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Archive for the ‘History’

Binge-watching: Vikings

August 19, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, History, Television 3 Comments →

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All photos from the History Channel site.

We like swords, carnage, and medieval history, so we’re watching Vikings. It’s the first drama series from the History Channel, created by Michael Hirst who was behind The Tudors, The Borgias, and Camelot.

The Vikings were a race of seafaring Nordic badasses who went on marauding expeditions to Europe, Russia, all the way to North America. They were large, terrifying warriors who not only did not fear death, they went looking for it. To die a glorious death in battle meant that they would be taken by Valkyrie maidens to Valhalla, where they would feast in the great hall of Odin.

Vikings follows the adventures of the Ragnar Lothbrok, legendary hero of Norse sagas. Here he is with an unfortunate haircut and a stare that makes him look like an inbred redneck (We hear banjoes! Flee!).

Ragnar

When we meet him in the first season, he is a young farmer with a wife and two small kids, but what he really wants to do is sail west to loot and pillage. That was the common job description at the time: Farmer/Marauder. His earl has grown over-cautious and doesn’t believe there’s anything in the west. So Ragnar asks his best friend Floki to secretly build a ship that can sail great distances using primitive GPS technology.

Floki

Floki is played by Gustaf Skarsgard, son of Stellan, brother of the hot vampire on True Blood. (Yup, that’s the genetic lottery for you.) We don’t watch True Blood but our sister has Alexander Skarsgard on her Google alerts and of course we’ve seen his naked GIFs. The eccentric Floki is said to be descended from the trickster god Loki (Hoy, cute si Loki ha).

Rollo

Ragnar has a good-looking brother named Rollo who is a great fighter but is deeply jealous of Ragnar. Bad enough that everyone considers him the spare, but Rollo is also in love with Ragnar’s wife, the shieldmaiden Lagertha.

Lagertha

Some scholars believe that in Viking culture, the women could fight along with the men. Lagertha cooks and raises the children, but she also gets ticked off when Ragnar goes off marauding without her.

On one raid Ragnar captures an Anglo-Saxon monk named Athelstan, who becomes his slave and later his friend. The Athelstan character lets us see the differences between the Viking and Christian cultures. The Vikings have a very open and healthy attitude towards sex (Rollo: Where are your parents? Bjorn: They’re having sex). The Christians are stuck up and fearful, and Athelstan nervously declines when he gets invited to a threesome.

On the show the Vikings look filthy, but they were definitely cleaner than the monks, who never bathed. They live in what is now Denmark, so they should look like Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister in Game of Thrones). And if axe-wielding Nikolaj Coster-Waldaus are coming at you, surrender and ask for their autograph.

Rating: Highly recommended.

In one Comp Lit course we had to read Scandinavian sagas. Along with the Volsunga, we read the Njala, which is also called Burnt Njal. We don’t remember any of it, except that part where the hero Njal is besieged in his house and he valiantly fights off the invaders with bow and arrow. Unfortunately his bowstrings snap, so he turns to his wife and asks her to braid her hair into a bowstring. And she says something like, “Remember two months ago when you hit me?” and refuses to give her hair to his defense. She leaves, and Njal’s enemies surround his house and burn it down with him in it. That’s why it’s called Burnt Njal.

We know nothing about Apolinario Mabini, whose 150th birthday it is today

July 23, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: History No Comments →

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Rigodon, an art installation by Leo Abaya showing the presidents of the Philippines as players on a chessboard. Now on view at the exhibition Triumph of Philippine Art on the third floor of Ayala Museum. Photo courtesy of the Ayala Museum.

I wonder how Mabini feels about going down in history as “The Sublime Paralytic”, as if he were defined by his disability. In the first place, how does one become a sublime paralytic, by levitating?

This is like calling Kris Aquino “The Massacre Queen” or Gretchen Barretto the “ST Queen”. They probably would not like it. It reduces everything they have ever done to the movies they made in the 1990s.

And we know way, way, way more about Aquino and Barretto than we do about Mabini, and he was “The Brains of the Revolution”. I don’t know if he had a wheelchair—according to history books, he was carried by soldiers on a hammock—but in comic book terms, he would be the Professor Charles Xavier of the Philippines.

Read our column at InterAksyon.com.

Scenes from the history of medicine

July 18, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Art, Books, History No Comments →

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The Wellcome Library, London has made a thousand years of historical images relating to the history of medicine available free to the public.

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Images from Wellcome Library, London

For news on works of art, music and literature in the public domain, visit The Public Domain Review.

The July LitWit Challenge: Write a Colonial Revenge Fantasy

July 09, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Contest, History No Comments →

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Indios in Paris, photo at the National Historical Commission

Some time ago, we wrote a column in which we pointed out that since our economy is doing better than Spain’s, it is time to buy Spain or at least hire domestic helpers who are Spanish. It would not make up for the abuses of the Spanish colonial regime, but it would be an arresting symbol, not to mention a hoot.

- Yñaki, dalhin mo dito ang tsinelas ko!
- Si, su majestad, heto na po an tsinelas, ano pa po an maipaqlilinqod qo?

The other day at lunch we noticed that our server was Portuguese, which means our idea is not just feasible, it is coming to pass. At the time the Philippines was “discovered” by Magellan, Spain and Portugal had “divided” the world amongst themselves.

This month’s LitWit Challenge: Write us a story, play or movie scene in which a Filipino employer interacts with Spanish domestic helper/s or yaya. No limits on length. Post your entry in Comments on or before 18 July 2014. The winner gets these books by the acclaimed Spanish author Javier Marias.

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Read the review of his latest book, The Infatuations.

The LitWit Challenge is brought to you by National Bookstores.

Venganza! On Oberyn Martell, the World Cup, and Jose Rizal’s library

June 19, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, History, Sports besides Tennis 1 Comment →

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We know nothing about the teams battling it out in the football World Cup (except that the Italian, Spanish and Croatian teams look fabulous). But when we heard that Spain, which had lost to the Netherlands 1-5 (Was Iker asleep?), was up against Chile, we decided we were rooting for Chile. Because Pedro Pascal who played the Red Viper Oberyn Martell of Dorne is Chilean! And used his father’s accent in the role (He himself has lived in New York for ages). The Red Viper did not make much of an impression on us when we read A Song of Ice and Fire, but with Pascal in the role (and Benioff-Weiss speeding up the story), whoa!

And Chile kicked defending champion Spain out of the World Cup, 2-0. As Butch texted: Spain eliminated on Rizal’s birthday. Venganza!

Which reminded us that today is Jose Rizal’s birthday. Yikes, we had forgotten. Why is it that we mark his death rather than his birth?

What do the Red Viper and our national hero have in common? Venganza! Oberyn Martell did it through mortal combat with The Mountain (Finish him off now! Get away from that–oh yucch), Rizal’s mysterious Simoun planned to do it with some nitroglycerine in a lamp shaped like a pomegranate.

This being Jose Rizal’s birthday, we looked up the list of the books he owned in Under Three Flags: Anarchism and the Colonial Imagination by Benedict Anderson. The library that Rizal brought back from Europe included books by the following authors.

French:
Francois-Rene de Chateaubriand (Was the steak named after him?)
Alphonse Daudet
Alexandre Dumas pere (5) – Of course, El Filibusterismo being heavily inspired by the revenge classic The Count of Monte Cristo.
Victor Hugo – Everyone read Les Miserables; today everyone sings the songs.
Alain-Rene Lesage
Eugene Sue (10), author of sensational novels that dealt with social ills
Voltaire
Emile Zola (4)

English:
Edward Bulwer-Lytton of “It was a dark and stormy night” infamy
Daniel Defoe – Robinson Crusoe?
Charles Dickens – Of course, but which one.
William Makepeace Thackeray – Vanity Fair, we suppose.

German:
Goethe
E.T.A. Hoffman – Fantasy and horror author

Italian:
Alessandro Manzoni – I promessi sposi

Dutch:
Douwes Dekker

Spanish:
Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra – Don Quixote, we presume.

Anderson points out that these authors had been mentioned in Rizal’s letters: (Hans Christian) Andersen, (Honore de) Balzac, Johann Peter Hebel, and (Jonathan) Swift. Rizal also had access to the library of Trinidad Pardo de Tavera, in whose house in Paris he had been a guest for several months.

Love Game: A history of tennis

May 09, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, History, Tennis No Comments →

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Tennis in 1600. Image from BibliOdyssey.

Tennis has always been – beneath the flannelled pomp – an outsiders’ sport. For all the glamour of its major stars, the A-list oligarchy of Roger-Rafa-Novak, it remains in a small but vital way a sport liked by people who don’t necessarily like sport. And not just liked, but pored over, cherished, meditated upon and generally engaged with in a way that seems distinct from the more garrulous engagements with other mass spectator sports. It isn’t hard to see why. Tennis is a strangely intimate spectacle. At times it can resemble less a display of athletic excellence than a revelation of personality, glimpsed through the familiar repartee of serve, rally, volley, drop shot, winner. Then there is that touchingly stark on-court isolation. No other sport presents its players so nakedly to the world, alone in all that space, surrounded only by ball-grabbers and towel-handlers, engaged in the most mannered of arm’s-length emotional wrestling matches. Little wonder it is so easy to identify rather too closely with a tennis player, to imagine those distant professional athletes as warriors, victims, heroes, friends and general objects of private obsession.

Read the review of Love Game by Elizabeth Wilson at The Literary Review.