Tuesday, September 25, 2018

11,000 followers on Facebook!

I'm celebrating a blogging milestone today: My Outlandish Observations Facebook page now has more than 11,000 followers!!

THANK YOU ALL!! I really appreciate your support!

Sunday, September 23, 2018

My trip to Yorktown and Jamestown

My mom and I just returned from a trip to Yorktown and Jamestown, Virginia. The weather was great the whole time, much to our relief. It felt good to be out in the sun after all that rain with Florence!

We stayed in the same hotel as on our last visit in the spring of 2017, literally across the street from a small beachfront along the York River (more about that below), and ten minutes down the road from the American Revolution Museum (formerly known as the Yorktown Victory Center).

On Thursday we spent the day touring the American Revolution Museum, which was very interesting. They had a special exhibit on 18th century artillery (cannons, mostly), which I found absolutely fascinating!

I've been interested in 18th century weaponry since I first read OUTLANDER, and this was my first chance to really get a close look at how a cannon operates and what makes it so powerful.  And now I finally understand what, exactly, Lord John and the gun crew were doing during the Battle of Crefeld in BROTHERHOOD OF THE BLADE:
"Load!” he barked, and snatched the linstock from the bombardier, motioning the soldier to replace the man who had fled. Sponger and rammer fell to their work at once, with no more than a hasty glance at Grey, blood-soaked and vicious. The erstwhile bombardier was clumsy, but willing. Grey barked them through the maneuver, once, again, forcing them, guiding them, and then felt them begin to drop back into the accustomed rhythm of the work and pick up speed, gradually losing their terror in the encompassing labor of serving the gun.

His throat was raw. The wind whipped away half his words and what was left was barely intelligible--but he saw the crew respond to the lash of his voice, and kept shouting.

Cannon were firing close at hand but he couldn’t tell whether they were friend or foe; clouds of black powder smoke rolled over them, obscuring everything.

His soaked clothes had gone cold again, and it was raining. He had taken the coil of smoking slow-match from the bombardier and tied it in its bag to his own belt. His fingers were stiff, clumsy; he had difficulty forcing the lighted fuse into the linstock, but forced himself to keep the rhythm, shouting orders in a voice that cracked like broken iron. Sponge. Vent. Load cartridge. Ram. Load wadding. Ram. Check vent. Powder. Fall back! And the hissing small flame at the end of the linstock coming down toward the touchhole, sure and graceful, with no sense at all that his own hand guided it.

That moment of suspended animation and the crash and buck of the gun. The first one left him deafened; he knew he was still shouting only because his throat hurt.

(From LORD JOHN AND THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE BLADE by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 29, "Dawn of Battle". Copyright© 2007 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

If I'm not mistaken, the cannon that exploded during that battle and seriously injured Lord John was a 24-pounder, which is a very large cannon.  According to the information I saw in the museum exhibit, a cannonball shot from a 24-pound "siege cannon" like the ones used at Yorktown during the Revolutionary War would have the same amount of energy (1.3 million joules) as a truck going 75 mph.  So whatever it smashed into, it would do a lot of damage!

The ornately-carved handles on the large cannon shown above are called "dolphins". If you've read "Lord John and the Haunted Soldier", you may remember the piece of the dolphin that Lord John took from the remains of the destroyed cannon, part of the evidence of the cannon explosion.

The rest of the exhibits were interesting, too, but our favorite was the "immersive" theater showing a recreation of the Battle of Yorktown, complete with realistic sound effects and "cannon smoke" rising knee-deep inside the theater! (The smoke took us totally by surprise. Very effective!)

After lunch, we went to see the outdoor "living history" part of the museum: a Continental Army encampment (including a musket-firing demonstration) and a small 18th-century farming community. I had fun examining everything, from the cooking equipment to the surgeon's supplies. I asked to see the bayonet affixed to the musket the re-enactor used for the demonstration, and was disappointed to find that the blade wasn't sharp. I assume the real ones would be, though! (Lethally so, if the bayonet wound Jamie suffered at Culloden is any indication.)

The next morning (Friday) we drove to Jamestown Settlement, and spent the morning exploring the museum there. It was well done, but not as interesting as Yorktown, in my opinion. Still, I learned a few things.  Example: one reason the original colonists had such a hard time that first year was that the water sources nearby were brackish (too salty to drink), and they didn't have good access to fresh water.

The most interesting artifact I saw at Jamestown was this 17th-century bandolier, or ammunition belt. The little bottles all have individual corks. Each of the vials would have been filled with enough powder and shot to fire a musket.

Again, there was an outdoor "living history" area, which probably would have been more interesting if I hadn't seen the one at Yorktown just the day before. Also, we didn't have a lot of time to explore the outdoor areas in detail, since we wanted to get back to the hotel in time for our boat ride at 2pm.

We headed back to Yorktown, arriving just in time to make our way over to the dock (literally a 5 minute walk from our hotel!) where the schooner Alliance (pictured above) was waiting. They do sightseeing cruises three times a day through November. We had seen the ship the  last time we were there, in the spring of 2017, but didn't realize it was an actual cruise until we were leaving, so this is something we really wanted to try the next time we visited.

It was worth the wait.  This was definitely the highlight of our trip! The 2-hour cruise up the York River was a lot of fun.  The Alliance is a 105-foot, 3-masted sailing ship (the tallest mast is 64 feet), built in the style of ships used during the Age of Sail in the 18th century.   It was an unforgettable experience, watching at close range as the crew (two young guys who apparently live on board the ship) raised the huge sails, and carefully adjusted the ropes as needed to turn the ship as the wind changed.  The sails are raised and lowered sort of like ENORMOUS window-blinds, fifty or sixty feet tall. <g>

It was a gorgeous day to go sailing, sunny with just enough of a breeze to fill the sails.  Very peaceful and relaxing.  There were only about 15 or 20 people on board.  I used a folding manual wheelchair to get from the hotel to the dock, and they stowed the chair on board with no problem at all.  All in all, a lovely experience that was well worth doing!

You can see more of my trip photos in my public Facebook album here. (I think the link should work even if you're not on Facebook.) Most of the photos are of things that would be of interest to anyone who enjoys the historical details in the OUTLANDER books. <g>

I would definitely recommend the American Revolution Museum to anyone visiting the Yorktown or Williamsburg area!

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Hurricane quotes from the OUTLANDER books

Most of you have probably heard that Hurricane Florence is heading for the Carolinas this week, a very powerful storm that is expected to do major damage.  As those of us in the path of the storm (I live in Raleigh, NC) complete our preparations and hunker down in anticipation of Florence's arrival, I couldn't resist a few hurricane-related quotes from the OUTLANDER books.

1) This first quote comes from the final scene in VOYAGER, in which Jamie and Claire learn where they've ended up after the storm.
"Of course, you were cast away by the storm. My husband was saying last night that he’d never seen such a dreadful blow at this time of year. What a mercy it is that you were saved! But you came from the islands to the south, then?”

The south. This couldn’t be Cuba. Might we have come as far as St. Thomas, or even Florida? We exchanged a quick glance, and I squeezed Jamie’s hand. I could feel the pulse beating in his wrist.

Mrs. Olivier smiled indulgently. “You are not on an island at all. You are on the mainland; in the Colony of Georgia.”

“Georgia,” Jamie said. “America?” He sounded slightly stunned, and no wonder. We had been blown at least six hundred miles by the storm.

(From VOYAGER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 63, "Out of the Depths". Copyright© 1994 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Imagine being carried six hundred miles by a very powerful hurricane (say a Category 4 or 5, in today's terms), in a tiny, fragile wooden sailing ship. It really is a miracle that they survived.

2) I like this bit, and I was glad to see they included it in Episode 313 ("Eye of the Storm"). To me, Jamie's last line just proves how terrified and desperate he was. And the way he says it always makes me laugh a little, even in the midst of this life-and-death situation.
A sense of lassitude and utter peace stole gradually over me. I couldn’t feel my feet or legs, and only Jamie’s crushing grip on my hands reminded me of their existence. My head went under water, and I had to remind myself to hold my breath.

The wave subsided and the wood rose slightly, bringing my nose above water. I breathed, and my vision cleared slightly. A foot away was the face of Jamie Fraser, hair plastered to his head, wet features contorted against the spray.

“Hold on!” he roared. “Hold on, God damn you!”

I smiled gently, barely hearing him. The sense of great peace was lifting me, carrying me beyond the noise and chaos. There was no more pain. Nothing mattered. Another wave washed over me, and this time I forgot to hold my breath.

The choking sensation roused me briefly, long enough to see the flash of terror in Jamie’s eyes. Then my vision went dark again.

“Damn you, Sassenach!” his voice said, from a very great distance. His voice was choked with passion. “Damn you! I swear if ye die on me, I’ll kill you!"

(From VOYAGER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 63, "Out of the Depths". Copyright© 1994 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

3) This is one of my favorite bits linking parts of the story together:
Then a bolt crashed down beside the ship, lightning and thunder together, close enough to hear the hiss of boiling water in the ringing aftermath of the thunderclap. The sharp reek of ozone flooded the air. Innes turned from the light, his tall, thin figure so sharply cut against the flash that he looked momentarily like a skeleton, black bones against the sky.

The momentary dazzle and his movement made it seem for an instant that he stood whole once more, two arms swinging, as though his missing limb had emerged from the ghost world to join him, here on the brink of eternity.

Oh, de headbone connected to de … neckbone. Joe Abernathy’s voice sang softly in memory. And de neckbone connected to de … backbone … I had a sudden hideous vision of the scattered limbs I had seen on the beach by the corpse of the Bruja, animated by the lightning, squirming and wriggling to reunite.

Dem bones, dem bones, are gonna walk around.
Now, hear de word of de Lawd!

Another clap of thunder and I screamed, not at the sound, but at the lightning bolt of memory. A skull in my hands, with empty eyes that had once been the green of the hurricane sky.

(From VOYAGER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 63, "Out of the Depths". Copyright© 1994 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
I was on about my fifth re-read of the series before someone pointed out this connection to me: Claire, in a moment of stunned horror, realizing all at once that the skull she'd held in Joe Abernathy's office in 1968 was in fact the skull of the green-eyed Geillis -- whom Claire herself had killed in the cave at Abandawe. I think I would have screamed, too.

4) And here's a little taste of what it must be like on Ocracoke Island, on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, during one of these storms. (This photo from wral.com shows Cape Hatteras, near Ocracoke, during Hurricane Sandy in 2012.)
It had been raining for days, and the footing was uncertain, slippery and boggy by turns.  The wind was high, and the storm surge pounded the beaches; they could hear it, even in the secluded spot where the portal lay.

"We were all scared--maybe all but Rob--but it was way exciting, man," he said, beginning to show a glimmer of enthusiasm.  "The trees were just about layin' down flat, and the sky, it was green.  The wind was so bad, you could taste salt, all the time, because little bits of ocean were flying through the air, mixed with the rain.  We were, like, soaked through to our choners."

(From A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 55, "Wendigo". Copyright© 2005 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Wishing everyone in Florence's path good luck! Stay safe.

Monday, September 10, 2018

New Season 4 Trailer!

STARZ released a new Season 4 trailer today, and I think it's terrific!  It includes some scenes from previous trailers, but also a great deal of new material, including our first look at Roger and Bree in Season 4.

Friday, September 7, 2018

What exactly is "telling the bees"?

As many of you know, the title of Diana Gabaldon's upcoming Book 9 in the OUTLANDER series is GO TELL THE BEES THAT I AM GONE.

What exactly does it mean to "tell the bees", and where did that custom come from?

Diana Gabaldon explains it this way on her website:
Where did the title come from? Talking to your bees is a very old Celtic custom (known in other parts of Europe, too) that made it to the Appalachians. You always tell the bees when someone is born, dies, comes or goes--because if you don’t keep them informed, they’ll fly away.
Here's an interesting article published earlier this week that takes a closer look at the custom of "telling bees". Thanks to Martha W. for the link!

(The painting above is called "The Bee Friend", by 19th-century artist Hans Thoma.)

Diana Gabaldon at Yankee Stadium Sept. 14

Well, this is unexpected news, and certainly Something Different....

Diana Gabaldon just announced on Facebook that she will be throwing out the first pitch at the Sept. 14th game between the Yankees and Blue Jays, at Yankee Stadium!

Congratulations, Diana! That's very cool, and quite an honor! Apparently the Yankees approached her publisher, Penguin Random House, and asked if she'd be willing to do it.

I just hope she doesn't tell Bree or (especially) Jem about this! Those diehard Red Sox fans might never forgive her. <g>

UPDATE 9/15/2018 9:13 am - Here's the video. Great job, Diana!

Saturday, September 1, 2018

What are you doing to pass the time until Season 4 premieres?

It's been a very long #Droughtlander, but the end is finally in sight!

With only a little more than two months to go until the OUTLANDER TV series resumes on November 4th, I thought a good topic for this month's poll on Outlandish Observations would be what you've been doing to pass the time while we wait. Are you reading (or re-reading) the OUTLANDER books? Watching the DVDs? Constantly scanning social media for the slightest mention of Season 4 news? Or are you focusing on other things right now?

Personally, I'm enjoying these last few weeks of relative peace and quiet before The Great Thread Explosion of 2018-19 (aka the Season 4 discussions) begins on TheLitForum.com (formerly the Compuserve Books and Writers Community), where I manage the discussions in Diana Gabaldon's section of the forum. It's going to be absolutely insane for a few months, but I'm trying not to think about that too far in advance. ("Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof," as Frank likes to say....)

Please take a moment to vote in the September poll, and feel free to leave a comment here or on my Outlandish Observations Facebook page, letting us know how you voted or sharing your favorite coping strategies for getting through #Droughtlander. Thanks!

August poll results

Here are the results of the August poll, which asked the question, "Who is your favorite villain in the OUTLANDER series?"
  • 30.46% - Jonathan "Black Jack" Randall
  • 14.64% - I don't have a favorite.
  • 13.73% - Geillis Duncan
  • 10.72% - Stephen Bonnet
  • 5.75% - Comte St. Germain
  • 5.62% - William Buccleigh MacKenzie
  • 5.62% - The Duke of Sandringham
  • 3.66% - Arch Bug
  • 3.53% - Laoghaire MacKenzie
  • 1.96% - Phillip Wylie
  • 1.83% - Malva Christie
  • 0.52% - Rob Cameron
  • 0.26% - Arvin Hodgepile
  • 1.70% - Other:
Here are the responses for "Other":
  • Captain Richardson
  • Mrs. Bug
  • Hate them all :)
  • I love them all
  • Tom Christie
  • All of the above!
  • Malva's brother
  • Colin MacKenzie, so treacherous & pretending to ca
  • Lord John Grey
  • Not favorite. Most hated. Black Jack!
  • Dougal (Graham McTavish)
  • Geneva
  • All of the above :)
There were 765 responses to this month's poll. Thanks very much to everyone who participated!

Please take a moment to vote in the September poll, which asks, "What are you doing to pass the time until the OUTLANDER TV series resumes?"