Saturday, August 30, 2008

And movies are as bad as Eating chocolate ice cream

Since I have my fingers limbered up, I thought I would list some of my favorite movies. This is not in any particular order or ranking of my favorites, but it will show that my taste are somewhat eclectic if nothing else.

One of my points that I have covered in this blog is that reenactors/living historians have a very strange relationship with historic movies. We both love and hate them with a passion that can only be experienced not explained. I thought I would share some of my favorite movies and some of the reasons that they are my favorites.

Barry Lyndon I.M.H.O. one of the best films set in the 18th century. It is the story of the rise and fall of a young gentleman in the middle 1700's. It is a long story but pure eye candy. The clothing, sets, filming, lighting is excellent and you can sit there and get the overwhelming feeling that this is how it really was. It also gives a good view of the manners and mores of the time period. I think it is as close to being able to take a time machine back as we can come.

Land and Freedom This is a small jewel of a independent film with limited release but very well done. It is sorta hard to find but worth it when you do. It follows the story of a young idealistic English communist who goes to fight against the fascist in the Spanish civil war. He joins the POUM the communist people's militia which ends up being betrayed by the Stalinist/mainstream communist/republican forces. This movie is loosely based on George Orwell's book, Homage to Catalonia.

Restoration This is a well done period piece staring Meg Ryan and Robert Downey Jr. It is set in the late 17th century at the time of the restoration of Charles II to the English throne. Downey portrays a doctor of the time period who goes from a ner' do well to a person who rediscovers his humanity. Medicine and redemption all in one movie, what more could you want?

Farewell to the King This film is set in WWII Borneo and stars Nick Nolte as the last king of a tribe of head hunters. This is a movie that on a superficial level is strictly an adventure film, but you can dig a little deeper and see a wee bit of Lord Jim in it.

Ride with the Devil This is a good film about the guerrilla war that raged in both Kansas and Missouri in the Civil War. This is the area and time that spawned Jesse and Frank James as well as the Younger brothers. Very few movies have covered this area of the war to this detail. Plus Jewell is one hot babe.....-grin-

Master and Commander My favorite naval movie. This is the movie that started me on the path of naval reenacting. Damn Russel Crow's eyes........-grin-

Blackrobe Again, a wonderful movie that has the look and feel of the period. This is the story of the Jesuits bringing Christianity to the Hurons in 1600's Canada. This is eye candy of the best sort for living historians.

The Wild Bunch "If they move, Kill 'em" How can you NOT like a movie that starts out with that as some of the first words said by the actors? This movie deals with the changes that were happening in the west of the early 1900s and how a band of outlaws deal with these changes. I liked the approach that these outlaws while they were ruthless and deadly, had a code that they lived and died by. On the other hand, the rest of the world with the coming of the first world war had nothing of that kind.

The Agony and Ecstasy
This is a personal favorite of mine not very historically accurate but for some reason it is still one of my favorites. I guess I like watching Michelangelo struggling to finish his task, the painting of the Sistine chapel. Not to compare myself with the artist, but I understand the compulsion he had to create something from nothing.

Breaker Morant Set in the Boer War, it deals with the court martial of three British colonial officers for allegedly shooting prisoners of war. It looks the subject of not only what is a crime in time of war, it also ask where does the true guilt lie? On the men who give the orders or the men who carry them out? This is another independent film out of Australia and most of the actors are unknown to us Americans (or they were actors who hadn't become famous yet at the time of the filming of the movie)

There are a BUNCH of other movies that I could list here, but I figured that this would be a good start. Later on, I will list some more.

Upon Us All A Little Rain Must Fall. Just a Little Rain?

About mid-week we were hit by the remnants of a tropical storm and we received (at least at Casa Williams) about 7 inches of rain in 24 hours. I didn't mind the rain since we needed it, but as normal, I did find something to gripe about.

It seems that the newscasters/weather wonks on T.V. just HAVE to try to scare John Q. Public to death when the weather turns bad. I guess because of all the money they have spent on their toys, they have to justify the cost by dramatic reporting.

Case in point, on the afternoon of the storm, all the local TV stations cut into their normal programing, fired up their quadruple Doppler radar, put live radar pictures on the air and started talking non-stop about the storm. This was only with a tornado watch. A little later, when it became a tornado warning, they really cranked it up. Now something that I don't agree with is that the weather service issues a tornado warning when their radar shows a "possible" rotation that "might" indicate a tornado in the storms that they are following. I guess that is the safest way to do it, but it sure does scare folks, sometimes I think way too much. Remember this was not with any tornadoes being reported on the ground or any damage being seen. All during this time, the TV folks are telling people to take cover and get out of mobile homes and vehicles where ever the storm was. The reporters were justifying their doing this by saying that a tornado COULD drop out the storm "at any moment"

Another cute trick they use is to do a close up of the radar and showing where the the various roads are underneath the storm then giving ETAs for the next target areas. We had one of the bigger storms headed our way and they started that kind of thing. I just sat and kept watching the coverage. (You see, I have just a wee bit of fatalism in that if it's my time, it's my time. No matter what happens or what I do) They showed the road where Casa Williams is located on the radar and started the "take cover" chant. My good wife was downstairs in the kitchen and it freaked her out so bad that she took cover under the kitchen table. I went down to check on her and found her there. The dog being no ones fool, was staring at her with a great deal of interest from the other side of the kitchen near the food bowls. I assisted in getting the good wife out from under the table when the all clear was sounded. Suffice to say, other than a lot of rain, nothing dropped out of the sky and the Williams cabin and all it's contents was left unharmed.

Other than that, I have been messing around with various projects of both guns and leather.

On the gun front, I have been working on a old nickle plated Model 36 Smith & Wesson revolver. This model is also known as a Chief's Special (It is a small 5 shot .38 spl. revolver) Back when I was first coming up in law enforcement this was one of the "must have" firearms that every cop wanted. (Well, if you were a Smith freak like I was) I never could get up the scratch to get one at the time. I picked this one up from a buddy and thought I would trick it out "old school" just like I wanted to do with one so long ago. The first thing I did was to swap out the worn wooden grips with a new set of faux ivory ones from Ajax grips. Much to my delight, I found that they fit with only a tiny bit of work required. (Unlike the grips for my single action army revolver, which is a story for another time) I then invested in a Tyler T-grip since I have a very large hand and it would make it easier to control but not add to the weapon's bulk. I also bought a trigger shoe which gives the perception that the trigger pull is a bit smoother and again gives you better control. With all these "bells and whistles" added, it gives me both a better functioning weapon for concealed carry as well as giving it a retro look that I love. Handling this ol' girl brings back some fond and happy memories of a young, still wet behind the ears rookie, trying to save the world.

On the leather working front, the holsters are coming along as well as a leather covered bottle but I got somewhat sidetracked on another project. Believe it or not, I am the sole manufacturer ( In the U.S. that I know of) of leather chin straps for WWII British Airborne helmets. I have some good friends that do WWII Canadian Paras and since I do leather, they contracted me to make up a few. They have been very pleased with my work so far. I don't know that there will be any other leather stuff that they might want to have done, but as always I am open to trying anything, for the challenge if nothing else.

I need to push myself just a bit to finish up the leather since I am starting to get the urge to get back into horn work. Each time I pass by the pile of unfinished powder horns in my study, I feel guilty. -GRIN-

Monday, August 25, 2008

All I want is a photograph............

Well, sorta........

I started a VERY interesting book with the title of "Causes Won, Lost and Forgotten, How Hollywood and Popular Art Shape what we know about the Civil War." It has opened my eyes a great deal as to how my perceptions of the war were molded by what I watched as I was growing up. Being a history buff, you would think that I would be somewhat immune from that kind of thing since I know the true facts in many cases. But I wasn't. I can only imagine what the average person thinks since they don't have the access to the resources I do.

Along those lines I thought I might share this website with you. It is done with tongue FIRMLY in cheek but it is very, very funny. Well "I" think so....

Tenting on the old camp ground.........

My road trip to northern Virginia this past weekend,went quite well. I got to spend some quality time with my adopted family the Randalls, spent the day at the Carlyle house in Alexandria on Saturday with my shipmates from the Dragon and then having nothing else pressing to do, took a tour of both the Fredricksburg and Chancellorsville battlefields on the way home Sunday.

The orders were to be at the Carlyle house at 9:00 AM for the start of the show. I had spent the night before at King George with the Randalls which is about 1 hour south of Alexandria. I left in plenty of time to be able to stop and get some coffee on the way up and arrived in town about 8:45. When I arrived, I discovered that Alexandria has a farmer's market on Saturday morning so I had to weave my way through hordes of Birkenstock wearing, limousine liberals picking up baguettes and fresh cut flowers. I must have driven around the Carlyle house three times before I finally spotted the signs which were hidden behind all the farm trucks. I managed to locate my shipmates who helped me off load my gear and get me parked.

I got settled under a tree with Miss Jan (Doc Lee's wife) and started doing some knot work. I finished up a couple of cats and a few other odds and ends. Again, as the public walked by they came over to see what I was doing. The public has a fascination for any type of demonstrated handcraft. Again as I have said over and over again we, as a people have for the most part, gotten away from (or lack the ability of ) making things. It's much easier for most people to buy it. You can sit and simply carve on a stick and draw a crowd. How many kids today even own a pocket knife?

We were joined by our friends in the Royal Marines later in the morning and together we served as shills for the house. Standing around for photo ops and drawing in the public. There were a few weird moments that stood out. Early in the morning a gentleman in modern kilt and gear shows up and start playing a selection of tunes on the bagpipe. When he cranked up, because of the way the buildings were set up it was so loud that I couldn't talk above the noise. For just about 45 minutes I just sat and smiled at the visiting public. It turns out that a big buck contributor made a deal with the site people that whenever they have a event, this guy comes out to play to "draw the public in" It didn't work........

What we were doing, if I didn't tell you earlier was commemorating the surrender of Alexandria to the Royal Navy in the War of 1812. It seems that in 1814 three frigates came up the river opened up their gun ports and told the town fathers that if the town didn't surrender, they would pound the town into dust. The town fathers being no fools, surrendered posthaste. They surrendered to the point where they sent word to the American government to NOT send troops to try to rescue them. We were portraying sailors who were sent into town to assure that the conditions of the surrender were followed. The town fathers were required to provide food, supplies, tobacco, naval stores and just about anything else the Navy wanted.

Now we could have had a lot of fun with this scenario, but the site just did not explore the possibilities. So in the vacuum the locals tried to fill in. We had a fellow show up dressed in a faux colonial outfit made of a blue velvet that would not have looked out of place with a portrait of Elvis painted on it. He also had a wig that made him look like a walking Q-tip. He told all and sundry people he ran into that he was a British civilian ship's captain who was trying to do some trading with the locals. I didn't want to bust his bubble, but I wanted to ask him why he wanted to trade with people that his country was at war with. He suggested to me that if he was to join our group, with his knowledge of nautical matters, he could be of great deal of use to us. I suggested that Jim talk to him, but for some reason it just didn't happen.

Then, a little later, a fully uniformed 1812 American Army regular appeared in the middle of our camp. He proceeded to give a musket demonstration to include firing at least three times. (He was shooting some WAY overloaded cartridges) As far`as I know, he didn't check with anyone before doing this. I thought about opening up on him with my blunderbuss, but I didn't think the boss would have liked it. At around 4:00 we packed our gear and headed out.

Due to my fried knees, I opted out of the second day event in Maryland but figured that I could check out some stuff on the way home so I stopped by the Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville battlefields. Having never been to Chancellorsville I figured it might be interesting.

I did my moment of communing with nature at Chancellorsville. Near the visitor's center was the location where Stonewall Jackson was fatally wounded by his own soldiers the night of the battle. The fatal shots were strangely enough fired by soldiers in the 18th North Carolina Inf. Regt. I keep reminding myself of the old term, "Friendly fire, isn't". I picked up a piece of "hardtack" at the visitor's center and gimped out into the woods and just drank in the atmosphere while gnawing on the hardtack. I always do something like that when I first go to a historic site just to get a "feel" for the area. I know it sounds a little weird, but it helps me get a feel for the place.

It WAS a interesting site, but it was also just a bit disappointing. I am glad that we had the foresight to save these bits of hallowed ground but for whatever reason we just stopped there. Both sites have exhibits that might have first been done in the 1960's with clip and paste letters, dull colors and poor lighting. It gave you a overwhelming feeling of low rent and seediness. I understand that when budgets are tight, history suffers, but come on.....Men fought and died at these sights and no one can spring for the cost of a new coat of paint? No help to do the work? What about people working off community service after being convicted of D.U.I.? Hell, what about the chain gang? There are ways that you can get stuff done, you just need to be able to think outside the box once in a while. I will give the staff at Chancellorsville a bit of grudging respect since they did have signs up in the visitor center advertising the upcoming 150th anniversary of the battle in 2013. They also have 150th commemorative coffee cups, T-shirts and other stuff for sale. I guess they want to avoid the rush and have the stuff ready, but it seems to me that they have their priorities a bit skewed. but what do "I" know?

I also now better understand the problem of urban sprawl that seems to want to swallow up battlefields. The plank road that goes from Fredericksburg to Chancellorsville is nothing more than strip malls, filling stations and other benefits of modern civilization. There is a small break about midway however. Salem Church which was the site of a battle affiliated with the Chancellorsville campaign and the land it sits on has been preserved. It is a very nice sized brick church which suffered some damage in the battle. It is still used as a house of worship but one of the most interesting things about it is the HUGE monument that somewhat overshadows the church building. The monument is dedicated to the 15th New Jersey Inf. I can't help but wonder how that monument got placed there and how much controversy was stirred up when it was first suggested. I would bet that there were one or two old gray haired gentlemen in the church congregation that were not happy to see it erected. But maybe I am wrong. Maybe by the time the monument was put up, the bitterness was gone and the old timers only remembered the good times and fellowship of the war.

You just never know.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Yummy,Yummy, Yummy................

I sorta been drifting along this week. I went to Kinston this past week-end and did a Revwar sailor impression. Visitation was piss-poor so we had a lot of dead time, which gave me some time to do some knot work. I got a few odds and ends done, some coshes, as well as doing repair work on the hospital fly. But mostly I took advantage of the day to visit with my shipmates from the guild. These are the folks that I am getting into the civil war navy with, so I got a chance to talk that time period over with them as well. I am still collecting my gear slowly but surely. I was fitted for my navy frock and took delivery of my brogans, so all that I need now is a pair of good pants and I will be ready to roll. It can't happen soon enough for me, I really want to see how the "other half " lives. -grin- After all, I have all these firearms from the 1850-1870 period, (To include a reproduction 1860 Colt revolver I got from a shipmate at Kinston) So I guess I better find a use for them.

I got my latest Penzy spices catalog this week, Of course I just HAD to send off a order for some mustard powder as well as a few other things. I love to eat (and it shows) so what I am trying to do is add extra flavor to what I eat, so that I can eliminate some of the bad stuff and try to eat healthy without sacrificing taste. I tell you, it ain't easy. My latest project is making homemade mustard and I have several recipes that sound pretty good. One even goes back to the 17th century. (You KNEW I would work history into this somehow, didn't you?) I will let you know how it turns out.

While I was down at Kinston, I discovered a new taste treat which I need to stay away from at all cost. I don't remember the exact name.King's Bar-B-Q sells it. It was something like a pig puppy, which consisted of a fairly good sized hush puppy filled with chopped bar-be-que and coleslaw. My three favorite food groups. -grin- I loved it, but I might as well slap the damned things on my belly and ass and just cut out the middle man. -grin-

I started packing for the road trip to Alexandria VA this coming weekend. The plan is a one day living history event there, then up the road to Maryland for another one day event. I plan on making both event, but it depends on the knees. I might have to punk out on Sunday, but we will see. Either way, I get to stay with my second family, the Randalls with the always cute and smart as a whip Miss Susan. That makes the trip well worth it.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Let's do the time warp again..........

I think I have told you that reenactors/living historians are just a little bit strange. This article will show you how strange we can get. I only wish I had thought of it first. Be sure and follow all the links on the page........

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Silver pins and golden needles...................

Somehow, I have managed to be somewhat productive over the last little bit. I have gotten at least a decent start on the pile of leather projects that has been on the back burner for a good while. I hope by the coming weekend that I will have at least a bottle covered with leather, two or three holsters done as well as one or two other small items done. It is rather strange that I have to be in a certain mood to do types of work, and the thought of working leather just hasn't been one of the "trip my trigger" kind of things. I would much rather read or work on other things, but you can't always do what you want to do.

Doing my leather work did have a unexpected surprise for me. I have a real good friend (He is also our vet and takes care of all the critters around Casa Williams) that I was telling about what I was up to, and he asked me if I could make a holster for a old handgun that he had at the house. I told him that I would be more than happy to. A few days later, he handed me a paper towel wrapped object that turned out to be a original 1851 Colt revolver. It has been a real pleasure to handle a true piece of history like this old lady is. She is in good shape, the action is tight and she has a nice smooth brown finish all over. You can bet that I will use every bit of care and skill that I have to make the holster for this old girl .

Other than that, I have been working on my knees trying to get them squared away. My doc keeps telling me that they didn't get screwed up overnight, so I will not be able to get them better overnight. I know that on several levels but I am not the most patient person in the world. They are a wee bit better, but I am still having problems. I took a few weeks off of my reenacting schedule just to give them a break and it did help.

Speaking of which, I am getting ready to take to the road once more. I have two events that are coming up that I am looking forward to, the first, will be at Richard Caswell-CSS Neuse historic site here in North Carolina on the weekend of August 16-17. At this event, I will be doing RevWar navy, and will more than likely bring my rope work to play with or some canvas that I need to repair. This event will get me together with my friends in the Carolina Living History Guild.

The following weekend will take me to Alexandria VA for a 1812 event. This will be with my shipmates of the Dragon. This should be a very interesting event, since it commemorates the surrender of the town to the British Navy in the War of 1812. We will be portraying a landing party making sure that the citizens follow the terms of the surrender. Our commander for the event told me to bring limited small arms, since in his words, "If they started anything, we would retire to our ship and pound the town to dust with our 24 lbs." My kind of mission.

And then, the weekend after that, the hospital takes to the road and heads to the far reaches of PA to the Brandywine battlefield. At least the price of gas is a bit better, so these trips will not hurt QUITE so much.