, and some people’s expectations and turn-offs are somewhat excessive.  I once bathed, immediately before going to work.  I put on clean clothes, from the skin out, including a brand-new pair of socks.

After working 8 hours I had to remove a shoe and sock in the locker-room.  Even I was shocked to see the foot was completely black.  Some bitchy wimp asked, “Don’t you ever shower?” After I explained that I seldom shower, I assured him that I had just had a nice long bath.  The black on my foot was just fiber from the new socks.  “Yeah, well, it’s still gross!”  What do you answer to that?  It’s not my problem.  It’s his!

Go Transit, the commuter railroad in southern Ontario, has instituted *quiet zones*, cars where there are no loud talkers, no cell-phones, and no music leaking from earphones on empty heads.  A Toronto Sun columnist wants to transfer that to the streetcars and subways of the Toronto Transit Commission, and adds his list of dislikes.  Here’s why I don’t think he has a chance.

He rails against coughers, spreading germs.  He wants them to cover their mouth, and wonders why they don’t just stay home.

You’re sitting down, while I have one hand full of strap, and the other with a tote-bag with my Joe-Job uniform.  It doesn’t leave many free limbs to suppress coughs.  I’m going to work, with my cold, because I have a shitty job, with shitty pay, and a shitty boss.  I need the income, and I need the job!  I’m gonna keep ridin’ the bus, till the day after they embalm me.  You could peel off $300 and say, “Here, take a couple of days off.  What’s your boss’s name and address?  I’ll tell him what a stand-up guy you are and slip him a C-note to pay for a temp, and to hold your job.”  Until you do, Shut Up!

Sniffers, just bring a Kleenex, or a simple handkerchief to clear the nasal passages, so I don’t have to listen.

Plug in your earphones, because I suffer from hyperhidrosis.  I am constantly producing saliva and nasal fluid.  It’s a steady post-nasal drip.  I could blow my nose with aloe flavored tissues till I sand it off, and it would still drip down my throat.  You think it’s irritating on the outside for a half-hour ride; you should try living with it on the inside, 24/7!

Watching somebody spend 30 minutes putting on makeup is just off-putting.  Organize your morning ablutions.

Gee, Bob, why don’t you close your eyes and doze off.  I’d like to.  I’m a working Mom, and I’ve been up since 5:30 AM.  I woke a husband and two kids, made sure they all got washed and dressed while I made them breakfast and lunches.  I got Hubby off to work, and the kids delivered to daycare, and now I have to endure the ride-from-Hell, to work.  I finally have a free minute to call my own, and you don’t like it?  If you don’t want to see me apply my makeup, why don’t you get up a half hour earlier, and take a different train?

He did have an insightful comment about seat-baggers, but it just proves what sheep most people are.  Who knew that bags and parcels get tired?  That must be the reason some people feel the need to sit on one seat and take another for their carry-ons.  It is both rude and selfish.

When I took the bus home from a day-shift, I rode the same one that the Good-Christian, Catholic School students took.  Since my stop was almost the last, on the outbound run, I tried to sit on the raised section behind the back door, to give others room.  That’s where the students always rode, too.  Some of the loving couples must have felt a bus seat was less expensive than a motel room, but provided an entertaining, in-flight movie.

I stepped up there one day, and there was only one seat open (?).  It had José the Jock’s school-books in it.  I looked at him, and then at the seat.  He looked at me, and then looked away, dismissively.  I walked over, picked up the pile of books, dropped them in his lap and sat down, with my carry-bag on my lap.  My working ass is more tired than your books.  There are places where these actions might be more dangerous, but the look on his face was priceless.  Somebody gotta teach ‘em some manners.