• ain’t that history something •

Turns out, (the First)
Queen Elizabeth,
Sovereign of the Seven Seas,
and of all of Britannia to be,
‘went commando’
(and, that’s a fact),
under all of that exquisite
Elizabethan finery.
“Did I hear that right?”
I heard myself say,
“Well, alright, then.
Imagine that.
Ain’t that history something!”
~ Tim Burchfield



• a two-fer •

This is a two-fer. Don’t know what a two-fer is? Sure you do: it’s a two ‘fer’ (for) one. Can you tell I spent my formative years in retail? Yep, my claim to fame in high school was head Pamper stacker, a graduate of H.E.B. U. Don’t know what Pampers are? If you’ve had kids you do, and if you haven’t, they’re disposable diapers, and H.E.B. is a grocery store (chain), owned by the Butt family: that’s true.
Where was I? Oh, yes, a two-fer.
I came home today with a couple of gems, one on spuds (that’s potatoes, or potato, in the singular, from the Spanish, patata, variant of the Taino, batata) and the other is, a surprise. Trust me, it really will be. Something maybe nobody has ever thought of, besides maybe me, and quite possibly only interesting to me, but we shall see, shall we?
But more about the potato. Or more specifically, freeze-dried potatoes. Yep, just like the ones moms like mine used to make when they saw commercials in the sixties about meals for twelve cents a serving and thought food made in the wink of an eye, was just the thing for a civilized society. Instant potatoes, I think they were called, on the box. Almost inedible, to my brother and sisters, which I thought just wonderful, as that meant there would always be plenty for me. My secret? Lots of butter and plenty of salt and pepper. Yummy!
Why are you telling me about instant potatoes, I can hear you asking, and well you may, so I shall tell you, immediamente, as they say. But now, for some history, and the punch line, to boot: freeze dried spuds are an ancient Peruvian invention, and not a product of NASA, such as Tang, fruit roll-ups, and squirt-able cheese, as you might think. And here’s how.
The Inca Indians in Peru were the first to cultivate potatoes around 8,000 BC to 5,000 B.C., of which they developed over a thousand varieties, and still do utilize, even today. But freeze-dried? How did that come to be?
The potato, from the perennial Solanum tuberosum, is the world’s fourth largest food crop, following rice, wheat, and maize. The problem with this delicious source of nutrition is their vulnerability, to moisture, and molds and fungus, and other spoilers. So the clever Peruvians would carry their crop of potatoes high into the Andes mountains and let them freeze. Then, after thawing, they would become sort of squidgy and malleable, in a very useful way. This, they would squash into a paste, and smooth it in the sun, over a wide flat rock face. The dried product could then be stored in fired clay pots, almost indefinitely. Add a bit of water, and bring to a boil, and voila! Instant potatoes. (Add pepper and salt, to taste, of course: the Peruvians were an advanced ancient culture, not savages.)
Okay, now for your big surprise, since you made it this far. Have you been waiting, with bated breath? (Short for, ‘abated’, breath: short for ‘shortness of breath’, nifty, nay?) I can tell. Well, wait no longer, your moment has arrived. Listen, my friend, and you shall hear.
I shall amaze you with my forward thinking and ingenuity. You know, if you’ve ever had to paint the outside of your house, or wooden deck, how, by spring, the places where the paint has peeled, and must be repaired and/or re-painted is more than evident, but by springtime, everything is soggy and wet, and the exposed wood is too, and too soft to scrape the old paint off, effectively, so you end up having to wait until the rains have stopped, and the wood has dried sufficiently to be able to paint, and by then, it’s getting (by winter standards) downright hot and sticky, and the black flies are biting, and the no-see-em’s are out for blood, and absolutely making you crazy? (What are no-see-ems? Imagine gnats, in their thousands, swarming, and biting, your ears, neck, and, well, any exposed area, except when you swat them, your hand finds a bloody trickle, lovely. Plus, you can’t see them, generally, hence, the name. Don’t worry about finding them, they find you.) So, anywhoo, here’s my stroke of near genius: winter paint prep. Yep, you heard it here first. Yes, dear friends, no fuss, no muss, no waiting for wet wood, no bleeding neck, and best of all, no sweat.
As to scraping, it’s winter weather that makes the paint peel anyway, with the cold, expansion and contraction have made cracks in the paint, and water has got into those cracks, and when the water freezes, the expanding ice (under the paint) just pushes it away from the wood.
Soooo, what better, on a cold and sunny winter day, than to get the old scraper out, and as they say, make hay? Have I actually tried out my hypothesis, to test my theory? Just got in from outside, now just warming my pinkies over some hot tea. Did it work? Guess.
Only one problem. Dog walkers. Who stare at you as if you were juggling chain saws, instead of scraping your front deck. “Hello there,” I chortle, “lovely weather, innit.” And off they wander, with only the occasional head shake, and pitying look back.
Not to worry though, as a card-carrying member of the much esteemed, ‘Creative Class’ (and, it goes without saying, the Wile E.Coyote aka, ‘super-genius’ Appreciation Society, W.E.C.S.G.A.S., or, ‘Wexgassers’, as we, mirthfully, call ourselves), I’ve grown quite accustomed to that.
~ Tim Burchfield


• v day •

About two thousand years ago, a Roman king, Emperor Claudius Gothicus, a.k.a., “Claudius the Cruel”, issued an executive order, I mean, edict, outlawing marriage, juuuuust because, as the story goes, he had trouble getting to sleep, one night, and decided he needed an army.
(For what, he didn’t yet know, it just came into his head, one day, and that, as they say, was that. Isn’t that just the way? Not to worry, this story has a happy ending. Er, no, no, not really.)
“Don’t staaaaand, in m’way!” King Claudius could be heard to say (‘tweeting’ away, like a jaybird), at least three times a day, sometimes all night, and four times, at least, betimes, when he had had the insomnia.
Now, it seems, in those heady days of Empire only landowners could join the army. And yet, crazily, these, more often than not, married men, were somewhat reticent to go to war because – get this – it turns out that they had rather ‘stay ‘home’, safe and sound, with the wife and kiddos, than to risk dismemberment and/or death, for the king’s amusement, or whatever. Say, what?!! I know, right? (*Shrug*) Go figure.
So, new law: no marriages, period. No sanctified unions. No connubial bliss. Nope. None of it. (I mean, what’s the point of having total power, if you can’t be a total dick? Am I right?) So, from here on in, no one is getting married. No one, no way, no how! And no, ‘King’s X’!
So, needless to say, in very short order, every Roman man-jack of them is pissed off and horny, and ready to (I’ve waited a ‘lifetime’ to resurrect this line), “Crush! Kill! Destroy!!” A perfect state for a perfect union, ñ’es pas? Indubitably. In fact, ((*sniff!!*)) I’m getting all verklempt, just thinking about it.
As it happens (spoiler alert), there was a certain Roman priest, a dissenter, who, believing in the inviolability of the institution of marriage, was defying the king’s decree (drumroll, please) by performing illegal marriages. (God, ‘trumping’ the king’s wishes, so to speak, was his thinking, I guess, being God, and all, and all, like that.)
So, it followed, that on February 14 (sometime between 269 A.D. and 278 A.D.), on the orders of the king (oh, and for ‘breaking’ the ‘law of the land’), the recalcitrant priest was unceremoniously sentenced to death: a gruesome three part execution, of a beating, a stoning, and finally a decapitation (Yuck!), all because of his unwavering stand on marriage.
His name was Valentine. Yes, that one. That’s, ‘Saint V’, to you and me. Put that in your Whitman’s Sampler, and smoke it. I’ll support you, in that. Yep, that’s me, ever the traditionalist. You can even borrow my lighter.
Now, by all means, feel free to be romantic, that is, if you’ve still got the stomach for it. And why not, eh? It’s on St. V’s nickel. I say, go for it.
~ Tim Burchfield
2/13/17 (revised)


• in theory •

Self-aggrandizement, deflection of responsibility, blame shifting, obfuscation, and chronic obscurantism are classic symptoms of a narcissistic personality disorder. A man (in fairness, all things being equal, this could just as easily be a woman – no, really) with this condition is frequently hampered in situations involving – and, too often, to one degree or another, is found to be completely incapable of – compassion, empathy, emotional stability, consistency of thought or sustained and rational problem solving. Paranoia is almost always an accompanying presentation. Further, given sufficient power and authority, such a person is capable of any forced action, of rationalizing persecutions upon ‘outed’ groups, of deliberately undermining essential infrastructure, and/or any number of established policies, in addition to an unswerving willingness to commit any injustice or atrocity deemed ‘necessary’, all, without any self-doubt, or debilitating ‘pangs’ of conscience.
Now, if a people were to find themselves ‘ruled’, by such an individual, it might well be very worrying indeed. Of course, one could only hope, then, that the ‘checks and balances’ built into a form of governance by the wisdom of a thoughtful group of far-sighted ‘Founding Fathers’ would, be, in theory, at least, sufficient to save (said nation) from the clear and present danger afforded by such an appalling predicament. Would it not then be for these faithful to remain hopeful that the commitment, strengths, and courage of a competent, diligent, and united ,’We the People’, would sustain them through to a positive outcome? In such a case, I would, most definitely, unequivocally be, and, most of all, theoretically, thereafter, remain in their ‘corner’, to my dying day.
Whew! That was a close one.
Kinda scary, I’d say.
Good thing this is all, ‘theoretical’, eh?
~ Tim Burchfield


• here in me •

Like a mantra,
it runs through my mind,
‘Polk. Jackson. Reagan. Bush.
Pomp and brutality.’
Which is no help at all.
And then, a voice of reason,
which said, “Not in my house,”
and I thought that was quite right.
“Exactly,” I said, reverentially.
“It doesn’t have to be that way,
not here, in me.”
~ Tim Burchfield


• experimental archeology •

Presently, and for some weeks, now, I have been on a creative journey which can best be described as experimental archeology (the idea with which, I first became acquainted, from the BBC television program, featuring history and ancient archeology, Time Team. They would occasionally do a ‘live experiment’, sometimes forging, using the ancient technologies, a bearded Viking hand-axe, or a sword, or build a Roman boat, or a dugout canoe, even going so far at times, to enlist a ‘volunteer’ to ‘join’ a ‘virtual convent’ in a virtual monastery, even go so far as wearing the period garb, taking a vow of silence, speaking to no one, in constant prayer, for a whole day, and a night, or march with the Roman army, and endure the rigors of being shouted at, in Latin, for twenty-four hours of dirty, sweaty fun, or to be a slave in a Viking community, for a day of grueling fetching and of doing the bidding of others, whilst being cursed at and spat upon. Ah, good times.)
Since those heady days of my early discovery, I have been dabbling in experimental archeology, of one sort, or another, almost continually. It is fun, and interesting, and it more than keeps me busy, it keeps me curious, and ever more appreciative of the innovation and creativity of our forbears, mindful of their courage, and (sometimes) adventurous spirit, their occasional big-hearted, dumb luck (and sometimes, not), ‘stick-to-it-tive-ness’, and perspicacity. And love of life, and of family, and community, when they weren’t busy sacking and pillaging, that is.
It’s the little (and big, but mostly, little) things which catch my attention, and then, by gum, I almost have to – let me correct that – I MUST try them, to see if I can figure out what was up with those farmers, or peasants, or landowners and lords, or clergy, or warriors, or artisans. It’s funny, some of the stuff I’ve learned. Shall I ‘count the ways’? Okay, maybe just a couple of items, oh, okay, maybe just one (though, believe me, there are many), just so’s you won’t worry about ‘that poor fella (me), frittering his life away…” (Ahem, who says ‘fritter’, anymore…wait a sec, who says, ‘ahem’? Not to fret… hey, fret? Really? There it goes again! Perhaps it’s an after-effect of ‘experimental archeology’: archaic expressionism. One must be wary. Oh, crap, it’s bad, isn’t it!)
Anywhoo. Can we get down to cases? Or in this case, case? Lets. Let’s start with the liripipe. What’s a liripipe? I’m glad you asked:
a long tail hanging from the back of a hood, especially in medieval or academic dress.]
A liripipe is a freakishly long extension from the back of a fourteenth century piece of apparel, which was a hood, which covered the head, more commonly worn by men, but some women, too (usually attached to a cowl, which extended to cover the shoulders), the liripipe, looking, to my eye, for all the world like a two to three foot long athletic tube sock, extending, at the top, from the back of the hood, and hanging down (in paintings and depictions of the day) most of the way down the back (of the wearer). “What the heck?” I said to myself, when I first saw the liripipe. What inexplicable bit of fashion-sense could have given rise (or more accurately, fall) to such a ridiculous-looking development? What could possibly be up with that?
And so, I made one, a liripipe, that is, oh, and a hood (they’re sort of conjoined, you see, like twins).
And I tried it on. And I wore it for a bit. (Alright, for more than a bit. Off and on, for days, would be more accurate. You’d be amazed how difficult it is to surreptitiously, wear strange apparel, in a house full of ‘normals’, unless you are into sporting ladies underthings, and then, too, only on your head.)
And now I get it, what was up with this liripipe, ‘thingy’, and, oh, my gosh, get a load of this.
In fact, the liripipe has many uses, when wearing a hood, especially if you have anything to actually do, other than flounce around the monastery, being ‘contemplative’, whilst wearing it.
Oh, alright, I do realize, of course, by the way, that a woolen hood isn’t much use around here, especially in summertime, even with (or without) said liripipe, but neither is a sombrero, so there. Oh…I have one of those, too. Yeah.)
Still, check out the varied and ingenious uses of the liripipe, aside from it’s obvious utility in helping drunkards keep track of each other in meandering home after dark from the Prancing Pony after ten too-many tankards of ale. (I’ve seen that depicted in a fourteenth century painting, as well. (See depiction, attached.))
Hoods tend to fall down over the eyes, if you lean forward even a little bit, so for farm workers, or craftsmen, this is a problem. So, with your handy-dandy liripipe, you just wrap it around the forehead, like a bandana, and voila!, problem solved, availing good visibility while keeping the head and shoulders warm as well, even keeping out substantial winds and cold air, and freeing up the hands for work, eliminating that pesky perpetual pushing out of the face, those random bits of unruly hair.
Or, for the fashion-conscious, if you just wish to look stylish in your hood, with a jaunty sweep of your liripipe (around your neck and over a shoulder), you can catch the eye of a fair maiden, (or, if you like, not-so-much-a-maiden, fair) with a casual flourish of – it goes without saying – debonair. Needless to say, at the, then, almost entirely unheard of, ‘ancient’ age of 57, I am, personally, a bit old for such vain, very probably, hopeless, peacockery, but I hear it’s very effective – if you happen to know the sort of women who go for men in hoods, that is.
Now, if you happen to be a horseman, on a hot day, this look is not only practical, but quite the fashion statement, which says, “Oh, this old thing? I can wear it any old way, and still look good!” This involves what I like to think of as thinking out of the box, or more accurately, out of the hood, which is irreverently rolled up on one side of the head (all of the floppy bits), and bound by the liripipe, and worn at a jaunty angle, upside down, and very probably, backwards (I haven’t quite worked it out, still): quite the statement for the bon vivant. And, to my taste, almost looks good, as well.
Of course, in a playful mood, one might just turn your swept-back hood, back to front, and go about looking like a wizard, sporting a faux knee-length beard, and all. Kids love a man with his clothes on backwards, and such a carefree attitude lets the myriad widows around town know that you aren’t broke, don’t have to be anywhere in particular, at that moment, and that you might just actually like kids, for themselves, instead of the usual merely having them around strictly for the asking of them for directions to the nearest pub, or as convenient hand mops for the ‘getting off’, of mud from your hands. Very fetching, the look, that is. They’ll love it, and you, for wearing it.
Archers, secure those encumbering floppy sleeves with a wrap of your liripipe! Swordsmen, why let archers have all’ the fun? Sleeve-free, slice and dice, parry away, at will. Make a cuffuffle and a furury, stylishly, and puffy-sleeve free! Get your liripipe (with attached hood: limit one per liripipe) today!
Oh, I could go on and on, about the liripipe, and what a grand time we should have, but time grows short (and, just between you and me, in this hood, in this heat, it is getting kind of hot in here).
Still, if you want to actually see some of these ways to utilize a liripipe (with hood), together with historic depictions, for reference, go to YouTube and type in, ‘Ten ways to wear your hood’ (Or, click:
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=GIx5L4dnri0). It’s both fun and informative. Plus, you don’t have to merely imagine a man looking completely ridiculous, right in front of you, you can actually see it, which is a plus.
Ah, the joys of experimental archeology! I hope I’ve shared some of the fulfillment I’ve had over the past weeks, and perhaps, even piqued your interest. Try it yourself, sometime, you won’t be disappointed. Even the kids in my household have gotten on the band wagon. Why, just the other day, after the boy had had himself locked in the only bathroom for over an hour, when I banged on the door, shouting, “Hey, other people live here you know! It’s been over an hour! What on Earth can you be doing in there?!!”
From the other side of the door came a muffled response, together with a chortle: “Experimental archeology,” he said.
~ Tim Burchfield


• begin to see •

• begin to see •
“Husband thought we could get along with all, but the baby – he did not see how we could take that. But I felt that if I must take any, I wanted her, as a charm, to bind the rest to me.”
The Whitmans sent word back to the wagon train that they would take all seven (orphans, who’s parents had died on their way West).
A few days later, after six months, and two-thousand miles, Henry and Naomi Sager’s children finally reached their new home in Oregon.
Narcissa Whitman came out to meet them for the first time: “She was a large, well-formed woman, fair complexioned, with beautiful auburn hair – nose rather large, and large, grey eyes. She had on a dark, calico dress, and a gingham sun bonnet. We thought, as we shyly looked at her – that she was the prettiest woman we had ever seen.”
~ excerpt, Ken Burns: The West
(Thanks, to you, I think, primarily,
I begin to see the lives of “living people”, in the past,
here and there,
in “history”.
Given our mortality,
this has come to mean a lot to me.
Thanks again.
Just to keep the loneliness at bay –
and to inform, and to revive –
it has helped,
and continues,
so, to do,
day by day,
[For Sarah Vowell]
~ Tim Burchfield