Archive for the ‘Bygone times’ Category

Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies by Ben Macintyre; page count 360

This non-fiction work tells about a British espionage network, the Double Cross Team or XX or Twenty Team (the roman numerals for double Xs) during World War II. (I will never look at one of my favorite beers the same again.) This team worked on capturing Nazi spies in Britain and turning them to work for the Allies.

double cross macintyreIt follows five of the main spies who made the landing at Normandy not a total bloodbath and disaster. The first is Dusan Popov or Agent Tricycle, a playboy and entrepreneur with several contacts in Germany. Then there is Juan Pujol Garcia or Agent Garbo, a Spaniard with an excellent imagination who developed his own network consisting of dozens of fictitious sub-agents. There is also Lily Sergeyev or Agent Treasure, a White Russian former aristocrat and fanatical dog lover. Roman Czerniawski or Agent Brutus was a Polish freedom fighter then French resistance leader, who when arrested by Nazis in France convinced his captors he would become a spy only to turn against them for the Allies. And last but not least we have the gambling, bi-sexual socialite Elvira de la Fuente Chaudoir, Agent Bronx. You also learn a great deal about the British men and women (alright, just one woman) who run the agents, as well as some of the side agents and subplots.

I really liked this book. Granted it has everything I like in a book: daring deeds, espionage, far away destinations and life hanging in the balance. However, Macintyre’s writing style is particularly pleasing. He did not burned with footnotes (don’t worry they are at the end for the more studious readers.)He also has this brilliant English dry humor running throughout the book which makes the sometimes amusing scenarios very funny.

I would recommend this book to anyone who would like a lighter take on Word War II, or to anyone with an interest in true espionage stories. Honestly, I don’t think this book would disappoint anyone who happened to pick it up.

Read Full Post »

I will spare you excuses for my blogging absence, because that is what they are, excuses. Sometime soon I will share my news with you all. Today we are going to learn all about hurricanes. Yay!

As many of you know, I moved to Louisiana in January. Having spent all my life in the midwest and then two years in Boston. So, this is my very first hurricane! In case you live under a rock, Hurricane Isaac is slowly but surely coming to Louisiana.



My knowledge of Hurricane survival comes from a book I remember reading in late middle school, early high school called Louisiana Hurricane 1860 by Kathleey Duey. It’s part of a series about romance in crazy, abnormal, historical situations. My initial reaction was to call them natural disasters since the ones I remember the most are Louisiana Hurricane 1860, The Great Chicago Fire 1871, San Francisco Earthquake 1906 and Washington Avalanche 1910. However, there is also Hidenburg 1937 and Pearl Harbor 1941.*

Anyway, back to real Hurricanes. I freaked out Sunday night and Monday (was close to tears a couple times yesterday) because I have no desire to be in a natural disaster. I don’t want the air to go out. I don’t want my cell phone to die and have no way to call my mother. I don’t have a radio and all the stores were out, so once the power goes out and my ipad dies, well I’m screwed. Nothing about this sounds like fun. Neither does filling my bathtub with water to flush my toilet. So many people told me to clean my tub, fill it with water, then put some bleach in it, and then use that for toilet and drinking water if I run out of bottled water. Frankly, I refuse to drink bleach water out of my tub, so I ran around the house filling every bowl, pitcher, and even the crock-pot with water, in case I run out of previously purchased water. Frankly I’m glad the boy is with me right now, because I’d be going crazy (not to mention when I et nervous I need to use the restroom and that will deplete the toilet flushing water pretty quickly!)

Yet, even though this Hurricane is beginning to scare me (we now have tornado watches too) I cannot help thinking about the people who lived through Hurricanes long ago. Back before the radio was invtented. Back before meteorologists could tell storms were brewing long before they manifested themselves. Back when most people lived miles and miles away from each other, so you couldn’t pick up and travel to a friends house 50 miles away when a storm approached your home.

According to HPC the first documented hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico occurred on October 23, 1527. According to the paper by David Roth of the National Weather Service in Camp Springs, MD, “the earliest reference that can be found to a storm in the Gulf of Mexico occurred on a voyage of Panfilo de Narvaez, whose nemesis was Fernando Cortes…he was sent to settle Florida, until forced to leave by hostile natives and hunger. His five boats of less than 250 men hugged the coast and sailed westward. As they were passing the Mouth of the Mississippi River, a storm caught the barges and ‘tossed them like drift wood’ (ChiPMan).”

After that, the first “well-documented” storm occurred between September 22-24, 1722. During that storm 36 huts were destroyed and 3 days of flooding rains occurred around the 27th (Roth). Granted the area was most likely scarcely populated at the time, but 36 seems like a lot! Later, on August 17-18, 1779, a hurricane landed in New Orleans. At this time Bernardo de Galvez officiated as mayor of New Orleans and  Spain and Great Britain were at war. According to Roth, “Almost of all of Bernardo de Galvez’ ships that were to be sued to secretly seize the British post at Baton Rouge were grounded or destroyed, thus ruining his plans for the invasion until the 27th…some of the ships were found in the middle of the woods after the storm!”

Moving to the 1800s. On August 16-17, 1831, “the Great Barbados hurricane, very destructive, hit just west of Last Island, just west of Baton Rouge…and killed 1500 people along it’s path from Barbados to New Orleans (Roth).” Along the way, it destroyed a fishing village on Grand Isle due to six feet tidal waves.

The weather itself is the same. However, our housing structures are so much stronger. Yes, the wealthy lived in incredibly sturdy, well built houses. Otherwise we would not have historic houses and plantations today. However, think of all the slaves. The bulk of Louisiana economy came from plantations. Those plantations required slaves, and I can guarantee their houses were not of sturdy construction.

Louisiana is also filled with poor swamp people, or Cajuns. These homes are oftentimes directly on the water and, again, now always sturdily built. Also, it was unlikely that these people had easy access to evacuation.

I know I could talk about recent Hurricanes like Katrina and Gustav. But honestly, it’s the older hurricanes that fascinate me; how people survived and almost embraced the crazy weather of their homeland. I truly believe that Louisiana is in your blood, because as a transplant, I see no reason to stay in an area so susceptible to natural disaster.


* The books are just as the titles suggest–fluffy teen historical romance. I actually reread Louisiana Hurricane 1860 when I moved down here, and wow. Not the greatest book ever. It’s actually pretty bad. But it totally entertained me as an adolescent! I loved the “forbidden romance” of the wealthy plantation creole and the cajun worker. I also read all the other books in the series, besides Pearl Harbor 1941 and they all followed the same line. Fluffy, enjoyable, clean, historical romance. But, based solely on the covers, I hid them from my mother when I checked them out from the library. I was such a dork.

Read Full Post »

Memorial Day

Although now known mostly as a three-day weekend to Bar-b-que and chance to buy big-ticket items on sale, Memorial Day originally had much more serious origins.

After the start of the American Civil War, commuities would set aside one day a year to decorate their fallen soldiers’ graves. On this day, which could be randon, townspeopl would gather to remember and honor those who fought for their country; which at the time, of course, could have been either the Union or Confederate States of America since both the North and the South engaged in this practice.
Confederate  Memorial Day parade on Main Street: Wauchula, Florida
On May 30, 1868, Decoration Day (precurser to Memorial Day) was officially observed. It was proclaimed by General Jophn Logan to be a day to decorate the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers. May 30 was chosen because it was not an anniversary of a particular battle. While the day was meant to commemorate both sides of the conflict, many Southern states honored their dead on other days.

It was not until World War I that Decoration Day morphed into a day of rememberance for all fallen US servicemen (and later women.)

Memorial day was still celebrated on May 30th until 1971 when it was declared to be held on the last Monday in May in order to provide a better holiday for Federal employees.

If you get the chance, decorate the grave of a fallen soldier, hug a person in military service, or at least take a minute to remember those who gave their lives.

I found this information on the two following sites.



Read Full Post »

Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel; page count 512.

Clan of the Cave Bear

I actually listened to the audio version, read by Sandra Burr. It was fantastic!

This book, the first in the Earth’s Children Series, was amazing! I can’t believe it took me so long to read it. This first book was originally published in 1980, and Auel finished the series last summer with the publication of the sixth and final book, The Land of the Painted Caves.

The story, the series in fact, follows Ayla, a prehistoric woman traversing through Europe about 30,000 years ago. Clan of the Cave Bear opens with an earthquake which destroys five-year-old Ayla’s home and her family. The child travels alone for a few days, encountering a cave lion along the way, before finally collapsing from exhaustion. She is picked up and rejuvenated by a neanderthal medicine woman traveling with her clan. The medicine woman is allowed to keep the girl even though Ayla is an “Other” (Homo sapien sapien.)

Auel breathes such life and depth into her characters. I love the differences she has created between “Others” and the Neanderthals. I was hooked from the moment I popped the CD in my car. Her landscapes are probably the most stunning thing. She makes it very easy to picture the surroundings. The crispness of the air, the color of the leaves. All of it is very well done.

The brilliance of Auel, however, isn’t in her writing style, which is certainly far above par; it’s in her research. It’s apparent the writer took a lot of time to research and get her facts straight. I appreciate any author who shows a reverence for facts, while making it accessible in fiction. Having read several previous books about human evolution, and watching numerous documentaries on the topic, I can say with some certainty that the history (prehistory?) quite accurate. (I mean, except for the obvious, albeit brief, dip into fantasy, but it’s so small and done so well, that I’ll overlook that bit.) Well, done, Auel!

Needless to say, I’ll definitely be reading the rest of this series. Although I may take a bit of a break in between installations for other books.


If you are interested in more about human evolution, I recommend these sites: http://humanorigins.si.edu/  and https://genographic.nationalgeographic.com/genographic/index.html

Read Full Post »

We normally do not write about movies here, but I had to share this documentary because it is brilliant! Prohibition: A film by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick.

Prohibition Doc by Burns and NovickIn all fairness, I do have a soft spot for the 1910s-1920s. (I think I would have made an excellent spunky suffragette.) However, if you’re interested in American history, or just a well-made documentary, you should probably check this one out. I learned a lot about the era, and I really enjoyed all of the actual footage used.

Interesting tidbits among many that can be learned from the documentary:

After 1830, the average American over 15 years old drank almost seven gallons of pure alcohol a year! That comes to about three times as much as we drink today. Frankly, I don’t know how they functioned properly. If I drank three times the amount I drink now, I’d be completely useless.

The figures in terms of the economic consequences of Prohibition are staggering! In the state of New York, prior to Prohibition, nearly 75% of the state’s tax revenue came from taxes on liquor. Nationally, Prohibition cost the U.S. $11 billion in lost tax revenue. On top of which, it cost America another $300 million to enforce a practically unenforceable law.

I knew women played a large role in the Dry movement. With rampant alcohol abuse and the fact that spousal rape and abuse were not illegal, who can blame them? The Women’s Christian Temperance Union was quite a force. It’s still around, too. It is the oldest non-sectarian woman’s organization if the world. It also played a large role in women’s suffrage. What I did not know was there was another large, powerful woman’s group which was behind Repeal. The Woman’s Organization for National Prohibition Reform was founded by heiress and the first woman to serve on the Republican National Committee, Pauline Sabin.

Also, my new favorite historical figure is Lois Long the indelible flapper and writer for the New Yorker.


Watch Women in PROHIBITION Lois Long on PBS. See more from Ken Burns.

All of the facts (except maybe the bit about the WCTU which is on their website) can be found on the documentary or on the doc’s website: http://www.pbs.org/kenburns/prohibition/  You can basically watch all of it online, if that suits better.
A big thanks to PBS for funding such stellar productions.
Another big thanks to my pal, Brandon, for giving me the documentary as a Christmas present. I love it!

Read Full Post »

Mardi Gras, Carnival, Fat Tuesday, whatever you want to call it, it’s a big event here in Louisiana. Growing up Catholic I knew Mardi Gras was the day before Lent officially begins. In other words, it’s a day to go hog-wild before the 47 days of denial and soberness of Lent. I had no idea Mardi Gras season officially starts the day after Epiphany (the 12th day of Christmas) and culminates in Fat Tuesday.


In the United States, historians believe that the first Mardi Gras occurred on March 3, 1699 when French explorers landed in what is now Louisiana1. In years to come settlers celebrated the holiday with parties and balls, which Spanish control abolished when it took over New Orleans. Americans reinstated the revelries in 1812, when Louisiana became a U.S. State1.

a modern day parade


In 1857, the Mistick Krewe of Comus (a secret society of New Orleans business men) organized the first recorded parade1. Elements of this parade are still seen today—torches, marching bands and floats. Today, there are dozens of Krewes, each hosting a parade that rolls anytime in the season. This year, parades started February 4 and ended on February 21. In each parade, those on the floats wear masks covering their hair and faces, yet another old tradition. Back in the beginnings of the parades the wealthy wanted to keep their involvement a secret and wore masks to remain anonymous.


Another old Mardi Gras tradition is the King Cake3. I’d heard of King Cake before—in context of the 12 Days of Christmas—but never understood why King Cake was also associated with Mardi Gras. Until, of course, I realized that Mardi Gras officially begins on January 6, or the Twelfth Night of Christmas. The King Cake is baked in honor of the three kings. Inside each cake is a little baby, and who ever finds the baby gets good luck for the next year. Today’s bakers top their King Cakes with sugar in the traditional Mardi Gras colors of purple, green and gold.

Click on the picture for a recipe


Unlike the rest of the Mardi Gras traditions, beads are relatively new2, although they are now synonymous with Mardi Gras. The throwing of beads did not come about until sometime in the 1920s when the Krewe of Rex parade threw inexpensive necklaces to the crowds2. Today’s krewes spend anywhere between $800 and $2,000 on beads and must have orders in by September2! The other Mardi Gras bead “tradition,” or flashing for beads, is also relatively new and only occurs in the French Quarter. The rest of the parades are relatively family friendly (if you ignore the rampant alcohol consumption).


While most Americans think associate New Orleans with Mardi Gras, other southern cities host their own celebrations. Brazil and Venice also host famous Carnival (Brazil) or Carnevale (Venice). Each celebration has its own distinctive, and historic flair, but each centers on the Roman Catholic tradition.

*TIME has some really cool pictures of Mardi Gras from the 1930s on their website. I wanted to include them, but I couldn’t insert them into this post. But check them out!


1. http://www.history.com/topics/mardi-gras

2. http://mardigrasday.com/mardigrasinfo.php?article_id=4

3. http://www.mardigrasneworleans.com/kingcakes.html

Read Full Post »

Groundhog Day

I come from a very strange family. For example: we have watched the movie Groundhog’s Day each year on Groundhog’s day until I moved out. (Technically my parents still do, but I no longer do.) If you’ve not seen the movie, Bill Murray’s character is stuck reliving the same day, Groundhog’s Day, over and over again. He can’t die; he can’t leave the town he’s stuck in; he cannot do anything but live out Groundhog’s Day until he gets it right. The fact that we watch this film every year without fail adds some special irony to the occasion.

However, I started to wonder, how did Groundhog Day begin? It is a rather odd superstition when you think about it. So, I did a little research.


Cute, yes?

There is a lot of adorable information about the Groundhog’s Day celebration in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania on the official site. There is information such as how long Punxsutawney Phil has been making his predictions: this is his 126th year officiating officially; in what language Phil makes his prediction: Groundhogese; and when the first official trek to Gobbler’s Knob was made: February 2nd, 1886. “The celebration of Groundhog Day began with Pennsylvania’s earliest settlers. They brought with them the legend of Candlemas Day.” Apparently there are several poems associated with Candlemas Day and the weather. All of them are a tiny bit different, but they all go something like this Scottish couplet:

“If Candlemas Day is bright and clear,

There’ll be twa (two) winters in a year.”

The celebration of Candlemas Day, and therefore Groundhog Day, is quite possiblly also aligned with the pagan holiday Imbolc, a celebration of the halfway point between Winter Solstice and the Spring equinox.

If you’re interested: Candlemas Day is a Catholic festival of sorts. There’s a lot of interesting religious jazz involved, but let me distill the whole thing a bit: Candlemas Day celebrates the day when Mary would have been cleansed from birthing a boy, and would have brought little baby Jesus into the Temple in Jerusalem to offer an animal sacrifice. There’s also a blessing of candles which takes place during the ceremony and a procession, too.

Supposedly, it’s the Germans who attached an animal to Candlemas. If it is sunny outside on Candlemas Day, then the hedgehog would see his shadow and therefore another winter (or another six weeks) came. Germans were the predominant settlers of Pennsylvania, and they replaced the hedgehog with the Groundhog. Ta da! A bizarre tradition is born!

That’s all good and well, but I don’t much care for cold myself. In fact, I’m a self-proclaimed wimp when it comes to cold. (Seriously, just ask Sapphire or Indigo. It would take me almost 150% longer to bundle for cold weather than either of them.) I’d really prefer it if some old woodchuck isn’t in charge of my comfort.

This year, Punxsutawney Phil has predicted six more weeks of winter. I must say, I’m not sure if I believe the little marmot. It already feels like spring where I am, and has for a couple of weeks now. Oh well. It’s still a fun tradition.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »