Ships, ships, ships

I cannot fail to note that, for a seaside boy like me, I do like infantry formations, specially in ancient times.

I love to depict, describe, and play with phalanxes (both classical and Macedonian), legions, and other similar armies, with mixed arms (light and heavy infantry, light and heavy cavalry, if available, and so on).

However, most of my novels (or novels-to-be, anyway) happen near, and largely, near the coast or in the sea. I can remind, off-hand, the 200 trirremes fleet of the Delian League in The Lybian, or the massive fleets in the Battle of Lade, in Revolt!. I guess I cannot avoid it: I like the sea, and I like to navigate.

I specially enjoy sailing. And sail ships are dear to my heart.

From the early merchant ships found in the Mediterranean in Bronze Age (dromon and other types), to the war galleys known to all (Phoenician and Greek galleys, for example), Egyptian sailing ships, Nordic merchant ships (the Hanseatic League) and then the host of sailing ships after the Portuguese Descubridores (whose English names I don't know, but you probably know the lot: naves, drakkars (et al.), carracas, caravels, galleons, longships, corvettes, fricates, ships-of-the-line, clippers, yatchs, schooners, xebecs, and a very long etc.)

Naval affairs have also have decisive (or at least "key") roles in many military events throughout History, including, for example, the Battle of Salamis (480 BCE), the Battle of Lepanto (1571 CE), the Battle of Trafalgar (1805 CE) or, in too recent times, the Battle of Midway (1942 CE), among too many others.

Many other naval events were probably more important than those above, and how many have I never heard of?

One that involved an important naval affair is the main subject of my First-Ever Historical Fiction idea, the novel I wanted to start writing and was afraid of, and it will be the subject of my Nanowrimo novel.

I won't say anything more for the time being (suspense! :-) but now you know I like sailing ships (my favourite among the ones I have been able to try is the dinghy "four-seventy" or 470, a two-manned monohull sailing ship, of Olympics category, which is really delicious to sail... :-)

Lastly, I can recommend anyone who can sail to do so: it's a really rewarding experience, where the beauty of nature and the harsh "bussiness" mix to produce a cocktail of sport and Zen-like relax that's hard to find.



The End of the Summer...

... approaches quite rapidly. The weather starts to reflect rather strong variations in night and day temperatures, cloudy skies, chilly winds, nightfall arrives suddenly at unexpected times (at least until we get rid of the Summertime Daylight Saving +1 hour)...

The Second Harvest approaches, the Equinox that balances light and darkness (Good and Evil as well? naaah). It's a time for our moods to balance as well, torn between the delights of the leaving Summer, and the ocher shades of the impending Fall (it seems a beautiful word, although Autumn is also nice).

And where does all this lead us? To a time of changes, of memories from a lost recent past, of what could have been but was not; but also to new opportunities, to the chance of shredding our old skins off, like the trees do, to get braced for the Winter.

The Winter which arrives after the Third Harvest (not the Astronomical Winter, but the seasonal one, after Samhain, the Halloween), the announce of the infertility of the soil, the domain of Darkness over Light, of night over day, and the chance to overcompensate with our fertile Muses, comfortably sat before our hearths, hot cocoa infusion close by and writing mitts on our hands; the time for creation when nothing can easily be created, time to spread warmth with our minds when the weather is cold and menacing, to fertilize the Winter landscape with the colors of our mind.

I am talking, of course, about NaNoWriMo.

And fertility this Nano is bringing.

Yes, I know what you are thinking: "Another novel? When are you going to finish one, first?" Well, the answer is: when it's done.

This Nano will give me the opportunity to finally tackle my very first Historical Novel project, one that I have delayed for years of slow investigation, thinking, figuring out... The other day, though, I had a revelation brought to me through the mysterious paths of the Muses, and now I feel confident enough (it's not like I haven't written more than 200,000 novelling words between then and now, I have learned some things, I hope).

I'll let you know as we get closer, for the project deserves it. It will also be a kind of jump to the future for me, which considering my recent trends, is good news in and on itself (I mean, I will be writing about this Common Era, that's more than 1,000 years later, hehe).

So, stay tuned. ;-)

Lastly, I was visiting one of the biggest book stores in Spain the other day, hunting documentation, references, and so on, and went to visit the 'Other Languages' section; I usually go to look for some novels written in English that will probably never see the light in Spain/Spanish: it's more rewarding than Amazon and other online services, you can touch and feel the books, something I undeniably enjoy.

Guess what? I found some exemplars of the pocket version of the UK edition of Memnon, by our top ten favourites writer, Scott Oden. Way cool, I'm very happy for him that his books are getting such a distribution (I mean, if they get in here, they are widely spread out!). No trace of Men of Bronze, though, but I won't lose heart, and, as always, I recommend everybody to get 'em, as they are more than worth their price, indeed!

Well, times are changing: we feel it in our skin, we feel it inside, and Nano will let us get it out in an explosion of creativity and emotion!



Pons Ferrata

Or Ponferrada (entry on English Wikipedia), in the Spanish region of O Bierzo (roman Bergidum), close to the frontier between Gallaecia and the Tarraconensis province, and western borderline between Province of León (from the old Legio VII Gemina fame) and Lugo (of Lucus Augusta fame), at about some 60 km from Astorga (old Asturica Augusta; the remaining capital town of Gallaecia being Bracara Augusta, nowadays Braga in Portugal).

It's a very beautiful region, a big plain surrounded by mountain ranges all around, where the Romans took huge quantities of gold, specially from the mines at Mons Medulium (nowadays known as Las Médulas, an UNESCO World Heritage Site), with important historical facts from the start. The most remarkable feature nowadays is probably the medieval Templar Castle, probably the last one in existance and in good conditions, at least in Spain, and probably in all Europe (although I know there are others in France, but not the state of conservation).

This is a picture taken from the small road to the entrance, where part of the moat can be seen. At the other side, view from this POV, some 60 meters lower, goes the river Sil, which is the main affluent to the Miño river, which forms the natural frontier between Portugal and Galicia nowadays. The other side, to my back when I took the picture, leads to the other side of the hill, where the 'old town' mostly lies nowadays, including the St. Mary of La Encina church, the Major house, etc...

This is a detail of the main entrance, where the Templars "T" (tau) can be easily seen. The castle walls are in pretty good shape, including some architectonical disasters in recent times. The innards, though, are a different story. Until the 40's in the XX century, the castle was in quite good shape, but in those years the inner chambers and walls were destroyed or covered to build a soccer playing field. Fortunately this was cancelled in recent times and recovery or reconstruction works are underway, proviso the council is trying to get some economical return from the investment by constructing a little bit anachronical conventions center, using wood and questionable materials. The final result, however, is quite pleasing and I'm not that sure it's incorrect: heritage is very expensive to care.

This is a pretty wide view of the innards of the castle, with a big square with a water well, at the far end --they look small but the height is well over 20 meters, over a 4 stories modern building-- and the center place, where horse stables and other stores and rooms can be guessed from the rest of walls. At the right end part of the new conventions center can be guessed as well, which is where the residential tower was.

This is a view of the castle walls at the opposite side of the river, almost from the Major square. In order for you to get an idea of the scale, the holes in the tower on the right are about the size of one person, which got perfectly covered when hiding behind the wall.

You can also see the double walls hinted in the first picture, but considering the castle was built in different phases, it's quite logical. That tower has some shields carved on the wall, but only the one over the window can be easily seen from this POV.

Anyway, we got great weather, lots of fun, museums and other niceties, besides being with friends. So, no writing this weekend, but some healthy sosializing activities... :-)



Nauigatio in Auulam

Yep, I returned to Ávila (Roman Avula) this weekend, to the Three Cultures Medieval Fair.

It was fun and very instructive, as I managed to test a mail armor (lorica hamata) and do some bow firing, and visit the local museum, which I managed to miss the first time I went.

Ávila is a very nice city, declared Humanity Patrimony by the UNESCO, with a full medieval wall which is mostly walkable.

Here's the northern wall at the West side of the city. You can easily see (and imagine, right at the far end of the picture) the amount of free space and visibility they enjoyed in old times: it's all basically plain until you hit with the Gredos Mountain Range, far in the West. Down there, crossing North-South, it's a river, the Adaja, which flows down to the Duero, one of the biggest in Spain, which set the separation between the Gallaecia and Lusitania in the western side of Hispania until the creation of Portugal county pretty late in the Medieval times. The river is easily crossed nowadays, with a couple of bridges and little water, but I guess it was wetter in the old times.

Here's the inside view of the Carmen Door (where Carmen is the name of one of the most important virgins in Spain, patroness of sailors, among other important roles). Right at the left side is the Tower of Guzmán (which you cannot see because of that signal), which I visited the last time, it's the tower that defended the door. You can also see a espadaña, which are apparently common in this regions and others in Castilia (I have never seen one of those without the corresponding rest-of-the-church attached before Ávila).

And here you have the wall and door from the other side, a bit later, after a short aerostatic globe trip... :-) The quality is not very good, but my camera deals badly with poor light conditions. The espadaña is at the left side, a bit far away in the picture.

This is the wall on the East side, just in front the Great Square or St. Teresa's Sq., one of the biggest squares in the city, and the southmost door in the East side (where the other two are closer to the cathedral). I did go all the way up there during my first trip and I can tell you it's pretty high and impressive.

From the museum I got this picture of a couple of swords, an antler sword and a falcata iberica from the celtiberic population that lived there in pre-Roman times, the Vettons. They are beautiful, aren't they? I got lots of pictures, it's been hard to select just a few so the main page loads reasonably fast... :-P (I'm not sure what the other thing is, I seem to recall it may be part of the sword sheath, or a cavalry thingie, but...

Lastly, as a bonus, here you have a picture of the archers' pre-exhibition training (warming-up) doing a defense doulble line in three times (set, charge and go!)... It was pretty impressive watching the targets look like a hedgehodge's butt in an instant; it provides for a nice live demo of the defensive capabilities of archer lines: certainly effective!

And that's all for now. So much travel and no play, makes Excalibor a sloooooow writer. Not really a lot more words on Revolt! to report, but I'm on it (and on the driving license, and, and, and... argh! :-P )

Be well. Kallisti!