7 War Books You Must Read

7 war books you must read

If for each war victim would a war book written, then each one of these books would be a must read, in their honor, don’t you think? War stories, as we remember them told by grandparents, always had something nostalgic about them, although the brutality of war, in its essence, was remembered as a traumatic experience. Perhaps the nostalgia came from the people caught in battles, the friendship,the humanity that united them.

The richness of emotions that both warrior and narrator go through when dealing with this subject has fascinated plenty of authors throughout time. Perhaps for an author another intriguing aspect is the location, as war novels generally take place in territories far away, if not geographically then through their descriptions, full of blood and pain, love, loss and hope. Time frame presents an alluring aspect as well, a war story will have a before and an after, while characters don’t have to have come with a pedigree to be memorable. In a war story anyone can be a hero,a soldier, a child, a dog. War stories also stir issues connected with spiritual inheritance, loss of memory (spiritual or factual) and, last but not least, identity and humanity.

Essential in all the novels below is the viscerality of writing and the relentless way in which a war changes a man forever. Reading such a type of novel will raise many questions about our condition as people and will make you aware that nothing is guaranteed when it comes to an extreme experience, one having the potential for total transformation.

7 War Books You Must Read:

1 – Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

7 War Books You Must Read, Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell

A book just as popular nearly one hundred years after publication, to me the main theme in Gone with the Wind is that of survival.

The novel combines several genres (psychological, buildungsroman, romance, historical ) and manages to create an unforgettable story, perhaps the most beloved story about the Confederate States of America. and it does this by the use of its main characters, especially Scarlett O’Hara.

The theme of survival and the reason for the courage that derives from it, the power to never give up as well as the unbridled passion of a young soul, the love for money and the saying “Tomorrow is another day”, plus the ability to identify, to some extent , with the characters of the novel, still make Gone with the Wind a modern work, although the historical background belongs to the American Civil War era of the United States history.

Do you know what inspired the title? It was a line from the poem Non sum qualis eram bonae sub regno Cynarae by Ernest Dowson; the poem’s most famous line is: “I have forgot much, Cynara! gone with the wind.”

“If Gone With the Wind has a theme it is that of survival. What makes some people come through catastrophes and others, apparently just as able, strong, and brave, go under? It happens in every upheaval. Some people survive; others don’t. What qualities are in those who fight their way through triumphantly that are lacking in those that go under? I only know that survivors used to call that quality ‘gumption.’ So I wrote about people who had gumption and people who didn’t.’

Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind

2 -War and Peace by Lev Tolstoy

War and Peace, Lev Tolstoi, Napolon's invasion in Russia 1812

Praised for being very much in line with the reality, the events of War and Peace take place in 1812, during Napoleon’s invasion of Russia, and were rendered with force and expressiveness by Lev Tolstoy, especially because the author already lived the experience of war, fighting in the Crimean War. It is recommended to read in episodes, taking into account the fact that the novel has over 1000 pages.

The novel is the chronicle of three families from the high Russian aristocracy of beginning of the 19th century, Rostov, Bolkonsky and Bezuhov, whose joys, love stories and dramas take place during the Napoleonic Wars, especially the Austerlitz and Borodino battles. The book raises questions about survival and death during peace and war, as well as the necessity of war. Napoleon’s invasion of Russia destroyed million of lives on both sides, and worth mentioning is that, beside he Russian lives lost, the French army lost about half a million of soldiers of French, Italian, Belgian, German and Austrian nationalities.

A definite whirlwind of love, loss, and war.

3 – A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

7 War Books You Must Read, A Farewell to Arms, Hemingway

Hemingway’s short semi-autobiographical novel takes place on the Italian front during the First World War and describes a man’s struggles with two experiences that altered his existence in one way or another: the experience of war and that of love.

But war offers fake hopes of glory and is a lover that does not accept sharing – only by turning into a deserter can the hero hope to find true love.

It is a manifesto against the absurdity called war; it is the story of an logical man who understands that his fulfillment as a human being stands above the ambitions of those who incite towards unnecessary battles, a fulfillment that can be achieved peacefully, without weapons and without sacrificing human lives.

4 – King Rat by James Clavell

7 War Books You Must Read, James Clavell, King Rat, WWII, Singapore death camp

Believe it or not, this was the author’s literary debut. Set during World War II, the novel describes the struggle for survival of American, Australian, British, Dutch, and New Zealander prisoners of war in a Japanese death camp in Singapore. Clavell himself was a prisoner in the notorious Changi Prison camp, where the novel is set. One of the three major characters, Peter Marlowe, is based upon Clavell.

Clavell’s King Rat is a story about the struggle for survival, about friendship and hatred, in an extremely harsh, dehumanized world, in which only the strongest resist.

5 – Bridge of Spies: A True Story of the Cold War by Giles Whittell

7 War Books You Must Read, A Bridge of Spies, Giles Whittell

This is actually a 2010 nonfiction book documenting the spy prisoner exchanges between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Tom Hanks does a magnificent job as James B. Donovan under Spielberg’s direction in the 2015 movie with the same title.

Bridge of Spies, remarkably researched, tells the true story of three incredible characters and those who cross their paths: William Fisher, alias Rudolf Abel, a British born KGB agent arrested by the FBI and jailed as a Soviet superspy for trying to steal America’s nuclear secrets; Gary Powers, an American U-2 pilot captured during a reconnaissance mission over the closed cities of central Russia; and Frederic Pryor, a young American graduate student in Berlin mistakenly identified by Stasi, East Germany’s secret police, as spy, arrested and held without charge. 

Bridge of Spies is a lesson on humanity tinged by the sour taste of pathological mistrust that fuels the arms race and the political espionage.

6 – The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini, Russia invadin Afghanistan, 1979

This contemporary novel exploring the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and the years-long struggle the Afghan people was faced with, resulting in the flight of refugees to Pakistan, Iran or America. Told through the voices of two mercenaries, the book demonstrates that although conflicts and wars change over time, carnage and destruction always remain the same.

7 – Silent Heroes, When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for by Patricia Furstenberg

7 War Books You Must Read, Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for Patricia Furstenberg

Silent Heroes looks at the War in Afghanistan through the eyes of those caught in it: US Marines, local population, and even the Taliban.

If in other novels that talk about war the collective drama is the main focus, which seems to crush the small pains of the individual, Furstenberg focuses on human interactions, placing great emphasis on the turmoil the heroes go through, be it US Marines or the Afghan populace. Silent Heroes underlines how family ties and love are the reality that will never be obliterated by war and it will always stand, no mater what forces will try to overpower life on earth.

A book not to be missed, Silent Heroes is masterfully researched and punctuated with epic description that offer a respire from the harsh realities of war. A story about humans, but about dogs too, especially the military dogs taking part in wars.

Chose as one of the 5 Books Everyone Should Read in Their Lifetime.

5 books everyone should read in their lifetime
5 books everyone should read in their lifetime, Jodi Picoult, Ken Follett, Patricia Furstenberg, Victor Hugo, Shantaram

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10 Dogs Who Made and Changed History

amazing dogs from history, dogs who changed it

There is so much to learn from history and dogs, so this time we will look at (only) 10 dogs who made and changed the history.

Dogs are Man’s Best Friend, as Illustrated by Art, dogs joined Kings in battles, they fought in trenches during WW1, helped as messenger dogs, sled dogs, or were simply cute war mascots. Dogs fought along soldiers during WW2, starting the history of the first K9 Unit, dogs became paradogs, suffered during the WW 2, and still went on, after the fall of Berlin Wall to become brave military working dogs during the Gulf War, Iraq War and the War in Afghanistan.

Below are a few stories focused on unbelievable dogs who contributed to the enrichment of scientific data, the settlement of conflicts, and the onset of real state crises.

Peritas, Alexander the Great’s dog

From 356 BC comes Peritas, the puppy with a name worthy of the companion of a true leader. Peritas was Alexander the Great‘s dog, some call him a gladiator dog, who accompanied him during his military exploits. The name Peritas seems to come from the Macedonian word for January.

During the attack of the Persian troops of Darius III on Alexander the Great, Peritas jumped and bit the lip of an elephant that wanted to attack its master. Due to his faithful servant, Alexander survived and carried on his dream of conquering the world through.

Peritas could have been a Molossian, a breed of ancient Greece believed to be the the ancestor of the Mastiff. But Peritas could have also been the greyhound that Alexandre brought up himself.

10 Dogs Who Made and Changed History, Peritas of Alexandre the Great
Peritas, the dog who jumped and bit the lip of an elephant that wanted to attack its master, Alexander the Great

Donnchadh, Robert the Bruce’s dog

Donnchadh was the dog of Robert I of Scotland, or Robert the Bruce. It is said that what inspired Robert to never give up was watching a spider spin its web, while others say it was his dog.

In 1306, Edward I of England was fighting to overthrow Robert because who was advocating for Scottish independence. Edward had already captured Robert’s wife and faithful dog, so he came up with a devious plan. He was going to use Donnchadh, Robert’s own dog, to track him and catch him. Unaware, Donnchadh did led the king to the target, but then he turned on the English soldiers, defending his master. Robert escaped and lived to be King of Scotland for two decades.

Although four centuries later, the actions of the reckless George III, a direct descendant of Robert, who passed an act taxing tea in the colonies was the seed that bothered the American settlers enough to revolt. So this is how a Scottish doggo is one of the dogs who made and changed the history – of the United States, in his case.

Donnchadh, the faithful dog who saved the life of King Robert the Bruce of Scotland, 10 Dogs Who Made and Changed History
Donnchadh, the faithful dog who saved the life of King Robert the Bruce of Scotland. Source Hulton Archive

Urian, Cardinal Wolsey’s dog

14th century Urian is said to have been the dog that determined the rupture between England and the papacy.

Wishing to separate from Catherine of Aragon (who could not produce a son and heir), King Henry VIII sent Cardinal Wolsey (lord chancellor and chief adviser), to discuss with Pope Clement VII his marriage annulment. Cardinal Wolsey brought his beloved dog Urian along. When the Pope, who supposedly was siting on his throne, extended his big toe to be kissed by the Cardinal, as it was customary, Urian mistook the scene for an attempt at his beloved master’s safety. And he took a mouthful at the Pope’s foot. Needless to say, Henry lost any chance at an annulment.

Because of the Catholic Church’s refusal, Henry later founded the Anglican Church, declared himself head of the Church of England and appointed his own clerics who, of course, declared Henry’s marriage to Catherine invalid. Apparently Urian was a greyhound.

The Dismissal of Cardinal Wolsey by 
Laslett John Pott, 10 Dogs Who Made and Changed History
Potter, Laslett John; The Dismissal of Cardinal Wolsey – and his dog Urian, who bit the Pope’s foot

The Silent Hero puppy who saved Napoleon Bonaparte

Even though he is an anonymous hero, I believe that the puppy who saved Napoleon from drowning in 1815, right after his escape from Elba Island where he’d been imprisoned by the Allies, deserves to be included among the other dogs who made and changed the world history. Perhaps this Newfoundland pup played one of the biggest roles in the history of Europe and that of the world.

Napoleon was aboard the Inconstant, a brig of about 300 tons, sailing over a rough Ligurian sea, when he fell overboard. A fisherman and his young but sturdy doggo were on board and the canine followed his instincts, jumping in the foaming waters to rescue the 41 years old Napoleon. Napoleon entered triumphant in Paris, but one hundred days later he was defeated at the Battle of Waterloo and exiled by the British to St. Helena island where he lived till his death, six years later.

Waterloo was the turning point that dictated the course of subsequent world history, as after Waterloo and until the start of WW1 Europe witnessed a short time of peace, prosperity and progress.

Napoleon’s return from the Isle of Elba. Napoleon’s ship Inconstant, on the right. Painting by by Ambroise-Louis Garneray
Napoleon’s return from the Isle of Elba. Napoleon’s ship Inconstant, on the right. Painting by by Ambroise-Louis Garneray

Smoky, the dog given a second chance during WWII

Smoky was a hairball, a Yorkshire Terrier with a huge heart who contributed to the new US Air Force base during World War II. Smoky was found in an abandoned foxhole in Papua New Guinea by the American soldiers stationed there and was adopted on the spot. When the company moved to the Philippines during the island hopping, Smoky moved too. So it happened that the soldier who had to set base at Luzon had to pull a telegraph wire and the only way to do it was through a narrow, 21-metre pipe. And Smoky helped, being just the right size to crawl through with the wire attached to her collar.

The airbase remained safe and operational.

10 Dogs Who Made and Changed History, WWII Smoky
Smoky, the small dog with a bih heart who helped set up an US airbase during WW2

Jofi, Sigmund Freud’s dog

I think that Jofi, Sigmund Freud‘s puppy, is a dog who should have been given more recognition so I’ll include him along the dogs who made and changed the history, psychoanalysis in his case. But aren’t most dogs like this? Freud often took Jofi to his office during therapy sessions, then noted his observations, convinced that Jofi helped patients relax.

Freud’s notes laid the foundations of modern animal-assisted therapy.

Jofi & Sigmund Freud, 10 Dogs Who Made and Changed History
Jofi and Sigmund Freud

Charlie, the dog who helped defuse the Cuban Crisis

Charlie was a Welsh terrier and one of Kennedy family’s beloved dogs.

During the 1962 Cuban crisis (remember that the Soviet Union deployed some intercontinental ballistic missiles on the island of Cuba, only 144 kilometers off the coast of U.S.) President Kennedy lived some stressful days, trying hard not to start a nuclear war. It was during one of these moments that President Kennedy asked that Charlie be brought into the overheated War Room. The president took him in his arms and caressed him, which helped him calm down. In the end, Kennedy announced that he was ready to make a decision. A decision that defused the conflict.

As a peace offering following the Cuban crisis, Nikita Khrushchev, Russian Premier at the time, gifted young Caroline Kennedy a white puppy named Pushinka, from the litter of famed space dog Strelka (part of the Sputnik space program). Pushinka and Charlie later had four puppies that Kennedy called “pupniks.”

Charlie and Pushinka on the South Lawn - White House, after the Cuban Crisis.
Charlie and Pushinka on the South Lawn of the White House a few years after the Cuban Crisis

Robot, the dog who discovered the Lascaux Cave

Robot and his owner, teenager Marcel Ravidat, were exploring the surroundings of their village of Montignac, southwest France, in 1940 while France was fighting in the World War II.

Suddenly Robot spotted a rabbit, chase after it but the game was soon gone down a rabbit hole. Although it appears that the four boys were actually intrigued by an old legend about a tunnel running under the Vezere River linking the old Castel of Montignac to the Manor of Lascaux. Ravidat threw some stones down the hole and a great echo returned. A few days later the teenager returned with a few friends and with ropes and they climbed down the hole only to discover an incredible amount of colorful murals perfectly preserved within a cave. Later study showed that this artwork was in pristine state as it had been protected from water by a layer of chalk, and that the paintings had been created during the Paleolithic era, between 30,000 to 12,000 B.C.E.

Some say that Robot the dog was not the one to discover the cave, some dispute the year when the caves of Lascaux were first spotted, but it does make sense to have a dog chasing a rabbit down the rabbit whole, towards amazing wonders.

The discovery of Caves of Lascaux is crucial because it helsp us understand what stood at the center of life of our paleolithic ancestors, hunting and religious rites. That perhaps such drawing guaranteed them plentiful herds and good hunting.

Robot, the dog who discovered the Lascaux Cave

Cairo, the Military Working Dog who found Osama bin Laden

Cairo was a Belgian Malinois Military Working Dog, MWD, who together with his military human handler and SEAL Team Operator Will Chesney were part of the famous attack on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan in 2011.

Navy SEAL Will Chesney met MWD Cairo in 2008 and shared many missions together in Afghanistan, forging an impenetrable bond. Working with Cairo, Chesney saw firsthand how valuable dogs are, when on multiple missions Cairo’s keen senses saved Chesney’s life and the lives of his team members. Cairo was even shot in the chest and leg, but made a full recovery and the two were deployed to Afghanistan again, they were that good and their country needed them.

In 2011 Chesney, Cairo, and a two dozen Navy SEALs team were sent after Osama bin Laden in what was known as Operation Neptune Spear. They stormed Osama bin Laden’s secret compound in Pakistan on May 2, 2011. Chesney and Cairo were the only canine team on the mission as main job was locating hidden enemies. It was for sure the most dangerous and the biggest mission in history. None of the SEALs involved expected to survive the raid, but the thought of taking out the terrorist responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians overpowered any trace of anxiety or self-preservation.

Cairo always fed off everybody’s energy. Your emotions run up and down the leash. If you’re mad, the energy is going to run down that leash. For Cairo, it was just another day at work‘ (Will Chesney).

It is said that when a military dog handler puts their bullet-proof vest on, the MWD they team with knows right away they’re working, and when the human handler takes off the vest, the dog knows it is playtime again.

Cairo faced a well deserved retirement in 2013 and, finally he was adopted by his best friend Chesney. I think that you will agree that Cairo deserves a place of honor between the dogs who made and changed the history – for the good.

Cairo-WillChesney-UnitedStatesNavy.jpg

I wish my list was longer.T here are millions of dogs who made and changed the history, be it that of a community, of a nation or of the world, but the silent heroes that share our lives are also changing the history, with their genuine care and unconditional love, our personal history.

Books by Patricia Furstenberg on Amazon
You will discover at least a dog in each one of my books. Joyful Trouble and Silent Heroes two of my novels available on Amazon.

Wooden Doors and Symbols, Village Museum Bucharest

wood doors, symbols in carved wood, Village Museum Bucharest

Hand carving wooden doors, porches and window frames with millennial symbols is an art practiced by few, and acknowledged by fewer, yet the homes of Dimitrie Gusti Village Museum in Bucharest are a testimony of its everlasting beauty. What stories do they tell us, spanning centuries? Do we pay attention?

Ashes to ashes, like human flesh, and just as warm to touch, wood and wood carvings have a short lifespan, although carved wooden spears dated to Middle Paleolithic, 300,000 to 30,000 years ago, have been discovered.

Perhaps the first wood carvers were the builders. Or a father who carved a small toy dog to fit the small hands of his son, or a lover who carved a flower out of wood, on which he lay a kiss in the midst of winter. A persistent hand worker with a dream, as wood, as a material, is softer than marble, cracks easier, and is much loved by (many) insects…

I think wood carving began an art when carpenters topped lifting the wood with their bodies, and lifted it with their imagination…

123 households with 60 000 objects from all over Romania, 380 establishments spread over 14 ha of land, not to count the 250 000 archive documents, this is the National Muzeum of Village Dimitrie Gusti in Bucharest, a perfect example of vernacular architecture.

Join me 🙂

Bellow is a Romanian shepherds house from Valea Doftanei Commune, on the curvature of the Carpathian Mountains, where the shepherding tradition goes back to the 14th century. Worth noticing are the frontal, long stoop and the central entrance parlor. The house stands on a foundation built from river stones, hand-picked. You can see the cellar and its door on the left, underneath the ‘day room’. The house is made of fir trees, abundant in the area.

Wooden Doors and Symbols, Village Museum Bucharest

On a closer look, what makes this house so special, except for once having been a home?

Wooden Doors and Symbols, Village Museum Bucharest

Have the engraved pillars been chosen by chance or the wood artists strolled through the woods until a ray of sun filtered by foliage danced on his face, catching his eye? Had he approached the tree with reverence? Had he run his calloused hands along its ancient trunk, feeling the life inside, asking for permission? Had the design came to him in that moment? Had he drew it on the trunk, in a whisper of apology? Asking for the forest’s blessing? I like to believe he did.

Next, a sleigh for storing and transporting wood during winter, with a door fashioned from twigs and a roof of straws. Child’s play:

Wooden Doors and Symbols, Village Museum Bucharest, sleigh for wood

Brownie points if you guess what the image below is. And, yes, it has a door:

Wooden Doors and Symbols, Village Museum Bucharest, a water well

It has been transported to the Village Museum all the way from the north of the country, from Breaza, from a hamlet situated at a height of 1 200m together with an entire household that belonged to a family of huțulii (huțanii, hutsuls), an ethnic group living in the very NW of Romania with Dacians origins

this…

is…

a…

water well.

Because the homes were far and few in between, to keep the wild animals off the households, as well as out of the water wells, both were fitted with a tall fence. A secondary reason was to keep the water clean, as cats do get everywhere… Notice the cross on top, a Christian symbol meant to bless the water… And the slant in the roof meant to aid the snow slide off during the heavy blanketed winters of the North of Romania.

But an artists at heart is such no matter where he was born and to tell a story all he needs are his two hands…

Like in this tell-tale blue of a house with blue doors, blue window frames, underneath the blue sky reflecting the blue waters… from Dobrogea, a fisherman land and home to Danube Delta:

Wooden Doors and Symbols, Village Museum Bucharest, a home from Danube Delta

A few more doors and households from the Village Museum:

Wooden Doors and Symbols, Village Museum Bucharest
Wooden Doors and Symbols, Village Museum Bucharest, franghia, triunghiuri, ochiul, soarele, rozeta, steaua, crucea

Love and respect for tradition is what blows life in a carving made in wood.

Wooden Doors and Symbols, Village Museum Bucharest

Even the pen house (above) has a story to tell, a blessing to keep it safe – from beasts, the seen ones from forests, and unseen, from folktales.

Wooden Doors and Symbols, Village Museum Bucharest - the rope, the rosette, the sun

And a blessing for the cellar:

village museum, muzeul satului, usa beciului

It happened the way it was meant. He had learned the wood carving skill from his father, who had grasped it from his own father, and so on.
But the stories he whispered into the wood, those came from songs, from childhood games and rhymes, from the mountains he’d climbed with the sheep, the streams he drank from, the clouds overhead and the stars, the sun and the birds.
From prayers, said and unsaid.
They were symbols for protection, and symbols to remind him, and his own, of their family. Their history. Their past. For nothing comes out of nothing and no meaningful future is there, without a past.

Between the symbols found in Romanian architecture of the village art are: the circle, the rope, the cross, the star, the sun (purifying the spirit) or the rosette, the moon (as a feminine symbol, assuring the fertility of the home), the tree of life (symbolizing Christ and immortality), the snake, the fir branch, the fir tree, flowers in a vase, wheat or rye, leaves, the horse, the lark, the dove (symbol for soul, taking off towards the Heavens), as well as the human silhouette (alone or in a group), the hand (a barrier against wicked forces), the eye (God’s all-seeing, protector eye), the cross (Christianity, remembering the death and resurrection of Christ).

The rooster, usually placed on top of houses but also carved on gates, is there for protection, remembering the rooster sacrificed when the establishment was built, and buried in the foundation – to ensure its durability.

The snake might derive from the popular belief that each home has its own protective spirit, called the home’s snake. It is said that one should not kill a snake near a home, as to not attract the spirits’ wrath… Now I know that a snake has so many negative connotations, but in the Book of Numbers the copper serpent, Nehushtan, is an archetype of Jesus Christ, offering immortal life to those who believed in Him. The serpent also symbolizes wisdom and prudence.

If you happen to see a Romanian county home and wish to spot any of these symbols, do look at the pillars of gates and wells, search around the gates, doors and windows, as well as above, pay attention to the porches, and on the front side of the roofs.

For a wood carving is a novel.

How many symbols can you recognize?

Wooden Doors and Symbols, Village Museum Bucharest, the rope
Wooden Doors and Symbols, Village Museum Bucharest, the rope and geometrical symbols around a window
Wooden Doors and Symbols, Village Museum Bucharest, rope, cross, tree of life
Wooden Doors and Symbols, Village Museum Bucharest: rope, cross, the tree of life on the pillar of a gate
Wooden Doors and Symbols, Village Museum Bucharest, a horse's head
Wooden Doors and Symbols, Village Museum Bucharest, a horse’s head on a barn (they would come in pairs)

Below, on gate pillars we can see the rope, the star, the rosette (the sun), geometrical motifs, the star, the circle, the tree of life:

Wooden Doors and Symbols, Village Museum Bucharest, the rope, the circle, the eye, the cross - round the entrance into an outside underground storage space.
Wooden Doors and Symbols, Village Museum Bucharest, the rope, the circle, the eye, the cross – round the entrance into an outside underground storage space.
rope symbol carved in wood in Romanian folk art
Romanian symbols in folk art a blue window of a home in the Danube Delta, flowers (water lily) carved in wood as well as birds (swallows).
Romanian symbols in folk art a blue window of a home in the Danube Delta, flowers (water lily) carved in wood as well as birds (swallows).
Wood carved detail on a porch from Village Museum, Bucharest
Symbols carved in wood in the upper beam of a porch: cope detail, cross, infinity column.
Symbols carved in wood in the upper beam of a porch: cope detail, cross, infinity column.

Happy to join Norm’s Thursday Doors with this post 🙂

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Look Closer, What am I? Green

For this week’s Look Closer, What am I, from details to the big picture, I chose green, or it rather chose me. It is winter here, in South Africa and it feels wrong (to the Northern hemisphere born self) to still see so many green trees around, and roses blooming in our rosebushes, the Bougainvillea with its regal magenta flowers smiling at a clear aquamarine sky – forever depleted of snow.

Yet green it’s good… When I look at this patch of green I can see the veins from my wrist and the lines of my palm, my life and my future are in it.

Look Closer What am I Green

A whisper of wind can make it shiver, yet the leaf does not break; it bends under its strength, pretend to bow at its will. Yes, I hear you, it seems to acknowledge the wind – but does it really?

Leaves are building blocks, nature’s shards of stained glass windows.

Leaves are past and present and future, a memory and a warning.

Leaves are nature’s collection of rare moments.

Leaves are the reminder that the vain will pass and perish and the youth will, eventually, decay.

Leaves are the reminder that all that’s different to the eye is, elementary, similar.

Look Closer What am I Green

Look Closer, What am I, Green…
for nothing is what is seems.
See with your mind,
not with your eyes.

Look Closer What am I Green
Photography Art by Singkham, Pexels

Looks familiar?

I’ll leave you with a short poem:

Three salmon shade hens
Dance.
Feathered feet, ten toes each.
A bright green worm stretched.


(Patricia Furstenberg)

Books by Patricia Furstenberg on Amazon

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Târgoviște, a Royal Palace in History

Targoviste-history

The importance of Târgoviște royal palace (curtea domnească) in history emerges, first of all, from the significant role it played in the life of Vlad Țepeș and during the medieval period. Among other royal residences of Wallachia, the royal court of Târgoviște was the third oldest and the second most used, without significant interruptions, over a period of 300 years.

The geographical location of Târgoviște was also favorable, hills on one side, planes on the other, Ialomita river passing through, as well as Dambovita river nearby.

Around 1400 Mihail I, son of Mircea the Elder (Mircea cel Bătrân) and co-ruler with his father was the first to settle his royal court here, where there was already a rural settlement as well as a more recent one, 14th century, belonging to Transylvania Saxon settlers. Later, as one of the important border villages of Wallachia, Târgoviște receives special privileges for commerce.

Târgoviște, a Royal Palace in History, Royal Palace, Curtea Domneasca - source Facebook
Royal Palace of Târgoviște, Curtea Domneasca de la Târgoviște

The royal palace of Târgovişte was designed as a group of buildings with various purposes: to host the administration of the country, as well as to offer protection and lodgings for the ruler, his family and their various courtiers and servants. Here were special rooms for the high government’s ministry and for the court to meet and for the prince (ruler) to sign his decrees and receive foreign guests and emissaries.

Târgoviște, a Royal Palace in History by J. Cohn, Dora Pistiner și Ion Văleanu - DOCUMENTE DE ARHITECTURĂ DIN ROMÂNIA
Royal Palace of Târgoviște, 1953, by J. Cohn, Dora Pistiner și Ion Văleanu – DOCUMENTE DE ARHITECTURĂ DIN ROMÂNIA

Târgoviște – etimology

Târgoviște = Târg + -iște. Târg means market, but Târgoviște means an older market, one well-established.
As a name for a town, Târgoviște is also found in Croatian, trgovištse, Serbian, trgovište, Ukraine, torhovytśa, Slovakian, trhovište, and Polish, targowisko.

The Royal court was at Târgoviște because from there were easy connections with other parts of the Wallachian state, the city of Târgoviște being better positioned from an administrative and commercial point of view.

Târgoviște, a Royal Palace in History
The Royal Palace of Târgoviște, Church View. Photo by Diana Popescu, Wikimedia

On 23rd August 1437 Vlad Dracul (Vlad II, the father of Vlad Tepes) signed a document in Târgoviște to declare that Vlădești will belong to the boyar Bodin, and exempts him and his sons Mircea and Vlad of services and tributes for as long as they live. The bequest starts with:

“In the name of the God Almighty, the all faithful and all honorable and Christ Loving, I Vlad and lord by the mercy of God and through the Benevolence of God ruler of all Hungarian-Wallachian Country, and duke of Amlaş and Făgăraş. My lordship has deign to offer this hereby true gift of property to my servant boyar Bodin and his sons, so that Vlădești village may be his land… ” and ends with “I Vlad Lord, with the mercy of God, ruler.”

Târgoviște, a Royal Palace in History

Vlad Dracul and the people of Târgovişte

The influential boyards, the patricians of a town (such as Târgovişte was), were called good men, “om bun“. We encounter one of the first mentions of such good men in a letter of Vlad Dracul addressed to the people of Brasov perhaps during his first reign (1436–1442). The letter concerns Zanvel, a good man, but also a wealthy one, from Târgovişte, who had been killed and mugged while traveling for business in Transylvania. Vlad Dracul requests that all of Zanvel’s valuables be returned: 250 Florins, 500 Perperi (=250 Ducats), a money bag with 300 Aspri (silver coins) and a gold ring valued at 10 Florins. The man’s clothes are also mentioned, clothes of Ypress (one of the largest commercial communities of Medieval Belgium, when it served as the main market and warehouse for the Flemish city’s prosperous cloth industry), a hat and also a sword. Vlad Dracul allows for one week only, during which Zanvel’s killer had to be found and punished, and the wealth be returned to his family.

Smuggling weapons through Târgovişte

During the 14th century, the weapon craftsmanship of Braşov’s inhabitants (Transylvania) was greatly trusted by the rulers of Wallachia, such as Stephen the Great (Stefan cel Mare) and Vlad Tepes (Vlad the Impaler, Vlad III – son of VladDracul, Vlad II). Thus, weapons trade beyond the borders of Transylvania was common, especially with Wallachia.

For example, at the end of 1445 the Wallachian Voivod Vlad Dracul requested the delivery of “bows, arrows, firearms and saltpeter” for his conquests in southern Wallachia. The Voivod was dependent on this delivery to strengthen the defenses of the seized town.

Târgoviște, a Royal Palace in History, the cellars
Târgoviște, a Royal Palace in History – the cellars

Not much later, the new Wallachian Voivod Vladislav II (who fought over the ruling of Wallacia with Vlad Tepes), requested in a document from 1453 that a delivery of weapons to Kilia (Chilia) to take place via the towns of Târgovişte and Brăila, so that the delivery could proceed in secret and without danger. A year later a similar request was made by John Hunyadi himself.

Vlad Țepeș’ main political objective was reinforcing his central authority. He expressed this in a letter written in Târgoviște, on September 10th 1456 (during his 2nd reign) and addressed to the people of Braşov:

“Think about how when a man or a ruler is powerful and strong he can make peace in any way he wants to; but when he is powerless, another one will come and rule him as he pleases.” (“Considerandum est vobis: quando homo vel dominus est potens et fortis, tunc pacem potest facere sicut vult; cum autem impotens erit, forcior super eum veniet et faciet secum sicut vult”).

Targoviste Royal Palace, East and West view, 1953, by J. Cohn, Dora Pistiner și Ion Văleanu - DOCUMENTE DE ARHITECTURĂ DIN ROMÂNIA
Targoviste, Royal Palace, East and West view, 1953, by J. Cohn, Dora Pistiner și Ion Văleanu – DOCUMENTE DE ARHITECTURĂ DIN ROMÂNIA

The massacre of 1457: Vlad Ţepeş and the Boyards

We cannot go further without mentioning the relations between the townspeople of Târgoviște and Vlad Ţepeş and the existence of some conflicts between them. The only incident recorded by chroniclers mentions that Vlad Ţepeş considered the townspeople guilty of the death of his older brother, Mircea, whom they buried alive in 1447, and of that of their father, Vlad Dracul.

Vlad Ţepeş and his ruling policy

Having lived through his father’s political struggles, at the Ottoman and Moldavia court, as well as through his own first reign of almost three months, in 1448, Vlad would have learned that only a strong ruler can keep a country united, and that only a strong, united country can withstand a foreign attack.

As it was obvious during the Medieval times, the boyards held much power and through their intrigues they could control a country, often opposing the rule and power of a ruler. Vlad knew too well that one of biggest issues that opposed a strong head of state were the boyards and made it clear during a meeting he had with them. When asked under how many rulers they served during their life time, most acknowledged at least seven, which came and went, yet they remained in position.

But the Lord, Vlad Ţepeş, punished the townspeople differently: the big boyards and the old ones were impaled, while the young ones were taken together with their families on Easter day (a day of rest and Christian joy) to work on the Poenari fortress.
It was Vlad Ţepeş’ desire for revenge, along with his need to consolidate his power, that drove him to commit one of the most notorious acts of his career.
After this, Vlad gave positions in his council to persons of obscure origins, who would be loyal to him alone, and even to some foreigners and free peasants.

ruinele Cettii Domnesti de la Targoviste

The punishment of the townspeople was placed by historians in 1457, when Vlad Ţepeş was in Târgovişte. The conflict should be understood through the context of power struggles between the two branches of the royal family (Dănești and Drăculești), in which both the great boyar groups and the influential members of the townspeople took part, whose political involvement is now revealed. The fact that the punished were put to work at the fortress is a rare situation; the obligation to work appears formally mentioned in several acts, but the event described above is the only attestation of a forced implementation of this duty. Among the internal chronicles, the History of Wallachia relates only the sending of young people to work, while in the Histories of Gentlemen it is written about the sending of women and children. Exceptional is the sending of people to work on Easter day, proving that the punishment applied to the citizens was a serious form of the duşegubina (a medieval payment for killing someone, or for theft, incest, adultery or kidnapping of girls).

Only in 1458 does Vlad Ţepeş begins building his Bucharest fortress to supervise and defend the road leading from Giurgiu, a Romanian city found under the ruling of the Turks.

It is documented by Chalcocondil (a Byzantine chronicler contemporary with Vlad Ţepeş), that in 1462, when the Ottoman troops came searching for Vlad (to remove him from the throne of Wallachia) they found him at Târgovişte

night attack at Targoviste royal palace - by night

The Night Attack at Târgoviște

It was Vlad Ţepeş outstanding victories against the Turk army under the command of grand vizier Mahmud Pasha that caught the eye of Sultan Mehmed II. Vlad was celebrated by Saxon cities of Transylvania, as well as by the Pope Pius II. So the Sultan decided to deal with Vlad himself, thus preparing an army equal to what he had behind him when he conquered Constantinople. 150 000 Turks including fierce Janissary troops, archers, cavalry, saiales (slaves, medieval Turkish Kamikaze), pikemen, beshlish who handled firearms, 120 cannons and an entire fleet… and Radu the Handsome, Vlad’s half brother who commanded 4 000 horsemen…as well as engineers who would build bridges and roads if necessary, priests, astrologers…
And Vlad? With no support from Hungarians ruled by Matthias Corvinus he relied on his people: all men of military age, but also women and children over the age of twelve ; and included Gypsy slaves, about 30 000 people all together, armed with lances, swords, and daggers, and most probably prong forks too.
Vlad was able to stop part of the Turkish attacks by scorching the earth, poisoning the water, creating marshes and pits, even adopting guerrilla tactics.

Still, on June 17 the Turks set camp outside Târgovişte
There was one last thing Vlad could do to protect his town.

That evening, Vlad disguised himself as a Turk and entered the Turkish camp (Vlad was fluent in Romanian, church Slavic, German, Latin, Turkish). Here, he wandered around to find the location of the Sultan’s tent and learn about his plans of attack.
A contemporary historian, Chalkokondyles, mentions that Mehmed had interdicted his soldiers to wander about the camp during the night, as to not cause panic in case of an attack.
So Vlad decided to attack the Turkish camp during that night.
Vlad’s men infiltrated the camp, then made noise from their buglers and illuminated the battle with their torches launching a series of attacks from “three hours after sunset until four the next morning”. Vlad Țepeș himself aimed for the tent of the sultan, but mistakenly went for the tent of his two grand viziers, Ishak Pasha and Mahmud Pasha (the same one that Vlad had already defeated in a previous battle).
The sultan Mehmed II abandoned camp and fled for his life.

The Night Attack at Targoviste - Theodor Aman
The Night Attack at Târgoviște, Theodor Aman

The Chindia Tower, Turnul Chindiei

It was Vlad Tepes who started building the lovely Chindia Tower for military purposes and to store the treasury. The tower rose on the place of an old manor house, although its final stone was put in place during the 19th century. It is believed that Hungarian commander Stephen V Báthory saw Chindia Tower and later refereed to it as the castle, in his letter from November 11, 1476.

A big feast or festival where people dance is known in Romanian as chindia, and this could be one explanation for the tower’s name, here being the place for such happy gatherings. But chindie, of Turkish origin, ikindi, also means sunset, the time of day when the guard gave the curfew signal, before closing the city’s gates. And this time was rather important as afterwards it was prohibited to enter or leave the city, and the residents were required not to pass through its streets and not to maintain outdoor fires that would have made the town visible from a distance and thus render it unsafe.

Today the Chindia tower rises at a height of 27 meters and measures 9 meters in diameter. When Prince Bibescu restored it, his builders also rose the tower by 5 meters.

For this reason, out of pro-Christian or pro-Ottoman beliefs, the Wallachian rulers of 16th century will shift the location of their princely court from Târgovişte to Bucharest and back again. Also, Târgovişte was often used as a summer residence, while Bucharest as a winter one.

Târgoviște, a Royal Palace in History, Chindia Tower, inside view, black and white photo
Chindia Tower, Târgovişte – source Wikimedia

Dealu Monastery was built by Radu IV the Great at the very beginning of the 16th century, on a previous monastic settlement. This is rather important, as previously in Târgovişte we only had a Franciscan and a Dominican monastery, but not a Christian Orthodox one.

The grand Metropolitan Church was raised under the ruling of Neagoe Basarab, early 16th century. During the same time the seal of Târgovişte town depicting Virgin and Infant is created.

Târgovişte sees another rebirth at the end of the 16th century, under the ruling of Petru II of the Earring, who brings Italian and French cultural influences. Franco Sivori, Petru’s private secretary, mentions gardens designed after the Italian fashion as well as the Prince’s menagerie found at Târgovişte.

Târgoviște, a Royal Palace in History - reconstruction by Radu Oltean from Art Historia
Târgovişte Royal Palace and royal grounds the way they would have looked during the 16th century – reconstruction by Radu Oltean, Art Historia

Michael the Brave (Mihai Viteazul) rules from here for a short time briefly bringing the three principalities under his personal union at 1600.

Although fortified, Târgovişte falls during the Turk-Tatar invasion of 1658 and is destroyed, its ruins being brought back to life 30 years later under the ruling of Constantin Brâncoveanu – till his tragic death.

18th century Târgovişte was on the world map

The most usual route on the way to Istanbul from western Europe, crossing Transylvania and Wallachia, passed through the towns of Cluj – Alba-Iulia – Sibiu, where it divided into two roads to Bucharest.
One crossed the Carpathians through the gorge of Turnu Roşu, going down to the capital by Râmnicu Vâlcea and Piteşti, and the other passed through Braşov Rucăr pass – Câineni – Câmpulung – Târgovişte, or along Valea Prahovei through Ploieşti, both routes passing through Bucharest.

Read the observations of an 18th century traveler returning from Istanbul and passing into Wallachia, a province still under the domination of the Porte (Ottoman Empire). Daniel Clarke traveled by carriage and this is his account on the different types of mentality he witnessed:
“On April 16”, – writes Daniel Clarke – “we crossed the Danube [moving north, towards Wallachia]. On the other bank, the carriages of Wallachia’s ruler. […] Some of the Turks had never before sat in a wheeled vehicle and when the carriages set in motion they stuck their bearded heads out the windows throwing the most pitiful looks one can imagine. […] For us the change wasn’t less memorable either, as one year and a half had passed since we had left Russia and we had spent the entire time traveling without once having at our disposal a wheeled carriage”

Cetatea Targovistei, Valeriu Pantazi pictura
Valeriu Pantazi, Cetatea Targovistei

As he crossed the Danube river, the British traveler on his way from Istanbul to England entered Wallachia. But for the travelers there was no militarized border with the Ottoman Empire as Wallachia had been for a few centuries under the domination of the Ottoman Porte (Sublime Porte), and in the 18th century the Ottoman Empire had increased its presence in the Romanian space.

There is an incredible 19th century story about the local villagers who fought for the conservation of the princely court with the Wallachian ruler of the time who had been named in position by the Ottoman court: Ioan Caradja (of Greek-Turkish origin). Caradja wanted the court demolished, but the villagers not only opposed, but they also preserved and rebuilt it.

The royal court of Târgovişte has next witnessed the Russo-Turk war, an earthquake and a fire, before a final rebirth during the late 19th century under the exemplary ruling of Alexandru Ioan Cuza and King Carol I.

Half a century after Dealu Monastery was built, a Military Highschool rose in Târgovişte in 1912, while King Carol I lead the Romanians. In 1930 Mihai I (the last King of Romania) and great-grandson of King Carol I (from his brother’s blood lineage) studied here. And Mihai was thus named after Romanian King Michael the Brave (Mihai Viteazul), the first to rule over an united Romania in 1600.

Târgoviște, a Royal Palace in History - interbellic postcard
A postcard depicting the royal palace of Târgovişte during the two world wars

Sources:
*Markus Peter Beham, Braşov (Kronstadt) in the Defence against the Turks
*Laurentiu Radvan, Orasele din Tarile Romane in Evul Mediu
*Sorin ŞIPOŞ – FOREIGN TRAVELLERS IN THE ROMANIAN SPACE AND BORDER SYMBOLISM (1797-1810)
*Camelia TEODORESCU, Laurentiu Stefan SZEMKOVICS, Roxana RADU, FROM VLAD ŢEPEŞ – WALLACHIAN RULER – TO DRACULA. CONCLUSIVE DOCUMENTS REGARDING HIS NAME AND “FAME”
*DOCUMENTE DE ARHITECTURĂ DIN ROMÂNIA

My next work of fiction is a contemporary story glancing over the shoulder at some incredible events dating from Medieval Romania. Subscribe to my newsletter ad be among the first to know when it will come out 🙂

Books by Patricia Furstenberg on Amazon

The Church Door, a Short Story for Thursday Doors

I hope you will enjoy reading The Church Door, a short story matching the Thursday Doors weekly feature.

This is my first attempt at doing a post for Thursday Doors, but since I am fascinated with doors and I just happened to find my way through a scene involving a door in my WIP, I thought, why not?

The doors are from Brașov, a city in the Transylvania region of Romania over 800 years old. We went there on holiday in 2019. Enjoy!

The Church Door, a (very) short story

Their plan was to arrive at the church before closing time, when the sanctuary was still open to visitors, but voided of worshipers, and the church custodian would be too tired of curious tourists and too exasperated by chatty old crones, so he would wave them in and then rush to finish his last chores.

They reached the holy ground well after nigh fall. It’s been the old town that threw them off, one that none was familiar with, full of labyrinthine nooks where Google Maps had never set foot. They lost their way a few times. As if the town had a mind of its own. As if its troubled spirits, the ones denied for eternity the sanctity of a peaceful sleep, were trying to stop them.

The church rose behind a curtain of trees. Or at least they hoped it was there, cradled in the sombre, hollow space at the back. The street lamps were off and it was too early for the moon to rise.

So why they pushed on? Because they came thus far. And she needed to get an answer.

The church door should face the front, the street, Kate knew that much. The altar would face east and that was to the right.

They would have knocked they heads in the sanctuary’s door, should she not have extended her arms. It was that dark underneath the old trees. She had removed her gloves earlier one, heated from the march, so the door felt warm and cold under her hands, smooth and rough.

Drachen thumbed on a flashlight.  

The door, ten feet tall, had been forged five centuries ago during the times of its founder, Vlad the Monk. Kate’s hands rose and sank with the wood rods that seemed to have been twisted by time, reinforced in battle. Old oak, like the one that it was still alive around them, standing guard. The breams were reinforced with iron plates fixed in place with iron studs, hammered while the metal was still red. The wood and iron were spotted with years of water damage, be it from heavy summer rains or hibernal blizzards. Kate wondered how many battles it witnessed, how many Ottomans and Tatars it fought in silence. For how many weddings it pulled aside quietly, shrinking in the shadows, keeping its smoked-patina away from the pristine ivory of the bride’s gown. Or how many secrets it bear witness to, unwillingly. Unknowingly.

Kate always found churches approachable, a spiritual consecutiveness  between man and god, people and families, intended for peace making. But this door looked as if it’s been forged to keep the intruders, and the worst of the weather, out.

‘As old as the church,’ said Drachen and his words came out in whisper. As if he didn’t want anyone else to hear them. Although there was no one else around.

Except for them, the spirits, a thought crossed Kate’s mind and she shook it off right away, surprised by her naïve predisposition to superstition.

‘Its locking mechanism is incredible, I saw a design once, for another door. It is a complex system made up of no less than 19 locks created in 1515 by local craftsmen, intended to shield the Episcopal treasure kept inside. Only one key can open it,’ he said.

‘A Bramah key?’

‘No, no Kate. You mean the cylindrical keys with different slots of varying depths? You’re nearly three centuries off. The Bramah lock was invented towards the end of the 18th century.’ He leaned towards the door, almost smelling it. ‘ Would you hold the flashlight, please,’ and Drachen leaned on his hands, both palms spread over the door’s relief, the only two areas that reflected the beam coming from the torch.

‘Now this, this is something much better.’

Behind the door with its 19 locks was the old church, full of secrets. One of them, hers.

© Patricia Furstenberg

A gate door along the narrow cobblestone streets winding through Schei, Brasov’s traditional Romanian quarter:

The Beth Israel Synagogue in Brasov (Hebrew: בית ישראל):

The lovely lady in the rope-ed statue below points towards Strada Sforii (Rope Street), a medieval lane and one of the most narrow streets in the world:

Doors are like people.
Some stand proud, some pull in the shadows, some look inviting and throw open both arms, some keep to themselves. Some are round, some tall and dark, some fancy, some barely keeping up. But all, all doors have a story to tell.
At least one.
What is your story, I ask each one as I walk past. I’m listening.

See you all next Thursday! 🙂 Thank you for visiting.

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature that brings door lovers from around the world together, while sharing their joy towards door photography. Feel free to join by creating your own weekly Thursday Doors post and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

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The Night You Went Away, a poem

amazing dogs from history, dogs who changed it

When all’s asleep and night is calm,

And cats on windows, birds in trees and even owls rest,

A dog wakes up. He’s heard

The call of that one bird.

The birds that sings

But once.

The Night You Went Away, a poem

And in the middle of the night, when mice and hens, the rooster too,

All share that one slow rhythm, of dreams and peace,

A dog gets up and moves along; he wants just one more pat

Before his master leaves.

For the lone bird had sung.

Just once.

The Night You Went Away, a poem
My beloved dog Tara. Patricia Furstenberg

His master sleeps, his breath so soft, as quiet as the night.

He knows, more than he feels, his dog is by his side.

And in his slumber state he strokes his dog, once more, the last.

Then breathes all out, hand slides away and… just like that, he’s gone.

And birds and hens, the mice, the trees

Still sleep the night’s deep sleep.

The dog barks once; he jumps from bed

And whines and licks the hand,

Last time so kind, so warm, yet never to pet again.

The Night You Went Away, a poem

And with the first rays of new day, when world’s aroused with hope,

The house where his master lived is all awake, in mourn.

The hens cluck, busy; eggs are done! The rooster calls the time.

And birds sing sweetly, the cat meows, she stretches, looks around.

Yet no one’s there to pick the eggs, to feed the cat, to smile.

“He’s gone,” barks dog. “He went last night.”

“He’s gone,” his soft whine cries.

“The bird had sung. I heard.”

amazing dogs from history, dogs who changed it

They came at lunch time, with a van.

Mom’s lost, everyone sobs.

They took him with and yet… the dog still sits and waits.

He’s waiting by the gate

In hope

That if the one bird comes to sing once more,

His master will return.

~~~~~

© Patricia Furstenberg, 2018

Thank you for reading. You can read a few haiku about dogs too: about an Airedale Terrier, a German Pointer, a St. Bernard, a Rottweiler Dog, or a Dachshund Dog

You can discover more of my poetry through Amazon.

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