New Beginnings- Taking Chances

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“For our country- we endure to the end”

OCTOBER 18, 1918- OCTOBER 28, 2018

Today marks the 100th birthday of Czechoslovakia. On October 28, 1918, after centuries of oppression under Austro-Hungarian rule, the Czech people realized their dream of freedom and self-governance.  Although other dictatorial rulers tried to squash their independence, (Nazis from 1939-1945 and the Soviets from 1945-1992), the Czech people and their spirit have risen above every obstacle. Centennial celebrations have been occurring throughout the year, culminating in this weekend’s events which include parades, fireworks, and an open air concert by the Czech Philharmonic. IMG_0091

This seems an appropriate moment to share with you, faithful readers, that I too am embarking on a new beginning. The Bohemian Freethinker is making preparations with the hope of moving to Prague, where I will teach English for a year. My anticipated departure is in the summer of 2019, to begin their school term in September.IMG_0089

It is not too common for someone 59 years old to uproot and move to a foreign country, and it will certainly not be a “walk in the park” to do so. But I am going to give it my best shot and I will be journaling my experiences along the route over the next year. My hope is that if there is anyone out there reading this who thinks it is too late to try to make a dream a reality- please, think again. It is never too late to become the person you were meant to be. 

p.s. Dear Readers, what new beginnings have you embarked upon lately? Please share in the comments!

 

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Beware The Assassin

Beware the Assassination of Your Dreams!
“Beware the Ides of March” was good advice once, though it fell on the deaf ears of the unsuspecting Julius Caesar that fateful March day in 44 BC. Of course we all know, (either from history books or movies,) what those words were to portend; the assassination of Caesar by members of the Roman Senate. In Caesar’s defense however, the warning he received was from an unreliable source, and was rather vague in detail, and therefore, difficult to act upon.512px-Vincenzo_Camuccini_-_La_morte_di_Cesare

Consider first of all that there was nothing inherently sinister about the Ides of March. The ancient Romans followed a lunar calendar. Like the Nones and the Kalends, the Ides were simply markers in the month that corresponded to phases of the moon. The Ides marked the full moon which fell in the middle of the month, specifically the 15th during the months of March, May, July, and October. The Nones marked the 5th or 7th, and the Kalends the 1st of the following month.

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Photo by Gianni Zanato on Unsplash

Now consider what we know of the source. According to the Greek biographer, Plutarch, (who later became a Roman citizen,) these cryptic words of warning were spoken by a soothsayer whom Caesar passed on his way to the Forum on the Ides of March. The account is recorded in Plutarch’s “Life of Caesar” from his Parallel Lives anthology written sometime in the early 2nd century AD. It must be remembered that in ancient times, factual history was often altered and embellished to suit a writer’s purpose of moralizing, or creating a more engaging story.Brutus_Eid_Mar

Accurate or no, Parallel Lives influenced and informed the writing of numerous authors for centuries to come, perhaps most notably, the writings of William Shakespeare. It is his play, “Julius Caesar,” that immortalized the expression “Beware the Ides of March” and so put it on the lips of people everywhere ever since. It soon fell into the vernacular as a kind of nonspecific ominous warning about an equally nonspecific threat that people still speak today whether they know of its origin or not.

This got me thinking. Is Caesar’s warning good advice today? Might we benefit from the advantage of hindsight that Caesar did not have? Do we have cause to “Beware the Assassin?”

When I think about my own life as a writer and musician, I realize that I sometimes play the role of assassin to my creative ambition. I do this primarily by listening to various lies about my abilities and by comparing myself to others. Nothing kills motivation faster than pondering the mind-boggling number of talented writers and musicians who already exist, and then imagining that I have anything worthwhile to contribute to this cacophony of voices already over-taxing the ears of the world. I mean, honestly, what could I possibly add?

Luckily, before I stab my creativity to death, I usually remember the truth that this kind of thinking is a lie. As a unique individual I have something original to say that only I can say. My job is to be busy about doing the work knowing that with every word written, every note explored, I am strengthening and validating my voice. I am compelled to create regardless of any reward or notoriety for doing so.green-chameleon-21532-unsplash

While it is highly unlikely that anyone reading this will be a target of assassination, it is possible that you yourself are playing the role of assassin to your own dreams.  Listening to lies that you aren’t talented enough or that you are too old to follow your dreams will surely wield the mortal blow to that creative part of your soul. Instead, why not heed the warning that circulates on this day and unlike the hapless Caesar be on the lookout for anyone or anything that is conspiring to destroy what is uniquely you, and go another way.

 

 

When You Have More Skeletons Than You Know What To Do With

 

Dusan in the Sedlec Bone Church

I took these photos when I visited the Bone Church in 2007

It’s a dilemma. What do you do when you are the caretaker of the skeletal remains of between 40,000 and 70,000 people? Such was the legacy and dilemma left to a small chapel, now known as “The Bone Church” in the town of Kutna` Hora in the Czech Republic. As the saying goes, “necessity is the mother of invention,” and The Bone Church, is certainly testimony to, (at least one man’s), inventive creativity.Sedlec Bone Church from 14th Century

 

Originally part of the Sedlec Abbey which was founded in 1142, the Bone Church sits atop the site of the Abbey’s old cemetery, a very popular spot in which to be buried in the day. Its popularity was due to the fact that the cemetery was rumored to possess an unusual Holy relic soil from Golgotha, the site of Jesus’s execution.Sedlec Bone Church

After many centuries, including the unprecedented ravages of The Black Death in the mid 14th century, the cemetery became filled to capacity and overflowing. When the present day Bone Church was built around 1400, thousands and thousands of skeletal remains were exhumed and stacked as there was no other place for them.Sedlec Bone Church

The task of bringing order to the “bone yard” fell to a wood-carver named Frantisek Rint, in 1870. Apparently, left unsupervised and to his own devices, Mr. Rint utilized his artistic talents and arranged the bones into the interior decorations and adornments that we see today. 

 

Dear Readers, please share any macabre places you have visited!

Sedlec Bone Church near Kutna Hora

This chandelier contains at least one of every bone found in a human skeleton!

 

 

Why Women March

By now we all know that history was made on January 21, 2017. What an awe-inspiring sight to see millions of women in this country and around the world, marching in unity. Epic in Proportion. Powerful.

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Wilmington’s Women’s March        Photos courtesy of Sandra C.

To my amazement, I read comments on-line and on social media from people who could not understand what the Women’s March on Washington was about. One guy on my Facebook page  pejoratively referred to it as “your so-called” march. When I read that I thought, “there, that is it exactly. That is why women march.” “So-called” is such a put down, such an attempt to belittle and invalidate. Women are sick and tired of having their accomplishments demeaned. Too often our voices, concerns, and issues are ignored or bullied into silence.

To not understand why women marched in solidarity on January 21st is to not understand why Alcoholics Anonymous exists, or other support groups like cancer survivors, veterans, or MADD. There is hope and healing when you discover that you are not alone. Now imagine how it feels when you discover that millions of people around the world feel the same way. The Women’s March on Washington, in all its forms and in all its places, was the tangible reality of that fact. It’s like never having seen the ocean but being told how expansive, powerful, and majestic it is. And then one day you see the ocean for yourself, you witness its grandeur with your own eyes.

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Wilmington March

To be sure, women marched with many agendas and for a wide range of issues that day. Each woman came with a personal life experience or story that motivated them. You cannot have a gathering of that magnitude and not expect that to be the case. After all, each woman is still an individual! The point is that in our current political environment, and around the world, groups of every kind, under the larger umbrella of women’s rights, are being marginalized, ignored, abused, and discriminated against. Thus the mantra, “Women’s Rights are Human Rights” and “Human Rights are Women’s Rights.” 

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Great Question!

Finally, we acknowledge all of the men and boys; fathers, partners, brothers, sons and male friends, who marched alongside the women.

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Not just about women

Their presence affirmed that the march was in fact bigger than just about a bunch of bitchy women with an axe to grind. The multitude of voices who used the March for their platform were speaking for the (here-to-fore) silent majority of humanity, not the minority as detractors would like us to believe. It is imperative that we keep raising our voices and remembering that while there are those with money to buy political power, there is another form of political power, Power in Numbers.

Dear Readers, did any of you participate in a March on January 21st, or have a story about someone who did?

 

 

Steinbach Smoking Men From Germany

For me, the Christmas Season begins with the re-emergence of my Steinbach Smoking Men. Out comes “The Real Bavarian,” “The Mushroom Man,” “The Bunny Rancher,” and all the rest. Each adorable folk character is an incense burner. Some are also music boxes playing German folk tunes. img_0225Their bodies come apart in the middle where you place a cone of incense, light it, put them back together, and then watch the smoke spiral up out of their open mouths.img_0243

For thousands of years the burning of incense has been used in religious rituals. The rising smoke is symbolic of offerings and prayers rising up to Heaven. At Christmas time we are reminded of the “three wise men” or Magi, img_0242who brought precious gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh from the Far East. Frankincense and myrrh are both aromatic resins used to make incense and perfumes. They were costly exotic commodities that flowed along trade routes for centuries out of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.

But for as many years, incense has been an important part of pagan rituals. It was burned in sacrifices, and used to purify the home and drive out evil spirits, as well as to draw in good luck and good fortune. Long before Christmas, ancient Peoples celebrated the Winter Solstice, the longest night and shortest day of the year. rlm4wq96h_0-chuttersnap

Because the Solstice marks the meteorological turning point of that trend, numerous rituals of fire and light became associated with what must have seemed a magical time of the year to ancient agrarian cultures. As most of us know, these pagan rituals eventually merged with many Christian Christmas traditions.candle-light

Christian and Germanic customs together with superstition made people believe that the evil spirits of the “Raunaechte” (longest nights of the year) could be driven away by noise and light. Once the devils and evil spirits had left the house fine incense was burnt to bless hearth and home. Written in chalk over the front door would be the letters C+M+B believed to be a magic spell that would keep evil away throughout the coming year. The letters stood for: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar, traditionally the three names given to the Magi.

As medieval piety grew in Germany in the 1600’s, folk artists created new forms to burn incense that were religiously acceptable. In particular, toy makers in the Erzgebirge region, (the Ore Mountains), began to carve wooden folk characters that were also incense burners and thus the “smoking men” were born.

The Steinbach family has been making German folk art for 5 generations. They proudly manufacture these “smokers” in charming detail. Few stores in the U.S. import them but if you visit one of the many European Christmas markets this time of year, you will have many to choose from!

Dear readers, do you have an event or ritual that marks the beginning of the Christmas season for you? Would you care to share it with us?

Poem: Election Day by Walt Whitman

ELECTION DAY, NOVEMBER, 1884.

07550_150pxIf I should need to name, O Western World, your powerfulest
scene and show,
‘Twould not be you, Niagara—nor you, ye limitless prairies—nor
your huge rifts of canyons, Colorado,
Nor you, Yosemite—nor Yellowstone, with all its spasmic geyser-
loops ascending to the skies, appearing and disappearing,
Nor Oregon’s white cones—nor Huron’s belt of mighty lakes—
nor Mississippi’s stream:
—This seething hemisphere’s humanity, as now, I’d name—the
still small voice vibrating—America’s choosing day,
(The heart of it not in the chosen—the act itself the main, the
quadriennial choosing,)
The stretch of North and South arous’d—sea-board and inland
—Texas to Maine—the Prairie States—Vermont, Virginia,
California,
The final ballot-shower from East to West—the paradox and con-
flict,
The countless snow-flakes falling—(a swordless conflict,
Yet more than all Rome’s wars of old, or modern Napoleon’s:)
the peaceful choice of all,
Or good or ill humanity—welcoming the darker odds, the dross:
—Foams and ferments the wine? it serves to purify—while the
heart pants, life glows:
These stormy gusts and winds waft precious ships,
Swell’d Washington’s, Jefferson’s, Lincoln’s sails. 

                                                                                                                    

My Nazi Legacy Trailer | Video | Independent Lens | PBS

On Monday night I watched a video on my local PBS station that was both fascinating and depressing. You know the kind. The images replay through your mind as you drift off to sleep and linger the next morning like a kind of cloudy malaise.  I don’t mean to suggest that the film is full of gruesome death camp photos, but that the subject matter’s stark and disturbing reality weighs heavily on the human psyche.

For me, there is even a personal connection. Although my family is not even a little bit Jewish, my paternal grandfather’s brother died in Dachau concentration camp. He was a Czech border guard who refused a Nazi officer’s command to shoot people escaping across the border. He was sent to Dachau as punishment and he never came out.

From the PBS Website: “My Nazi Legacy explores the relationship between two men, each the sons of high-ranking Nazi officials, and internationally renowned British human rights lawyer Philippe Sands, whose family perished in the Holocaust. Sands met Niklas Frank and Horst van Wachter while researching his book East West Street, and as the three travel together on an emotional journey through Europe and the past, the film explores how each of them cope with their own devastating family history.”

www.pbs.org/independentlens/films/my-nazi-legacy/