The Burden of a Name

Growing up, I was never very happy with the first name Marie.

For one thing, I was the only one who had it, and in elementary school, anything that sets you apart is risky. And anyway, everyone wanted to call me Maria, which was worse than having a ‘weird’ name (because it wasn’t even the right name, and sounds entirely different—although only when your name is Marie, apparently).

Marie Curie

Marie Curie (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s grown on me since, and I like how it suits me: a little old-fashioned, a little different. Knowing approximately 20% of the female population seems to have it as a middle name is somewhat aggravating, however. It works so so well for me, why doesn’t everyone want it?

One of my main complaints growing up with the name Marie was its history. Notable figures named Marie: Marie Antoinette (reviled throughout history and had her head cut off and especially the obnoxious way she’s glorified by pop culture) and Marie Curie (who poisoned herself with radiation, whatever she did for science).  I like knowing about science in the general sense, but I’ve never particularly wanted to practice it, and so what did I have to look up to.

On a whim I looked  up the name Marie in, which is probably my favorite name site (for fiction purposes).

Name ratings for Marie

I rather like those stats. And while some of the comments on the website were positively mean:

“Marie sounds nice and I was planning on using it as a middle name for my daughter. I’m so glad I looked up the meaning first! It means “Bitterness” “Sea of Bitterness” and “Rebellious”. For me that’s a deal breaker of massive proportions. So I warn all who plan on using this name: ABSOLUTELY HORRID MEANING!”

Well fortunately, other commentators mentioned that that isn’t necessarily its meaning, but quite frankly that seems rather vitriolic (and maybe, to be judgmental, simplistic) or just a name.

Isabella Teotochi Marini

Isabella Teotochi Marini (Photo credit: Maia C)

And then many of the commentators linked me to other famous Maries: unfortunately one of my favorites gave up the Marie: Vigée Le Brun, the 18th century artist who started out as Marie Louise, which admittedly, is a little less distinctive, but I didn’t even know she’d at least been born a Marie. That may have even been inspiring to an inspiring artist. And she was a favorite portraitist of Marie Antoinette.

And aside from the two most famous Maries, a scientist and an unfortunate queen (maybe Madeleine Albright, the first female Secretary of State, but no one knows recent history of politics or reality, and she gave up the name Marie), there were a few Marie artists, like Marie de France, a medieval poet. And considering medieval times, being a famous female poet isn’t bad. There’s also Marie Wittich, apparently a well-known German opera singer, but I know little about the comparative fame of any opera singers.

Marie Lloyd

Marie Lloyd (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I do like opera casually, though, so I’ll take her. Slightly less related, but both a Marie and a Medici, Marie de’ Medici was queen of France and disliked by whoever wrote her Wikipedia article, but she supported the arts. And finally, there’s Marie Lloyd, whose name wasn’t actually Marie, but was a popular music hall singer turn of the (20th) century who showed great skill in innuendo and was refused entry into the US for “moral turpitude”, which I find rather fantastic, so I’ll take her too.

And this how the German’s pronounce it, just because,

As for my lack of interest in Marie Curie growing up, I’ve heard about a couple new biographies recently, so we’ll see how that goes.

When It’s Actually Winter…

So Plinky asks what’s on my winter reading list. And then gives space to search for the image of one book, and not the list I was expecting. So I’ll do it here.

  • Thirty Days Hath September

That cover is not the right book, nor do I know why it pops up. Mine (rather, the library’s) was authored by Dorothy Cameron Disney and George Sessions Perry. The library version just has green library rebinding with a nifty almost tropical pattern.

Of course I found it when they sent me to straighten the mystery shelves, though I’ve managed to avoid them for so long. But at least I didn’t have to go far, only through the H section…otherwise my reading list would be even longer.

“When glittering Jenny Iverson, New York career woman and owner of a successful cosmetics business, invited herself to one of the labor Day week-end parties that climax the season for summer residents along the Connecticut shore, she not only wrote her own death warrant, but also sealed the fate of at least two other persons in the group of sophisticates who were to have shared her company during the holiday.” 1942

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  • The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm

Written by Nancy Farmer, this is actually a Newberry Honor Book that I actually read. Way back then, I even read it twice I loved it so much. Only vague memories of what it may have actually been about remain, but I recall awesome characterizations, and then I caught a reference to it on the tvtropes page somewhere, maybe under nightmare fuel, and of course had to try it again.


Cover of

The Ear


“Inspired by Shona mythology, Tendai’s odyssey in the Africa of the future—and, suspensefully, the past—crackles with action. You won’t forget its vivid cast of chracters (black, brown, white, and in on case blue), the Mellower or his mother, the rustling, shadowy vlei people, the strangely endowed detectives, or the three children themselves. And you’ll be surprised to find that a classical tale of courage can be so funny.”

  • Una Storia Segreta: The Secret History of Italian American Evacuation and Internment during World War II

I want to start this off with “well, obviously this is interesting” but I have such varied reading tastes that I have no idea whether my interest is obvious or not, beyond the fact that it is a book and therefore readable.

Anyway, I’m fascinated by history in general, which means every time I’m sent into the History section at the library I come out with a minimum of five more books to add to the reading list. So maybe I should ask for special dispensation. Except all the other librarians have the same problem, but with less time to read. I don’t think I’d get much sympathy.

Though the Japanese internments are still a popular subject, especially in California, and I’ve at least heard about the problems German-American’s faced, I’ve never come across anything mentioning the history of Italian-Americans. When I first saw the book, I was even taken by surprise. (Which, really, I shouldn’t have been, because if there’s an excuse for prejudice for people to act on, they will find it.) Una Storia Segreta seems also to be first an anthology of original writings, too, which I like. I’m not sure if they’re primary documents or not, but since I know nothing else about it, might be more illuminating and interesting than just a textbook.

What the Italians faced wasn’t truly like the Japanese experience of internment camps. That’s not what I find interesting. It is interesting when they aren’t mentioned hardly at all, and I’m not sure why they’d still bother to whitewash the situation like that.


This sign was hung in post offices and in gove...

Image via Wikipedia


“1942, the first full year of World War II for the United States, was a time of fear and uncertainty for Americans of Italian descent. Wartime regulations required that 600,000 Italian “resident aliens” carry photo-identity cards, restricted their freedom of movement, and forced an estimated 10,000 along the West Coast to relocate. Local police searched homes for guns, cameras, and shortwave radios. Within six months after war was declared, 1,500 Italian resident aliens were arrested for curfew, travel, and contraband violations, and some 250 were imprisoned in military camps for up to two years. Even some naturalized citizens had to leave their homes and businesses because the military decided that they were too dangerous to remain in strategic areas.”

Those are just the library books (and none I’m reading currently, library or not), and so I may well end up checking out more. But I rather hope not. Because I have lots of my own books yet to read. And a few borrowed. Those first I think:

  • No Plot, No Problem

By the founder of National Novel Writing Month, Chris Baty. I’m going to be participating in NaNoWriMo again this year, only this time I fully intended to finish. I even have an idea and can’t wait to start. The idea is to write a 50,000 word novel in November, that is to say, a first draft. Though I’ve technically started this book (several times, even) I’m counting it, because I’m going to read the second part properly—it’s got a few chapters set by week for the writing itself. So it counts.

  • Secret Societies: Inside the World’s Most Notorious Organizations

An oddly dull, cheap-looking book, despite the almost luridness of the subject matter, I have little to say by this particular book by John Lawrence Reynolds, because it just has a cool title and an interesting subject. Usually such a subject is going to be interesting regardless, but I’ll have to actually start first before I make up my mind.

My books, on the to-be-read pile, are numerous. I was going to say something clever, but I can’t think of anything. But I will mention a few I want to get to first.

  • Fingersmith

Sarah Waters wrote this novel, which I picked up because it sounded like it had an interesting storyline, and frankly, it had a pretty cover (there may have to be a separate post on that later, if I can remember whether I’ve actually written it before, and if not, I can remember to actually devote a post specifically and only to that phenomenon).

  • A Reliable Wife

Well, a book that right on the back states the two characters want to kill each other. Or maybe only the wife does? Either way, Robert Goolrick’s novel does have an interesting premise. Can’t judge it by the back cover description though, because it does indicate (to me) that there’s a switching of point of view between the male and female characters. If it’s not first person I could probably live with it, but—well, what am I saying? I don’t want to doubt it before I’ve even started!

  • The Somnambulist

Jonathan Barnes’ novel sounds fa-scinating! (please try to read that last word with the enunciation of a flamboyant-type television character). But my first thought on reading the description was that it sounded like a homage to Sherlock Holmes, only without any direct references. So there seemed to be clues, but nothing certain. So I want to find out if there’s an “easter egg” hunt of references behind the scenes, if it’s a deliberate play on the character, or if it’s mostly just innocent.

What with the kind of effect Sherlock Holmes had on popular consciousness, I can’t say wholly innocent unless Mr. Barnes is completely oblivious.

Of course, I found it when I was in the Sherlock Holmes section of my cycle of obsessions, however, references aside, it does sound like an interesting work. And in this case, no spoilers please! I actually have a sense of mystery with this one, and that doesn’t happen very often.

And then, gosh, there are so many more. Reading is a depressing endeavor, once you get behind.

Can I Call This History?


A night sight of the Notre Dame de Paris cathe...

Image via Wikipedia


A month or so ago, I checked out a book called The Biography of a Cathedral by Robert Gordon Anderson. Published in 1944, and as far as I can find, not printed long after that, it doesn’t have an ISBN. An oddly common trait among the books I find myself reading, which makes them hard to look up or input into

Oh, and this is the book the card in “Book Sniffing” came from.

Biography is rare among the older library books in that it still has the original jacket flaps pasted just inside the first cover. Mr. Anderson also published such works as Those Quarrelsome Bonapartes, An American Family Abroad, and Leader of Men. Plus a few others. I don’t know much about how well those have lasted either, but I rather hope so since he does have a way with words.

But first, what is a “biography” of a cathedral? Well, the (possible) subtitle, “The Living Story of Man’s Most Beautiful Creation and of the Pageant that Led to Notre Dame,” sums it up just fine. By “pageant, Anderson means “history”, starting with the Romans and so far I’m up to the chapter on 550 A.D. Which is only half way through.

And Anderson loves Notre Dame. And France. And Gothic architecture. And he’s throughly entrenched his history into the history of the Church and Christian religion before Notre Dame was built.

The fall of Rome had been postponed. And this, in the study of the great drama, general and Church history, and, indeed, the whole pageant and forward march of man, must ever be kept in mind: before he fall Rome was to split into two , the Empires of the East and West. This division came in 364, the final fall in  474; and from that fall , Rome was never to come back, for all the misfit and miscalled “Holly Roman Empire” of the Middle Ages….But the Church would not, like the Empire, fall. The Church of the West would take over the old political capital on the Seven Hills and turn it into one sacred. It was indestructible. And the bishops who from all over the known world had attended his council had, in  critical time, helped to save it.


Icon depicting the First Council of Nicaea.

First Council of Nicaea, Image via Wikipedia


I have to look up again which council this is supposed to be, and he seems to refer to one called by Constantine at Nicaea. This doesn’t help me much, since I don’t actually know much about this period of history, other than the overall change of countries, etc. I’d hoped this book would help, but nothing is cited and for all I know Anderson is making it up.

Which I doubt he is. And for all his rhetoric, Anderson is just viewing history though his filter of religion (Catholicism, I think) and “French are awesome! and blonde!” Considering the time period, rather understandable, although a little odd to my modern ears, especially when starts bashing the Germans and all German history. Anyway, he does seem to know history fairly well, especially the history of the Church, and though he does get a little too generous in interpreting everything to the pinnacle of the creation of the cathedral of Notre Dame

Beyond that though, he is rather fun to read. Yes, it’s a little elaborate and more than slightly purple, but there’s so much passion behind it. Anderson truly believes in this history, he loves France, Notre Dame, and God. While I may not agree with his beliefs or sometimes even his conclusions, I can admire his sincerity.

In modern texts, historians try to investigate everything going on behind the scenes of published history, without the lens of religious belief. Fair enough. But when people do believe that strongly, I think it might be a little irresponsible to doubt how much belief does affect people and, subsequently, their decisions.

You may not be able to understand the situation from their perspective, but to discount the influence? Careless. Because belief that strong affects everything. And makes a difference in interpretation.

But honestly? The Notre Dame Cathedral is not my favorite example of Gothic architecture. Or at least, not from the front.


Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris seen from sou...

Image via Wikipedia


The Lava Beds: Site of the (Forgotten) Modoc War

Originally just called “Lava Beds,” posted on Blogster on 5/11/09, slightly changed

I suspect every town has it’s local legends. Important bits of history, really, that the rest of the world has managed to forget, that never made it through the ages. My home town has a few, not very famous, so we have, to a certain extent, co-opted the Lava Beds and the Lava Beds War.

The Lava Beds National Monument is located in Siskiyou County, CA, and I grew up only a few hours from there. Actually in Modoc County. The area is a result of the volcanic activity from the Medicine Lake shield volcano, which is actually the largest shield volcano by volume in the Cascade range. Medicine Lake Volcano has been dormant for about a thousand years. Run by the National Park service, the Lava Beds National Monument is on the northeast side of the volcano, and shows off some of the more spectacular remnants of the area’s history. At the park, visitors can explore several caves, the result of complete and collapsed lava tubes.

Though I lived up there for years, I never really went to the Lava Beds, though my parents took me and my brothers once when we were small. Our flashlight wasn’t strong enough to actually see the caves that time, so we just scrambled happily over the surface rocks. So, last week, I dragged a friend of mine all the way up north and went to see it again–always wanted to be a splunker.

It wasn’t a traditional “nice day.” The wind was up and the sky overcast, and it was not much warmer than inside the caves. From 139, the park is about a 16 mile drive, 12 miles through the Modoc National Park, on a rather less than well-maintained road. It feels like it must have been forgotten, and although it has obviously been patched, there are still great gaping holes in the asphalt. Even though the park is open all year round, this road may not be, as it it doesn’t get winter maintence. The park, though, seems to be better funded than the national forest. Once you cross the border the road is much nicer. Then you have to drive to the visitor’s center to pay for a week pass, but it’s only ten dollars. Most of the caves are arranged around a main drivable “loop.” Unfortunately most of the easy caves are off of the main loop, and a further drive.

Because my friend and I aren’t even hikers–and even forgot our hardhats, we went for the easy caves. Naturally, the first one we chose was the Sentinel Cave, which is one of the few, or only, caves open to visitors with two entrances. It was actually a fairly easy walk, but the Lava Beds Park is in the high desert, so between the elevation of 4000-5700 feet above sea leve and the dry air, so it was quite a workout. Anyway, though the trail was fairly clear, one is apparently allowed to try the other branches (which we didn’t), but just because there was a trail, it was still rough. Lava caves aren’t like caves in limestone, there were lots of loose rocks and boulders, and some really steep steps. It was also REALLY DARK. Very dark. So there wasn’t much walking and looking at the scenery at the same time. You can watch where your feet are going, or see what the cave looks like. And once we made it through, we went back a second time.

Pictures really don’t do it justice, at least not with my camera. This is as close as I could get.

After Sentinel Cave, we walked the 3/4 mile to Big Painted cave and a little farther to Symbol Bridge…well, I dashed over to Symbol Bridge for a quick look. I’m glad I did, because the cave painting (to me) was far clearer than at Big Painted Cave. I’m still not sure I saw anything at the there, and barely anything at Symbol Bridge. But it did remind me that people actually lived there, and travelled there, even though it’s fairly desolate.

The Lava Beds don’t just have cool caves, the area was the site of the Modoc War. Anyone remember that? Don’t feel bad, I had a history professor who’d never heard of it either. At any rate, at the time, 1872-1873, it was in all the papers. It was the only major “Indian” war that was fought in California, and it was the only time that a US general in the regular army was killed in battle (Custer doesn’t count because he wasn’t a general when he died. So there–yeah, I don’t get it either). The US government forced the Modoc tribe to a reservation with the Klamath tribes, ignoring the old rivalries–which of course flared up again. So “Captain Jack,” or Kintpuash (one spelling) led a group of his people to their old home, but the government aimed to force them back to the reservation. Instead, they fled to the Lava Beds, where for more than six months 60 Modoc warriors held off ten times their number of US troops. Eventually, Captain Jack was betrayed, and he and several of his top warriors were hung.

The tribe gave it’s name to the county, and the general gets a little unincorporated town–Canby–with barely a few hundred people. Oh, and a cross…on a hill.

It can be hard to find information on the war so here are a few links:

Lava Beds National Monument Official Page

with a free book on the Modoc War, and a brochure(pdf).