Monday, June 23, 2014

"The Scarlet Lion"

Elizabeth Chadwick’s novel about the later life of the world’s most famous knight, William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke, is exceptionally well written and researched. It reads like an eye-witness account of history.

The 12th and 13th centuries in Europe were filled with spectacular, often excessively violent conquests, political intrigue, promiscuity and conniving. Royals came and went with impunity, often employing imprisonment or murder to retain power. In the guise of mentoring, sons and sometimes daughters of nobles were taken to the royal court as hostages to ensure loyalty.

By means of extraordinary intelligence, patience, and integrity, William Marshal survived service to four English kings, including serving as Regent for nine-year-old Henry after his devious father, King John died. Prince Louis VIII of France, King Phillip’s son, might have succeeded in conquering England during this time if it hadn’t been for William’s brilliant strategy and political dealings.

Even if you’re not into history, “The Scarlet Lion” is an action-packed, emotion-grabbing read. Being based on historical events makes it even more compelling. The behind closed doors material is realistic and moving. The last chapter, William’s death, moved me to tears.

Marshal came from low status and accepted an arranged marriage to a noblewoman of means. Isabelle De Clare was a fascinating woman and was her husband’s sounding board and safe haven. Together they survived some very scary situations, cherished their eight children and held on to properties in England, Wales, Ireland, and Normandy through tumultuous times.

The Scarlet Lion reference comes from Marshal’s coat of arms.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

A Day of Close Calls

Coming home from grocery shopping yesterday, I was grateful to enter the garage in one piece.

There are loads of out of town visitors and probably quite a few from other countries, some touring town in rental cars. Whenever I see an out of state tag, I allow extra space and time for the driver to figure out where he wants to go. However, what happened in a matter of minutes yesterday cannot be excused by ignorance of local laws or confusion.

Crossing Memorial Bridge in the left lane, I narrowly averted a disaster because I always anticipate other drivers doing something I don’t expect. A big family van, filled with a big family, driving in the opposite direction pulled halfway into our lane to avoid the car next to it swerving into it’s lane. The cause? A bike cab cruising in the right lane toward Arlington National Cemetery.

I fully support free enterprise and truly admire these people and their stamina. It can’t be easy pulling two or three people riding behind them up some of our hills. Still, I’m thinking some routes are just not safe for these low-slung, slow “vehicles.”

Earlier in the week, I came across a couple and their young child being biked along in the center lane of Constitution Avenue. They looked terribly vulnerable with cars, buses and trucks zipping by. Though laws prohibit texting or talking on a phone while driving, people still do it. Distracted drivers are dangerous and those bike cabs are flimsy!

The icing on the cake after the bridge incident was a cab driver cutting me off rounding the Lincoln Memorial onto 23rd Street. He then proceeded to swerve in and out of my lane, trying to beat traffic through the intersection. I had already slowed down to let him “do his thing” and was happy to see him disappear up ahead.

Can’t be too careful.