Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Don't Try This At Home

You hear a good deal of talk about how to shake addictions to cigarettes or coffee, but just name me one good source to cure an addiction to secondhand book sales. . .On second thought, don't. I'm happy the way I am. The ongoing Friends of the Library sales are the most fun (and responsible for the fact that there is not much counter, table, or shelf space left around the house). I mean, if you can get a book that explains physics in layman's terms, or a history of Santa Fe, New Mexico, or an explanation of Chinese writing, or a handbook of birds of Southern Arizona for a dollar or less, why not? You might even read them someday. (If anyone can suggest a use for the Birds of Southern Arizona, besides for pressing the flowers of California, I would be grateful.)

If the books are attractive, the magazines, at 20 cents apiece, are even more so. For 20 cents you can get an article that includes pictures of a googly-eyed glass squid, or a reconstructed Viking longship, or the ancient Irish monastic site of Skellig Michael. Magazine pictures are a bit quicker reading than The Centuries of Santa Fe, so I can claim to have put my magazines to marginally better use than the majority of my books.

All that merely to preface this: I was paging through one my newly-acquired periodicals a couple of weeks back and I found this picture, of some resourceful Assyrians crossing a river with the help of inflated goatskins. [I apologise for not being able to put it right there in the text for everyone to see, but I couldn't find a picture of it that wasn't copyrighted, thus the link.] Assyrian bas-reliefs are very interesting, and all, but I'm afraid what caught my attention was the goatskins. Is it just me, or do they look like bagpipes to you, too?

I might have refrained from mentioning it at all, but later the same day I was digging around for information on John Roy Stewart and came across this amusing passage on Google Books. It would appear that the similarities between highland pipes and Assyrian flotation devices do not stop with the picture:

It was the practice of the Highlanders in 1745 to impress and carry along
with them every man whom they discovered to be a piper, and the music of their
favourite instrument solaced them on many a weary march. Donald Ferguson, from
Coire-garf, in Mar, was a cheerful volunteer in the prince's cause, and he no
doubt officiated at all times with becoming alacrity. When Colonel Roy Stewart
surprised and made prisoners a party of the king's troops at Keith, Donald was
thrown in the skirmish off the bridge into the Isla, but with singular presence
of mind, if it was not merely instinctive devotion to duty, he kept blowing with
vigour and the inflated bag completely sustained him until he was rescued! The
danger of his situation could not repress the merriment of his companions at its
peculiar drollery, but he used afterwards to say that as long as he was able to
blow up his muckle pipes he should neither die nor drown! McIan's"
costumes of the clans of Scotland seventy-four coloured illustrations, with
descriptive letterpress by James Logan By James Logan, Robert Ronald