A Visit to the Holy Land and Egypt

A Mediterranean Cruise in 1910, Part 2
When my great-great-aunt and her husband visited the Holy Land in 1910, she regretted that they arrived in Jerusalem by train. This modern mode of travel seemed out of place in the ancient city. “We should have come by donkey or camel,” she wrote in a published account of their trip, Reminiscences of a Cruise in the Mediterranean and a Visit to the Holy Land and Egypt by Mrs. W. Lennox Mills.
Katharine Sophia Mills (1850-1938) and her husband, Rev. William Lennox Mills, who was the Anglican Bishop of Ontario, were on a four-month cruise from New York to ports around the Mediterranean, including the Holy Land and Egypt. They travelled by sea, by rail, motorcar, horse-drawn carriage, as well as by horse, donkey, and camel. Katharine seemed to take it all in stride, including stormy seas and deeply rutted roads.
Getting around the way people did in the past, watching them use primitive farming techniques and visiting ancient places sparked her imagination. She especially wanted to see the places that had been central to the Bible stories with which she was so familiar.
One day, she wrote, they drove from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. “It did not require a very vivid imagination to picture many of the scenes in the Bible story which took place here. How clearly one could see Ruth gleaning in the harvest field (the spot was pointed out to us) and Boaz coming among the reapers. What a scene of pastoral life and love in these fields, thick with corn and wheat! …. But transcending all other associations are those connected with the marvellous event which here took place, the birth of the world’s Redeemer, who is Christ the Lord.”
Later, Katharine and her husband visited the peaceful, walled garden at Gethsemane, and other locations associated with Christ’s crucifixion, and being in these places reminded her of the events that had happened there some 1900 years earlier.
She sometimes questioned whether some of the places their guide pointed out were really the locations of these events. In Nazareth, for example, they walked around the ruins of Joseph’s workshop, “said to be genuine. One cannot be quite sure, of course, that the very spot pointed out is the real one, but amidst all the changes and the desolation of the centuries, the distinguishing characteristics yet remain. One great memory lingers, and every spot seems hallowed ground.”
Another day, her skepticism was justified. “We passed the ‘Inn of the Good Samaritan’ and a little further along the road, the spot was shown us where the man fell among thieves. Those who are responsible for the locating of places mentioned in Scripture as the spots where certain events took place seem in this case either to have forgotten or ignored the fact the episode of the Good Samaritan was a parable.”
Like many others of her generation, Katharine grew up hearing stories from the Bible. Her father, Montreal landowner and notary Stanley Clark Bagg (1820-1873), was a deeply religious man and no doubt instilled his Christian beliefs in his five children. He was also interested in history, archaeology, coins and antiquities, and it appears that Katharine, his eldest daughter, shared these interests.
She especially enjoyed visiting the pyramids of Egypt and the Cairo’s Boulak Museum, now known as the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities. She wrote, “Cairo is simply fascinating: the new part of the city is very handsome, reminding one rather of Paris, with its wide streets and attractive shops, and there is a wonderful glamour and air of enchantment about it. The old Cairo is dirty, but most interesting.”
One of the highlights of their visit was watching the “gorgeous spectacle that was the return to Cairo of the pilgrimage from Mecca with the Holy Carpet, as Sheikhs, Bedouins and Arab riders, carrying flags and banners, and splendid camels, richly caparisoned, moved along with stately tread.”
For the most part, Katharine focused on her experiences as a tourist, and she did not mention politics often, although she did note there were tensions in Egypt. At that time, Egypt was part of the Ottoman Empire and was occupied by British forces. She commented that the University of Mohammedanism was “the centre of dissatisfaction with British rule, and the seat of probable revolt.” In fact, although Egypt became independent in 1922, British troops did not entirely withdraw until 1956.  

While many North Americans visit this part of the world today, in 1910, Katharine’s trip would have only been possible for a privileged few. Also, two world wars, political upheaval in the Middle East and technological advances have changed this region forever, making her reminiscences all the more interesting.  
See also:
A Mediterranean Cruise in 1910, Writing Up the Ancestors, Oct. 30, 2019 
Notes and sources
Reminiscences of a Cruise in the Mediterranean and a Visit to the Holy Land and Egypt by Mrs. W. Lennox Mills can be found in several Canadian university libraries, and online.

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Sep 13, Grand Remembrances

Today is Grandparents Day in the United States. Being a Grand is a special honor. I feel very blessed that my wife and I have two grandchildren. We were able to visit them today. Yes, we are still being cautious with the coronavirus, but we also find it very difficult to not see them when they live so close. So today we did drop by to visit Jacob (age 10) and Sophia (age 7) along with their parents. We brought donuts and caught up with them. Our grandchildren are still pretty young and this is a precious time in their lives – and ours!

I wish I had known my grandparents better. We never lived in the same place. Dad was a career Air Force pilot, so we moved around a lot. But we did get to see them once in a while when they would visit us, or we them.

A Plague of Giants

There are five known magical ‘kennings’ or types: air, water, fire, earth, and plants. Each nation specializes in of these kennings, and the magic influences the society. There’s a big pitfall with this diversity of ability and locale–not everyone gets along.

Enter the Hathrim giants, or ‘lavaborn’ whose kenning is fire. Where they live the trees that fuel their fire are long gone, but the giants are definitely not welcome anywhere else. They’re big, they’re violent, and they’re ruthless. When a volcano erupts and they are forced to evacuate, they take the opportunity to relocate. They don’t care that it’s in a place where they aren’t wanted.

I first read Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid books and loved them (also the quirky The Tales of Pell), so was curious about this new venture, starting with A PLAGUE OF GIANTS. Think Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series. Elemental magic, a variety of races, different lands. And it’s all thrown at you from page one.

But this story is told a little differently. It starts at the end of the war, after a difficult victory, and a bard with earth kenning uses his magic to re-tell the story of the war to a city of refugees. And it’s this movement back and forth in time and between key players in this war that we get a singularly grand view of the war as a whole. Hearne uses this method to great effect.

There are so many interesting characters in this book that I can’t cover them all here. Often in books like this such a large cast of ‘main’ character can make the storytelling suffer, especially since they don’t have a lot of interaction with each other for the first 3/4 of the book–but it doesn’t suffer, thankfully. And the characterization is good enough, despite these short bursts, that by the end we understand these people and care about what happens to them.

If there were a main character it would be Dervan, a historian who is assigned to record (also spy on?) the bard’s stories. He finds himself caught up in machinations he feels unfit to survive. Fintan is the bard from another country, who at first is rather mysterious and his true personality is hidden by the stories he tells; it takes a while to understand him. Gorin Mogen is the leader of the Hathrim giants who decide to find a new land to settle. He’s hard to like, but as far as villains go, you understand his motivations and he can be even a little convincing. There’s Abhi, the son of hunters, who decides hunting isn’t the life for him–and unexpectedly finds himself on a quest for the sixth kenning. And Gondel Vedd, a scholar of linguistics who finds himself tasked with finding a way to communicate with a race of giants never seen before (definitely not Hathrim) and stumbles onto a mystery no one could have guessed: there may be a seventh kenning.

There are other characters, but what makes them all interesting is that they’re regular people (well, maybe not Gorin Mogen or the viceroy–he’s a piece of work) who become heroes in their own little ways, whether it’s the teenage girl who isn’t afraid to share vital information, to the scholars who suddenly find how crucial their minds are to the survival of a nation, to the humble public servants who find bravery when they need it most. This is a story of loss, love, redemption, courage, unity, and overcoming despair to not give up. All very human experiences by simple people who do extraordinary things.

Hearne’s worldbuilding is engaging. He doesn’t bottle feed you, at first it feels like drinking from a hydrant, but then you settle in and pick up things along the way. Then he shows you stuff with a punch to the gut. This is no fluffy world with simple magic without price. All the magic has a price, and more often than not it leads you straight to death’s door. For most people just the seeking of the magic will kill you. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Ahbi and his discovery of the sixth kenning and everything associated with it. But giants? I mean, really? It isn’t bad enough fighting people who can control fire that you have to add that they’re twice the size of normal people? For Hearne if it’s war, the stakes are pretty high, and it gets ugly.

The benefit of the storytelling style is that the book, despite its length, moves along steadily (Hearne is no novice, here). The bits of story lead you along without annoying cliffhangers (mostly), and I never got bored with the switch between characters. It was easy to move between them, and they were recognizable enough that I got lost or confused. The end of the novel felt a little abrupt, but I guess that has more to do with I was ready for the story to continue, despite the exiting climax.

If you’re looking for epic fantasy with fun storytelling and clever worldbuilding, check out A PLAGUE OF GIANTS.

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The Artwork Of Gary Choo

Gary Choo is a concept artist/illustrator based in Singapore. I’ve know Gary for a good many years ( 17, actually ), working together in animation studios in Singapore like Silicon Illusions and Lucasfilm. Gary currently runs an art team at Mighty Bear Games, but when time allows he also draws covers for Marvel comics, and they’re amazing –

The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo

To see more of Gary’s work or to engage him for freelance work, head down to his ArtStation.

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