Friday Fun Facts - 5/11/2012

Here are this week's Friday Fun Facts about Diana Gabaldon's books.

1) Here's an astrolabe from the collection of the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England. Click on the photo to see a bigger view.
It was a flat golden disk, about four inches across. Goggling in astonishment, I could see that the rim was slightly raised, like that of a plate, and printed with tiny symbols of some kind. Set into the central part of the disk was an odd pierced-work arrangement, made of some silvery metal. This consisted of a small open dial, rather like a clock-face, but with three arms connecting its outer rim to the center of the bigger, golden disk.

The small silver circle was also adorned with printed arcana, almost too fine to see, and attached to a lyre-shape which itself rested in the belly of a long, flat silver eel, whose back curved snugly round the inner rim of the golden disk. Surmounting the whole was a gold bar, tapered at the ends like a very thick compass needle, and affixed with a pin that passed through the center of the disk and allowed the bar to revolve. Engraved in flowing script down the center of the bar was the name "James Fraser."

"Why, whatever in the name of Bride will that be?" Mrs. Bug, naturally, recovered first from her surprise.

"It's a planispheric astrolabe," Jamie answered, recovered from his surprise, and sounding almost matter-of-fact.

"Oh, of course," I murmured. "Naturally!"

(From THE FIERY CROSS by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 77, "A Package From London". Copyright© 2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Here's some more information about astrolabes, including how to tell time using an astrolabe and instructions on how to make your own astrolabe.

2) The photo above shows the wax-myrtle berries that Claire, Bree, Marsali, and the children went to collect in FIERY CROSS.
"What is that lovely scent?" I asked Mrs. Crawford during the interval, sniffing at the candelabra that decorated her harpsichord. The candles were beeswax, but the scent was something both delicate and spicy--rather like bayberry, but lighter.

"Wax-myrtle," she replied, gratified. "I don't use them for the candles themselves, though one can--but it does take such a tremendous quantity of the berries, near eight pound to get only a pound of the wax, imagine! It took my bond-maid a week of picking, and she brought me barely enough as would make a dozen candles. So I rendered the wax, but then I mixed it in with the regular beeswax when I dipped the candles, and I will say I am pleased. It does give such a pleasant aroma, does it not?"

(From THE FIERY CROSS by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 103, "Among the Myrtles". Copyright© 2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Here are step-by-step instructions for making your own wax-myrtle candles. (Although it does sound like you'd need an immense quantity of berries!)

3) The photo above shows a jet rosary from 18th century Germany. I think it looks something like the one that Colum gave Claire in OUTLANDER.
Jamie turned me with a hand on my shoulder. I couldn't bear to face the crowd, but I knew I must. I kept my chin as high as I could, and my eyes focused beyond the faces, to a small boat in the center of the loch. I stared at it 'til my eyes watered.

Jamie turned back the plaid, holding it around me, but letting it drop far enough to show my neck and shoulders. He touched the black rosary and set it swinging gently to and fro.

"Jet will burn a witch's skin, no?" he demanded of the judges. "Still more, I should think, would the cross of our Lord. But look." He dipped a finger under the beads and lifted up the crucifix. My skin beneath was pure white, unmarked save for the smudges of captivity, and there was a gasp and murmur from the crowd.

(From OUTLANDER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 25, "Thou Shalt Not Suffer a Witch to Live". Copyright© 1991 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

4) Remember the skeletons that Jamie and Claire found in a cave in France, with their arms locked about one another? I was stunned to learn that there really was such a Neolithic couple, discovered in a cave in Italy in 2007 -- a full fifteen years after DRAGONFLY was published! I think the picture above is just amazing.
"There." He pointed to a spot near the cavern entrance. The rocks there were brown with dust and age, but not rusty with water and erosion, like those deeper in the cave.

"That was the entrance, once," he said. "The rocks fell once before, and sealed this place." He turned back and rested a hand on the rocky outcrop that shielded the lovers from the light.

"They must have felt their way around the cave, hand in hand," I said. "Looking for a way out, in the dust and the dark."

"Aye." He rested his forehead against the stone, eyes closed. "And the light was gone, and the air failed them. And so they lay down in the dark to die."  The tears made wet tracks through the dust on his cheeks. I brushed a hand beneath my own eyes, and took his free hand, carefully weaving my fingers with his.

He turned to me, wordless, and the breath rushed from him as he pulled me hard against him. Our hands groped in the dying light of the setting sun, urgent in the touch of warmth, the reassurance of flesh, reminded by the hardness of the invisible bone beneath the skin, how short life is.

(From DRAGONFLY IN AMBER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 29, "To Grasp the Nettle". Copyright© 1992 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
UPDATE 5/12/2012 7:20 am: I asked Diana, on Compuserve, if she had any comments about this story of the Neolithic couple found in the cave in 2007, and she said, "I saw a similar picture (though I don't recall where that particular cave was) in a National Geographic magazine, lo, these many years ago, and it stuck in my mind--as such a thing naturally would."

Hippos. Kruger  National Park, South Africa

5) Claire's favorite way of measuring seconds without a watch is to count hippopotami: One hippopotamus, two hippopotamus, and so on.
Eighty-nine hippopotamus, ninety hippopotamus...

The child was hanging from Lizzie’s body, bloody-blue and shining in the firelight, swaying in the shadow of her thighs like the clapper of a bell--or a body from a gibbet, and I pushed that thought away...

"Should not we take...?” Auntie Monika whispered to me, Rodney clutched to her breast.

One hundred.

“No,” I said. “Don’t touch it--her. Not yet.” Gravity was slowly helping the delivery. Pulling would injure the neck, and if the head were to stick...

One hundred ten hippo--that was a lot of hippopotami, I thought, abstractedly envisaging herds of them marching down to the hollow, there they will wallow, in mud, glooooorious...

“Now,” I said, poised to swab the mouth and nose as they emerged--but Lizzie hadn’t waited for prompting, and with a long deep sigh and an audible pop!, the head delivered all at once, and the baby fell into my hands like a ripe fruit.

(From AN ECHO IN THE BONE by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 11, "Transverse Lie". Copyright© 2009 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
And just in case you're not familiar with the song by Flanders and Swann that Claire is thinking of, here it is. (Lyrics are here.)

I'm not taking responsibility for any earworms that may result from watching this video; if the song gets stuck in your head, you can blame Diana. (Just kidding! <g>)

I hope you enjoyed these Friday Fun Facts! Look here to see all of my Friday Fun Facts blog posts. And please come back next week for more!


Zan Marie said...

The Neolithic couple blows me away! Thanks, Karen.

Karen Henry said...

Zan Marie:

Yeah, me, too! Isn't that amazing?? Glad you liked it. :-)


Hardys on the Road said...

Your FFF add a wonderful dose of reality to the books. Thanks got all your special efforts Karen

Karen Henry said...

Thanks so much! I'm really glad everyone's enjoying the FFF. I find that it really helps to see what these things looked like.


Anonymous said...

Jack Whyte leads the group at SIWC in this song every year--so much fun!

Karen Henry said...

Really? Then that's no doubt why DG is so familiar with it. :-)


Julia Lammert said...

Karen---LOVE the info on the wax berry candles. My favorite!! Thank you! Great job this week, as always!

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for the picture of the astrolabe Karen.

It's very different from what I was picturing in my head!

- Debbie

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