Let’s talk about money

As I mentioned before in the previous post, at least my character Will Rees was used to money. Of course, in the early U.S., the people used French sous, Spanish pieces of eight, and British pence as well as the new coinage: the American dollar.

In the new series, in Bronze Age Crete, I am not sure how common money was.

No longer nomadic, the civilizations of the Middle East had settled homes where they grew food. Financial interchanges probably began with barter – but that must have taken some dickering. “I’ll give you a bracelet for so many bags of wheat” for example.

By the period of my new series, the civilizations did have metal – hence the name Bronze Age. Bronze is a mixture of tin and copper. I suspect, since they had metal, they had some form of coinage – or at least metal that was used as money. Was it per weight? Who knows.

Many many clay tablets have been found on Crete and of course where the great civilizations of Mesopotamia were located. Most of them are lists: lists of products or a name of a person who will pay so many pieces of silver. One theory suggests that writing began so as to keep track of money.

But we would probably not recognize the money. In some cases the money was based on measures of barley that is the shekel. As we might expect, gold was rare and valuable – but also heavy – so silver and electrum (a combination of gold and silver) were also used. Egypt used copper as money.

And with the trade that took place at this time, I expect Egyptian copper money, shekels and other coins were used as well.

True coins, by the way, were not created until around 600 BCE. A great leap forward because, if you have consistent coinage, the money offered does not have to be weighed every time a financial transaction too place. Of course gold and silver would have been good for valuable items such as a slave or a bull but what about food?Thousands of less valuable coins made of copper or bronze have been found at places like Athens where there were markets and shops.

There is a lot more history about money – the role of kings, banking, lending and interest and so forth – features we take for granted to day. Hard to believe it all had to be invented and is actually quite complicated.

Ancient Crete

Although I am planning to continue the Will Rees mystery series, I also want to begin a new and very different series. These mysteries will be set in Ancient Bronze Age Crete.

Needless to say, the research has been intense!

I have learned so much. (There is still a lot more to learn, not just for me but for the archeologists too. All that we know now is from the archeological record, myths and various interpretations.)

But I digress.

These ancient Minoans were a civilized society with indoor toilets, beautiful art, and some very intriguing cultural differences. For one thing, they worshipped a Goddess and appear to be matrilineal as well as matrilocal. (That means inheritance went through the mother and when she married the man lived with her.) They worshipped snakes and apparently snake handling was part of the ceremonies.

Like most of the Goddesses then, she was the deity of fertility. Women enjoyed a high rank, something that many of the early archeologists found hard to believe.

The bull was revered. A symbol of the male principle, the bull was sacrificed at important ceremonies. Yes, this is the culture with bull-leaping. Probably most people know of this from the myth of Theseus, Ariadne and the Minotaur in the labyrinth. It turns out that the people who became the Classical Greeks interpreted the Minoan culture through the lens of their own beliefs.

Talks and more

One of the things I most enjoy doing as a writer is going out and talking to readers. I have audiences from a few people all the way up to more than 100. Some of them are wonderful and some challenge me and make me think on my feet, (One audience member accused me of helping teach people how to murder.)

After this busy summer, I have a few weeks off and then I have a talk coming up at the Elm Street Bookstore in New Canaan, Ct. After that, on September 23, I have a talk on Genres (from the librarian side of life) to the local chapter of the Sisters and Crime.

In October I will be at Bouchercon in Toronto, then, in quick succession, at the Bookloft Bookstore in Great Barrington, Mass and the following Friday, October 27, at the bookstore in Chappaqua.

The exciting life of a writer!

Mechanicsburg Mystery Festival

The Saturday after the Suffolk Mystery Festival, I attended the Mechanicsburg Mystery Festival. And how lovely it was too. Like the Suffolk Festival, I met several new authors. I am always on the lookout for new authors and will read something by every one. Debbie Beamer was really nice and the readers – oh the readers – so pleasant and so book oriented. Definitely a wonderful experience.

The only fly in the ointment: the traffic for both. Coming home from the Suffolk festival we ran into heavy traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike. A semi flipped and the highway was closed for hours. We saw the spot. At least a mile of crushed guard rail and blackened pavement.

Traveling in the summer can be a real challenge!

American Politics

The recent election was acrimonious and ugly. People have unfriended erstwhile friends or just simply stopped talking with them.  While there may be unusual facets to this election, those in the past were not nice or gentle. I am including a section from my new book: The Devil’s Cold Dish, where I describe some of the unfortunate aftereffects of politics. Now this was in 1797 and I wrote this in 2014, so the emotional tenor is based solely on my research.

Turning her gaze to Rees, Jerusha said, “Your cheek is bleeding.”

“Yes, it is,” Rees agreed.

“Fetch me a bowl, Abby,” Lydia said. “And put some warm water in it, please.” She urged Rees into the side room and into a chair, despite his protests. “What happened?”

“Oh, Tom McIntyre had another customer. Mr. Drummond, a gentleman from Virginia by his accent. One of those land speculators. He was holding forth on George Washington and why he should have been impeached. I don’t know why people can’t leave the man alone.” With last fall’s election, John Adams had won the presidency and Thomas Jefferson the vice presidency. Washington had gone into retirement, a battered, aging lion.

“Was Mr. Drummond the one who did this?” She gestured to the cut upon his cheek.

“No,” Rees said. Drummond had already left when the argument exploded.

“I suppose you had to speak up,” Lydia said, her voice dropping with disappointment. “I love your sense of justice but I do wish you didn’t feel the need to fight every battle.” A former Shaker, she abhorred violence. Besides, she worried about the consequences, especially now after the serious injury to Sam.

Rees knew how she felt. He was trying to curb his temper, mostly because he wanted Lydia and his adopted children to be happy in Dugard. But so far he’d broken every promise to do better that he’d made to himself.

“We wouldn’t have a country without the president’s leadership during the War for Independence,” Rees said, hearing the defensiveness in his voice. After fighting under General Washington during the War for Independence, Rees would hear no criticism of the man who’d become the first president. Those who hadn’t fought, or who had only belonged to the Continental Army between planting and harvest, could not possibly understand what Washington had achieved.

Rees hesitated, fighting the urge to justify himself, but finally bursting into speech. “Mac and that Drummond fellow both favor Jefferson and the French. Drummond said that President Washington’s actions during the Jay affair smacked of treason. And when I said that the president had done his very best and that if anyone was guilty of treason it was John Jay, Mac said that the problem was that General Washington was a tired, senile old man.” He stopped talking.

When McIntyre had called Washington senile, Rees’s temper had risen and he had pushed the smaller man with all his strength. Since Mac probably weighed barely more than nine stone, he flew backward into the side of the mill. Flour from his clothing rose up at the impact, filling the air with a fine dust. That was when Zadoc Ward, Mac’s cousin, jumped on Rees and began pummeling him. Rees had already had a previous fight with the belligerent black-haired fellow who was usually found in the center of every brawl. Rees had caught Ward bullying Sam in the tavern and would have knocked him down if Constable Caldwell hadn’t broken up the fight and sent Rees on his way.

Rees permitted himself a small smile of satisfaction. At the mill, he’d put down Ward like the mad dog he was. But by then Mac’s eldest son, Elijah, and some of the other mill employees had arrived. They’d grabbed Rees. In the ensuing altercation, Ward, who was looking for revenge, had hit Rees in the face and sent him crashing to the ground in his turn. But Rees had bloodied a few noses before that. He didn’t want to admit to Lydia that he had participated in the brawl just like a schoolboy, but he suspected she already knew. She frowned anxiously.

“Well, you can hardly blame Mr. McIntyre for his unhappiness,” she said, turning Rees’s face up to the light. “The British have continued capturing American ships. Wasn’t his brother impressed by the British into their navy? Anyway, it’s not only the French who were, and still are, angry about Mr. Jay’s treaty. You were the one who told me he was burned in effigy all up and down the coast. And that the cry was ‘Damn John Jay. Damn everyone who won’t damn John Jay and damn everyone who won’t stay up all night damning John Jay.’”

“Yes,” Rees admitted with some reluctance.

“And now, with the Bank of England withholding payments to American vendors, Mr. McIntyre might go broke and lose his mill.”

“But none of this was President Washington’s fault,” Rees argued. “He has always striven for fairness. To be neutral in all things. Personally, I blame Mr. Hamilton.”

“I’m certain Mr. Jefferson bears some of the responsibility,” Lydia said in an acerbic tone. “He is so pro-French.” Rees wished he didn’t agree. Although he concurred with many of Jefferson’s Republican ideals, the vice president was pro-French and a slaveholder besides. And Rees could not forgive Jefferson for turning on Washington and criticizing him. “Discussing politics is never wise,” Lydia continued. “You know better. Passions run so high. And I see your argument resulted in fisticuffs.”

“Mr. McIntyre struck me first,” Rees said as Lydia dabbed at the cut above his eyebrow. The hot water stung and he grunted involuntarily. “You know how emotional he is.” Mac had spent his life quivering in outrage over something or other, and for all his small size he had been embroiled in as many battles as Rees. But now, with the wisdom of hindsight, Rees was beginning to wonder why Mac had been so eager to quarrel with him. They’d always been friends. Yet Mac had been, well, almost hostile.

“He can’t weigh much more than one hundred twenty or so pounds soaking wet,” Lydia added in a reproachful tone.

“I know. This,” he gestured to the cut, “came from his cousin, Zadoc Ward.” In fact Ward would have continued the fight, but Elijah had held him back. “I knocked him down, though,” Rees said in some satisfaction. Lydia did not speak for several seconds, although she gave his wound an extra hard wipe.

My Mother always said never discuss politics or religion. Failing a neutral topic, fall back on the weather. I find that advice hard to take – I’m sure it was just as difficult to follow it in the past as well.

Speaking Engagements

I had a great talk at the Newburgh Library last Wednesday. I have two more coming up. On Sunday, October 23, I will be talking at the Orangeburg Library – in Rockland County, New York. The talk begins at 2.

The following Sunday, I will be speaking about witchcraft at my own library – the Goshen Public Library in Goshen, New York. Hard to believe but I have never spoken there. I felt shy pushing myself into a slot where I work.

Come and ask questions.

Bouchercon

As I have mentioned before, I love attending Bouchercon. Not just because it is fun, although it is, but because it is so inspiring. This time I was put on a panel with other authors I have read, except for the one whose book has just come out. And one of my favorites as well: Laura Joh Rowland. I attended the interview of Harlen Coben by Michael Connolly – two heavy hitters. And the panel on social media. Well, I don’t need to continue. The point is that listening to other writers talk, about problems I struggle with – and sometimes they even have solutions – re-energizes me.

And the opening ceremonies with the faux Mardi Gras parade! Words cannot express. I wish I had taken some pictures but I was so caught up in the moment I never thought of it – even for the dragon float.

Holding the conference in New Orleans was wonderful as well. The people are so friendly and the food is great. We also took a few tours. My two favorites: the Whitney Plantation and the Mardi Gras World

I saw the two pretty plantations: Oak Alley and Laura.

oak-alley

 

 

laura-plantationThe Whitney Plantation is different; instead of the lives of the wealthy it focuses on the lives of the enslaved who made that affluent life possible.

antioch-baptist-church

The Antioch Baptist Church; the first African-American church in America.

wall-detail

This is detail from the wall listing all the enslaved at Whitney. I did not take many pictures; it was so sad and horrifying.

If you go to New Orleans try to stop by Mardi Gras World.

mardi-gras-float

fluffy.jpgAnd Fluffy from Harry Potter

Details of the floats. (I thought I would end on a happy note.)

The humble glove

 

One of the things that fascinates me is the history of small homey items. They all have a history.

Gloves, for example. They have been around for millenia. Truly. A mural from Knossos (Crete) shows two boxes. One has something on his hands that look like boxing gloves.

People wore gloves in the middle ages. The word glove is from glof.

Elizabeth I used gloves as a fashion statement, wearing gloves decorated with lace, as above, jewels and embroidery. One source claims she took them on and off to draw attention to her beautiful hands.

Unknown Lady from Elizabethan Period with Gloves - Courtesy Wikipedia ...

Queen Elizabeth 1 gloves are seen for the first time in public and on ...

During the Regency period, as women’s sleeves got shorter, gloves got longer, going to the elbow and beyond.

During the Colonial and Federalist period, gloves were a popular wedding gift.

Even now, in our contemporary period, gloves can be important. Think Michael Jackson and his glove. Or, in a more sobering example, the importance of the glove in the O.J. Simpson trial. So the humble glove has had quite a history.