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Monthly Archives: December 2014

Pietre Dure: Eternal Paintings

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I recently came across an interesting bit of information on past centuries’ continental tourists:  Searching for a way to display stones collected among Italy’s ruins and landscapes, these tourists discovered that they could have their stone specimens transformed into pieces of furniture or pottery, such as tabletops or bowls, in the ancient art of pietre dure (particularly popular in the 18th and 19th centuries).  Often floral or geometric designs, the tourist would collect semi-precious stones such as agate, jade, lapis lazuli, malachite, marble, onyx, topaz and many others, and have them worked into a treasured souvenir to bring home.  Click on the image below to read an article from the Select Italy Travel blog for an interesting piece on the topic.

Poccetti - Grand-ducal pietre dure manufacture, 1609

Poccetti – Grand-ducal pietre dure manufacture, 1609

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Christmas Catalogues of Bygone Days

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I’ve written about the Montgomery Ward’s catalogue before; the catalogue I wrote about came out for the Christmas of 1934, and the images are priceless not only for their historical interest, but also the price comparisons, the cultural and social expectations of buyers’ needs, and the illustrations.  Things have changed a great deal in some ways, and very little in others:  Instead of a printed catalogue that needed to have orders placed weeks (if not months) in advance to get it in time for Christmas, we can now order things online and have an estimated delivery date that we can by and large (that’s a nautical term, just FYI!) count on.  So, without further ado, here are some images for your enjoyment (just click on them for a closer look)!

1934 Christmas catalogue from Montgomery Ward 1 1934 Christmas catalogue from Montgomery Ward 3 1934 Christmas catalogue from Montgomery Ward 4 1934 Christmas catalogue from Montgomery Ward 6 1934 Christmas catalogue from Montgomery Ward 7 1934 Christmas catalogue from Montgomery Ward 10

10 Quotes on History

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History never looks like history when you are living through it. ~John W. Gardner

Very few things happen at the right time, and the rest do not happen at all: the conscientious historian will correct these defects. ~Herodotus, The History of Herodotus

History: gossip well told. ~Elbert Hubbard, The Roycroft Dictionary

History is a symphony of echoes heard and unheard. It is a poem with events as verses. ~Charles Angoff

History is a kind of introduction to more interesting people than we can possibly meet in our restricted lives; let us not neglect the opportunity. ~Dexter Perkins

If one could make alive again for other people some cobwebbed skein of old dead intrigues and breathe breath and character into dead names and stiff portraits. That is history to me! ~George Macaulay Trevelyan

The history of the world is the record of a man in quest of his daily bread and butter. ~Hendrik Wilhelm van Loon, The Story of Mankind

Historians are gossips who tease the dead. ~Voltaire, Scribbling Books

History is filled with the sound of silken slippers going downstairs and wooden shoes coming up. ~Voltaire

Swiss Samichlaus and Schmutzli

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Samichlaus and Schmutzli in traditional Swiss costume.

Samichlaus and Schmutzli in traditional Swiss costume.

With Christmas coming up, I thought I’d share a Christmas tradition from Switzerland:

Here in Switzerland, Santa has come and gone!  In Zürich alone, the Swiss Santas (“Samichlaus”, also known as “Sankt Nikolaus”) will make roughly 1,000 visits this year; within a few days around 6 December each year, just over 30 Santas, 50 Schmutzli and 50 drivers are underway from the Zurich Samichlaus organisation (not counting those organized between friends and family).  Now I’m fairly certain most of my readers are familiar with Santa; but here in Switzerland, his helper is called Schmutzli.  Parents throughout the land book Samichlaus and his assistants, and fill in a form for their children:  Names, ages, their favourite subject in school, and the most important questions:  What have the children improved in since the last visit by Samichlaus, and where do they need to improve?  Making their bed, cleaning their room, being nice to their siblings, or sharing more often?  The Samichlaus goes to the home at the appointed time with his assistants (often two Schmutzli, who are the

Thomas Fetz, a local Schmutzli.  Image Credit: Migrosmagazin

Thomas Fetz, a local Schmutzli. Image Credit: Migrosmagazin

“coal” bearers, often with coal-blackened faces, and who carry large baskets with some coal, a besom broom, and I’m sure a bit of room for gifts given back to them by grateful parents).  They sit down to speak with each child, reading from a great book they carry with them.  Each child is then given a “Samichlaus” bag, and perhaps a gift sponsored by the parents.  Now Swiss Samichlaus and Schmutzli are not the hygienically, politically correct version of countries like America; the large sack they carry was originally (and up into my husband’s generation) shown to bad children who might get kidnapped and taken off if they don’t learn to behave before their visit the following year (they still might threaten it here and there even today).  It might have something to do with Swiss children in general being so well-behaved…  Children are in general very respectful of Samichlaus and his two assistants, even though Mr. Fetz (pictured) looks more like a big teddy bear than someone who might threaten to kidnap naughty children!

Rather than reindeer, here in Switzerland Samichlaus and Schmutzli lead a donkey laden with gifts.  Now I have it on good authority (our local “Unterländer” newspaper) that there are precisely 8,356 donkeys registered in Switzerland to help on the day.  As Swiss are very nature-minded, there are strict regulations with how much a donkey is allowed to work or carry:  They are only allowed to carry up to 90 kilograms, and only 25 kilometers per day.  That means that these donkeys could carry a one-kilo gift to each of the 715,000 4-to-12 year olds in Switzerland!

One of the 8,356 donkeys, ready to go!

One of the 8,356 Swiss donkeys, ready to go!

Since 6 December is the official Samichlaus Day, it is customary on that day to give “Samichlaussäckli” (Santa Claus Bags) to friends, family, neighbours and coworkers.  They are great winter gifts to take when visiting friends; if you’d like to know how to make one, please click here.

Back in the Land of the Living

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Cardinal 2, Kindle DimensionsHi everyone!  I took a much-needed break from the computer, after launching my two novels in November – The Cardinal, Part One and Part Two!  The response has been great – one reader even compared the novel to the Hobbit and the Indiana Jones sagas!  It’s an interesting “juxtaposition” for me as the author to be compared to such works… I would never presume to say it, but if readers draw that comparison then it proves that the novel has taken on a life of its own.  That’s part of the letting go process for the author; it’s hard to let your baby go, and allow it to form opinions in others’ minds that might be different to how I envisioned the character; but if I did my job right, their image is not much different than my own, at the end of the day.  My aim at writing a visually rich landscape may be what led to that Hobbity comparison…  For more information, check out the Cardinal page!

Now that the books are out, I’m still involved with them – marketing, updating online bibliographies, etc.  Once the dust settles with that aspect, I can sink my teeth into the next project:  The third book of the Northing Trilogy.  This book will take me back to the workhouse orphanages of Britain in the mid-18th century, as well as aboard a military ship; it will be dealing with aspects of lives at the opposite ends of the social scale, how they collide and how they converge.  A lot of my research will end up splashing out here on Undusted!  This week I’ve been outlining Acts 1-3, and already the list of research questions to answer warrants a trip to London.  It’s a rough life, being an author… So now that I’m back in the land of the living, I look forward to blogging and researching, and sinking my teeth into the next epic tale!

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