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» Sunday, February 18, 2018Time Travel Without Leaving the Neighborhood
a.k.a. "Anachrocon Ate My Weekend and I Loved It."
Normally we would have been at Anachrocon when it opened on Friday afternoon; however James had an iron infusion scheduled and didn't want to cancel it. So I spent the morning and early afternoon making chicken cacciatore out of a leftover chicken leg quarter and some thighs, and making sandwiches with the bread I'd just run out to get that morning. This will keep us from having to go to the hotel restaurant, if there is one, or out for supper. My sandwiches were plain; I made James' with some cheese and just an hint of pepper or Mrs. Dash.
All this domesticity tired me out—while I have been experimenting with cooking other dishes besides baked chicken and homemade gravy, I'm never going to like the process—and I took a nap until Life360 tweedled at me through my cellphone and I knew James was on his way, then got dressed. I followed his journey on Life360 and the traffic map; there was horrendous traffic as always on Friday. Once he was here, we had to fight our way to the hotel, which thankfully was at Wyndham just beyond Cumberland Mall. All we had to do was get past the traffic sink that's the mall.
It was lightly raining, so we didn't bring the power chair inside. We'd missed all the panels we might have been interested in, so we simply met up with Clay and Maggi, took a brief look around the hotel, and then had supper at the hotel restaurant. Like previous old hotel, this is a restaurant that basically caters to business people, and it's "southern fusion" or something like that which means they charge you out the nose for plain food that has been gussied up with some spices. $20 for meatloaf? Are you kidding me? Maggi and James had chicken gumbo soup and Clay had some shrimp and I had a salad. (James and I ate our sandwiches when we got home.)
We had not attended a convention here for years, from back when it was a Holiday Inn or something like that, mostly because I remember this hotel as being very small and the cons finally outgrew it. Well, even remodeled, it still is. There are some small meeting rooms on one side (where the literature, history, and science panels will be), then the lobby and a restaurant, then two bigger meeting rooms on the other side, and then opened up rooms that are for the dealers (mostly steampunk this year) and main programming. There's also a little side room where the authors are selling their wares.
So they headed for their room and we headed for home; to pop up at 7:45 a.m. on Saturday morning and do all our usual morning ablutions (and terrier attendance) before heading back to the hotel. We did have the hotel breakfast buffet, which is more reasonable than the previous hotel (except for the cook making omelets, it's no better than the buffet Drury Inn, Staybridge Suites or Country Inn and Suites serves). James did avail himself of the omelet guy, who is what my mother would term "a hot sketch."
So I wandered in only a little late for the Battle of Hastings panel. The overall theme this year is Vikings, and there are a lot of Viking crafts and costuming and some panels. This one ties in because the Normans led by William the Conquerer were actually Norsemen way, way back, ones who settled in northern France and who were now French. The battle was described very well and I felt I understood more about what caused the battle and how Harold was outwitted, although his defensive position was well thought out.
Next I went to Lee Martindale's bardcraft panel. Lee talked about some of the duties of a bard; they did not just sing and entertain; they were the oral historians for the region and also resolved conflicts and brought the news from place to place. You apprenticed as a bard for seven to fifteen years, which means it wasn't just memorizing a bunch of songs, but a sense of fair play along with showmanship.
I sat with Caran Wilbanks during the 17th century medicine panel, which was a comparison between Eastern European and Western European disciplines; the Eastern usually had "wise women" and midwives while Western had doctors and barber-surgeons. They used medical methods that we would consider a bit gross, but that are still being used today —leeches and maggots, for instance—but under more sanitary conditions, because they are still the best for the job. The panel kept the dialog amusing so not to gross anyone out too much, and they passed around some cochineal beetles which are still used to make red dye. I was re-reading about them just recently in St. Clair's The Secret Lives of Color.
Jeremiah Mitchell, who did such a good panel about the Kennedy and Lincoln assassinations last year, did the first of four panels next. This was about the Titanic, and it turns out he had a distant family member on the ship, Ann Elizabeth Isham. There is a theory she didn't make it off the ship because she went back for her dog. He talked about the unhappy fate of Charles Lightoller, the Second Officer of Titanic, who survived and was reviled much of his life. I did not know he was one of the small craft owners who went to the aid of the soldiers at Dunkirk.
Next I went to a panel about writing diverse characters. I've been working on a story about a fannish teenager. Now when I was a teenager I grew up in a pretty much Italian Catholic neighborhood and didn't even have a Protestant friend until I was in fifth grade. I know a child today would probably not grow up in that kind of atmosphere, but I want to make sure if I create a character of another race or culture in the story that I am not writing a stereotype. The panel concurred that research was your friend.
The Great Story Shift was a panel by a professor in Humanities who was even more entertaining than the stories she was relating. She talked very fast and was very funny as well as informative, and discussed myths like Jason and the Golden Fleece, Tristan and Isolde, and even Beowulf. (Since I never had to read Beowulf in school, I was interested to hear the story.)
Never could find what I wanted to see next, so I wandered about a bit and then found James half-dozing in the "Microbes in Our Food" (about fermentation) panel because it was so hot in the room. The Science and Literature rooms were overheated most of the weekend while the History room was freezing. We brought flannel shirts with us today and were glad of it when we were in Stratford!
The next panel I went to, "Researching What Never Was," was a bit of a misnomer. It was described as a panel about how to do research for details of the past. However, it turned out to be Stephanie Osborn's discoveries about how they dressed, lived, etc. in the time of Sherlock Holmes as portrayed in her novels. It was still interesting, but not what I expected.
Mitchell's second panel was one I had particularly wanted to see: the story of the murder of Leo Frank. In 1913, an 11-year-old mill girl named Mary Phagan was raped and murdered at the Atlanta pencil factory where she worked. The factory accountant, Leo Frank, a "Yankee Jew," was accused, tried, and convicted of killing her on the testimony of the janitor. He was sentenced to prison, but was removed from said prison by a bunch of "upstanding citizens" (including a sheriff) and lynched not far from where we live, off Frey's Gin Road near Roswell Road. There used to be a dentist's office there that had a plaque for Leo Frank, but the building was bulldozed to make way for a freeway project. I had read somewhere that when they finish the project, they are intending to put up a memorial, but God only knows when that will be, since we stay in a perpetual state of construction.
(In the 1980s, a man who had been an office boy at the pencil factory said he saw the janitor carrying Phagan's body into the basement, and the janitor threatened to kill him if he said anything, so it is now strongly suspected that the janitor was the real killer. But there is no evidence left to prove it.)
Finally on Saturday night was the panel I was really waiting for. Ever since my teen years I have been crazy about anthropology, from when I read Robert Silverberg's The Morning of Mankind in the Bain library. Anyone who has read anthropology books knows the story of the Neanderthals, the "nasty, brutish" cavemen who were finally overwhelmed by nice intelligent Homo Sapiens (us). Well, things have changed a lot from 1971. New studies have proven that Neanderthal man lived in communities, cared for their elderly and infirm, buried their dead, could speak, and did all this before Homo Sapiens. I remember Jean Auel made quite a stir in Clan of the Cave Bear when she pronounced all these, except for the speech, with her Neanderthal characters raising the human child Ayla, including Ayla having a "half breed" child. One of the things they believed back when I was in school was that Neanderthal and human never had offspring together (or never had offspring that survived). Today they can tell you that almost everyone of European ancestry has a little bit of Neanderthal genes. (The only ones who do not are people whose ancestors are strictly from Africa.) Red hair and blue eyes, in fact, came from the Neanderthal. (Apparently so did Type 2 diabetes.) But they were not stupid and brutish; however, they were strong. Fossil records now show that they had twice as many muscles in some parts of their body along with thicker, stronger bones, so they were much stronger than any human, even today. The speaker, Dr. Dea Mozingo Gorman (who was positively fascinating), recommended this book, which I am definitely going to get! I read Brian Fagan's Cro-Magnon a few years back, which had some of this info, but was disappointed by it.
Anyway, the room was SRO and we loved the pael so much that when the hour was over Dr. Gorman kept going and we stayed on until almost another hour had gone by. Both Phyllis and Oreta, sitting behind me, asked questions. James rolled in, having seen two panels (New Madrid fault and rebuilding after the Apocalypse) in this time, to find us still talking, so we had to make haste to get home to get Tucker "aired."
This morning we also got up at 7:45, even though neither of us had a 10 o'clock panel. We had the buffet again and James tipped the omelet cook as much for his humor as for his cooking. Then we just started wandering about, and as we approached the costuming and fabrication panel rooms, we saw Clay in one of them. It turned out he had come for a panel about female warriors, but it had been cancelled. Instead, they were holding demonstrations of how to do cording to go with a costume. We stayed. I got to do Viking whip cording, which involved four spools of yarn fastened to a vertical pole and another person. You held a spool in each hand, and basically tossed spools to each other, left to left, then right to right, and once you had a rhythm, you could even talk. Clay and Caran, who walked into the room during the spool-tossing, did finger looping (which I'd like to try if I can remember the steps), and then James worked on something called "shoopido" (?) which is the thing they taught you in camp with vinyl cording. It was fun!
Jeremiah Mitchell did a panel at eleven about Eliot Ness and how, despite all the work he did to catch Al Capone, the canny gangster never attached his name to anything and Ness couldn't pin anything on him. As everyone knows, Capone was eventually convicted, but for tax evasion, and only because a careless accountant labeled an account book "Al" and was willing to "sing." Ness himself wasn't perfect, but he was "untouchable" about bribes.
Walked the dealer's room one more time and bought memberships for last year, said goodbye to Clay and Maggi (she wasn't feeling well because she'd been unable to get some medication she needed), then finally went to the rest of the "Mining Urban Legends for Story Ideas" panel.
Finally, James went off to see the escape pod panel and I went to the last of Mitchell's panels, this one about the O.K. Corral. I'd already seen the Time Traveling With Brian Unger about this, so I knew it wasn't this black-and-white good-guys-bad-guys 40s Western movie thing that was commonly portrayed. The Earps weren't knights in white satin and the Clanton "gang" wasn't one, and what started the big trouble was a nervous Ike Clanton misinterpreting something he overheard about the Earps.
And finally it was time for closing ceremonies. This was very short, with the two con chairs thanking everyone; Lee Martindale said she had a swell time as Guest of Honor, and farewells were said. We came home and, tiresomely, had to stop at CVS and Kroger for a couple of things we needed before we could do so. Supper was comfort food, chicken soup with stellini (James had chili), and then it was time to get ready for another week after a nice weekend of time traveling.
I really must get that Neanderthal book; just hoping I can wait till I get another coupon!