Monday, January 28, 2008

State of the Union

The last official ovations-mandatory pompous gasbag speech from a man memorably described as looking tremendously pleased just to pronounce all the words in a given sentence correctly, tonight on every single channel! Because lord forbid we miss even a moment of the set-piece applause. At no other point in the year do I regret the lack of a back-bencher tradition so much as at this annual ritual of windbaggerie. In past years the Goo has rhapsodized about the fun to be had at SOTU watch parties, as well as her disappointment that the dangers posed by chimeras ("Walk on two legs, eat no flesh, drink black coffee, ARE WE NOT MEN?") aren't discussed every year.

In the interests of mental health, however, I will be spending my evening with my special four-footed feller instead of in front of a TV. Hello, me little Tick-Tock, shall we dance?

(Thanks to Iosif for the pic and for keeping Doc's interest with a handy bag of apples.)

[ETA: We did a lot of transition and backing work, with a break to watch giant QC get the vapors about our tiny new Shetland pony, then I put him on cross-ties, brushed him down, picked out his feet, buckled on his blanket, and turned him back into his stall. He looked at me expectantly as I gathered up the bridle and brushes, then he sighed and went into his grain bucket. When I came back a few minutes later, making the little "no alarm, just pay attention" clicking sound, his head came up and I would swear that he was thinking, "Ah, RIGHT." Granny Smiths this time. He likes what he is used to.]

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Return of the desultory review, quotes edition

The Diary of a Young Lady of Fashion in the Year 1764-1765, Cleone Knox
[ETA: Damn. The book's a fraud.]

Actual review portion: What a trip! Cleone Knox comes across as a smart, energetic Irish girl with an eye for the fellas and a fine sense of adventure. She outrides at least one importunate admirer, gets a double salute from the King when presented at Versailles (Louis XV liked the pretty girls), and dishes hilariously entertaining gossip. It’s a pity that the diary is so short, but what there is of it is marred only by the prudish editing in the early 1900s. The editor's prim notes indicate that there were some juicy details that were simply too scandalous, darlings, which makes me miss them all the more.

On to the quotes!

Wondering whether to run away with the dashing David Ancaster: “My inclination is to go—my prudence bids me stay but Lud! if one listen to prudence one might die a Spinster!”

Further considerations in re: bolting with Mr. A.: “’Twould be Highly Indelicate for me to show my doubts to Mr. A., and I could scarcely say as I stepped into the Chaise, ‘By the by, Sir, I hope you are not trying to ruin me,’ yet the more I think of it, the more I recollect the fact that amidst all his passionate love Making the magical word ‘marriage,’ so dear to the heart of every young unwedded female, did not once occur!”

The idea of the European Tour with her father and brother no consolation for being torn from Mr. A.: “Would the sight of the finest Churches and palaces be more agreeable to me than a loving glance from his Wicked black eyes. Plainly no.”

On the Bath fad of publishing poems praising the ladies of town: “I have had 3 addressed to me, but they are Too Insipid and Weak to waste time and Paper upon copying them in. I suspect that they find my name not an easy one for rhyming, else one poor Youth would not have been constrained to couple Cleone with Moaning!”

Fellow travelers unintentionally plant the seed for Cleone’s future adventures: “Last evening 2 young gentlemen arrived at our Auberge in a chaise…[to] all appearances Brothers…This morning coming downstairs I passed their chamber and glanced in, the door being ajar. What was my surprise to perceive seated on the bed in Deshabille not 2 young men, but One young man and a Pretty girl with long black hair. Yet two young Gentlemen left the Inn half an hour later.”

Distressed at the arrest of a French admirer, she cross-dresses (see?) and sneaks off to go see a spiritualist for news and instead encounters an unwanted admirer: “I hastened into an inner chamber and came face to face with the detestable De Belisle, who grabbed me in his arms and began embracing me like a Lunatick…In a great fright I yelled and kicked and screamed. Thank the Lord, I had the good sense to draw my sword and deliver him a blow in the chest with the hilt, which made him leave go.”

While wandering the sights of Venice: “A gallant in a crimson cloak slipped a three cornered note into the bosom of my gown. The usual request for a rendezvous.”

Sneaking out of the house to tour Carnival: “…I slipped on a cloak and mask over male attire (breeches and coat of rose satin and sulphur waistcoat) climbed down the balcony into a gondola, and so away!...Kisses are plentiful but the Mask is mighty convenient, for it does away with the need to blush. Took me an hour to return from the Piazza to this place. Experienced some odious little adventures, and was constrained to draw my little dagger now and again.”

Final entry, dated May 29, 1765: “Stupendous Discovery! Mr. A. is in Venice.” And they lived happily ever after.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Speaking softly

To my sorrow, I haven't gotten to try out the new dressage crops (thanks, Santa, ya perv) on Grayson. I don't cherish hopes of flogging him into good behavior, but the crops are long enough to allow the tip to rest just behind your leg, allowing you clarify your leg cues by touching the horse's side. Paraplegics and amputees can perform dressage using just two whips rather than leg pressure; it's neat to watch. So I have high hopes of seeing work with Grayson go forward beautifully, at least once I figure out how to negotiate getting into the saddle while holding one without being kicked into next week.

But for ineffable reasons related to the horse list being blatantly manipulated to favor a teacher who always rubs me the wrong way, I got yet another partner this week, one who is such a nervous squirrel that I couldn't even consider using a crop. Roosevelt is completely adorable, a tiny chestnut Arab pony who looks like he was made by Gund or some other mass manufacturer of the huggable, and there's not a malicious bone in him. But like most Arabs, he's highly strung and tends to jitter. He's got the softest bit in the barn, a simple snaffle covered with rubbery plastic, because he'll stop on a dime if he thinks that something's about to hit his mouth. Nother words, you've got to ride him with perfect balance and featherlight hands, ideally with a zen level of calm and steady alpha waves and a clean conscience and pure of word and deed. Don't get me wrong, I like Roo well enough, because he's trying, but at this point, erm, I could use a slightly broader margin of error. After a couple of months working with my regular boys, riding Roo is like switching from a Civic into a jury-rigged jalopy with supersensitive brakes and acceleration and really woggly steering. He does have a lovely canter, and in the brief interludes between dead stops, he has a floating trot, unusually smooth for the breed, so if he could just be trained into a steadier frame of mind, he might be lovely.The woman who feels about Roo the way I feel about Doc watched the class and confirmed that the problems I had were the ones she has, so at least I didn't damage his fragile psyche further. Yay?

In other news, Restaurant Week, she ees feeneeshed. The highlight was Restaurant K by Alison Swope, where the arugula salad with gorgonzola, beets, and shaved fennel, venison pot roast with roasted root vegetables, and cornbread pudding were perfect comfort foods on a sleety night. Lowest marks to Taberna del Alabardero, which offered a binary choice for each chintzy course, ignored our table most of the evening, and tried to double-charge me for my glass of Molinet 2006 (which, to be fair, was a great recommendation). And now I plan to live on carrots and lentils for a month or two, or at least until it's time to go to Seattle. Shit, that's next week.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Yes I could have been a judge but I never had the Latin

"Timendum non est me. Timor mentem caedet. Timor mortulus qui totam lituram ferat. Obviam timore meo ibo. Me transire et perire sinam. Et cum transiverit oculo interiore viam suam perspiciam. Ubi timor iit, nil erit. Ego solus manebo."

If you can read this, I'm so very, very sorry. The doctors say there is no hope.
H/T Making Light.

Monday, January 21, 2008

And we thought it was cold in DC

Florence Nightingale, writing on the death of Lord Raglan, leader of the disastrous Crimean campaign and one of the architects of the Charge of the Light Brigade: "Peace be with him and his hecatomb of twenty thousand men." O SNAP.

Friday, January 18, 2008

An ague hath my ham

Reuters photo from the snowy portion of yesterday's meteorological goulache.

This picture, which ran on the Post's front page today, calls up Nancy Williams' poem "The Snow Arrives After Long Silence": "The cat at my window watches/ amazed. So many feathers and no bird!"

The weekend promises to be more in line with Ezra Pound's "Ancient Music." Wrap up warmly, or better yet find a cozy place to curl up and hibernate, dormouse-like, against the wind and bitter chill. I am pondering the wisdom of having not two but three horse sessions scheduled for when the temperatures are scheduled to dip into the single digits. It is hard to pass up the chance for extended pony time that a three-day weekend offers, but neither do I wish to lose a toe to frostbite.

The cold and mud of the trails leading to the main indoor ring, where you crunch through ice into clinging black goo, make me wonder what the 1812 retreat from Moscow must have been like. A couple of years back, I came across a first-person account from an infantryman in Napoleon's disastrous march on Russia; rare, because it's mostly officers who write, and their experience and style are different. The author wrote about the sorts of things that killed men on the retreat, some that I expected—drowning, starvation, disease—and some that I did not. As winter closed in, it got very nasty in the ranks, every man for himself and devil take the hindmost; when men staggered off the road to seek relief, many could not then rebutton their flies with hands gone stiff with cold. Soldiers who might otherwise have lived were literally caught with their pants down, stripped of coats and blankets by fellow soldiers and left to die of exposure. The author survived by stealing a Russian horse and killing the man who tried to take it from him, not to mention riding over the bodies of the less fortunate when necessary. A pragmatist and a lucky one. I wrap up a little more warmly and am grateful to go inside.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The magic horseman's word

Terry Pratchett's kingdom of Lancre is home to a blacksmith who can shoe the fiercest stallion by using the magic horseman's word, which he whispers into the animal's ear and which causes even the rearingest bitingest snortingest of them to stand docilely for shoeing. Upon being pressed by Granny Weatherwax, local witch/wisewoman/incurable snoop, he admits that he's murmuring, "Cross me, you bugger, and I'll have thy goolies on t'anvil, thou knows I can."

Grayson's goolies are long gone ("that most discontented of animals, a gelding," says Patrick O'Brian; "that most useful of creatures, a gelding" says Jane Smiley), so we rely on other magic tricks to get him to cooperate. On Monday Kate tipped me off to a new one: When Grayson is reluctant to leave his hay and presents his formidable feet to anyone approaching with a halter, spin the lead rope so that it catches his eye, then let the rope fly out so that the knot gently smacks him on the ass. After he refused to stir for a palmed carrot last night, I followed her instructions, letting the rope's end just tap his blanketed rear. To my surprise, he turned right around, careful and polite, and stood stock-still while I slipped his halter on, buckled it, and led him out to the cross-ties. Hmm. Submissive horse ISO strict discipline? Best not to think about that too much.

He handled grooming and tacking with his usual ill grace, though, then in the ring nipped my hand and damn near kicked Pat, who fortunately dove out of his way. Some horses kick for show or to express discomfort; Grayson picks a target and aims. Angry and embarrassed, I shoved him out toward the rail, thinking, awright, you dappled freak, beatings beatings beatings it is. And do you know? From that moment he was as fast and light as could be. He did leg yields and shoulders in and bending and even a credible canter, and although toward the end of the hour his motivation flagged and I got a leg workout squeezing him forward, it was one of the best classes we've ever done.

Pat was pleased; I was thrilled. Perceptible improvement! When I started off with dressage last summer, I felt gawky and uncoordinated, hopelessly far behind the other students, a klutzy incompetent who could stay on a horse but couldn't handle short stirrups and two-fisted reins and Cappi bolting whenever I asked him to turn left. But I kept going to class, kept having Cappi run away, kept hearing Pat say some encouraging variant on "that was close for a couple of strides." Dogged persistence. Now it feels as though progress is coming out of the air, with Grayson remembering his early dressage training and my muscles remembering from week to week that to make him go like that, I have to go like this. I'm not even a kindergartener by Spanishe Hoitytoitischereitschule standards, but I'm finishing the classes tired and pleased, already looking forward to the next session. What more can you ask?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Tis Restaurant Week, knaves!

The annual event that I usually celebrate by missing it and grumbling after the fact. But no more! I carpe the diem! Qu'ils mangent de la brioche! Ecce horario: Vidalia for lunch today with 4mastjack (mushroom soup with pancetta, roast rabbit with carrot puree and pea-analogs made of green gnocchi, vanilla bean cake with strawberry-champagne jam), Taberna del Alabardero with Sunflake and Teal tonight, Restaurant K for dinner with TheVoice on Thursday, and i Ricchi with 4mastjack and 5starjoe for lunch on Friday. Saturday? Lolling about in a carbs coma and wishing for elastic-waisted pants.

I am breaking up this constant caloric influx with some horse time, of course, although by next week I will be a fatter-assed rider. This past Sunday was my first experience with the mixed teen/adult Western class. I was heavily outnumbered and very impressed: Unlike the adult dressage class, where you always have to be on the lookout for someone not paying attention or a horse having ADD attacks, the weaving and bending and circling of the warmup were conducted in almost perfect silence, with no near-collisions or anything worse than Grayson's usual irritable ears (downside: my habit of murmuring directions to horse and self was more conspicuous; fortunately, as the official old coot of the class, I am allowed to be eccentric). Later, during pattern work, ha! Pat's theory was supported: Cappi pulled exactly the same evading BS he no longer tries with me. Doc was a dreamboat, because, after all, whoozagooboyden and he had a good rider, and I found to my delight that Grayson was beautiful with the looser reins. Still a total bastard on the ground, but credit where it's due. Then last night Doc and I were reunited for a fairly slow workout under saddle. Cold weather gets Doc into his sparky pants, which combined with a foul muddy ring, several other horses to work around, and his recent vacation and new pain meds spelled me not wanting to push my or anyone else's luck. He was disappointed not to get to run like the wind, snorting all the way, but I comforted him with carrots and assured him that we'll try a little more next week. He listened to the part with root vegetables. Tomorrow night I have a sneaking suspicion that I'll be back with Grayson, who at any rate is a useful reminder of how important it is to read a horse's body language and know where its feet and teeth are at all times. Since he tried to bite me on the head last time (kids! helmets! protect your valuable follicles!) when I was cleaning his hooves, you could say he's focused on experiential learning. Or that he's a farting demon-beast in dappled skin, whichever.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Western science is so wonderful

Back in the saddle! The one that is evidence of intelligent design! The one that doesn't make you wake up the next day able to pinpoint your seat bones where they've tried to dig straight through your gluteii and escape! There are many fine things about the English saddle, but my God do you feel it after you've been in one for a while. When La Mère and I rode in Mexico, I was the only guest who chose to use a Western saddle. I was also the only one who did not develop literal saddle sores right in the seat bonular area. Coincidence? Hell no. Hurray for cowboy tack! Hurray for neck reins! Hurray for Western ponies! Oh magical horse list, who'd I get? Who'd I get?

Grayson. Dammit.

A free drink, geography permitting, to anyone who knows the source of the subject line.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

We get signal

Main screen turn on! How are you gentlemen.January 15. Until then, "I'm a Vampire" and "Washington, D.C." on constant repeat.

The Magnetic Fields came to the Birchmere a few year years ago. Stephin Merritt has an anti-presence on stage, and after a particularly robust cheer early in the set he also winced and asked that nobody whoop in the higher registers, because it hurt his ears. Deep-voiced and ridiculous woos punctuated the rest of the show. Merritt didn't seem to be enjoying himself much until he and Claudia Gonson teamed up for "Yeah, Oh Yeah." She sang the verses while he twisted slowly around on his rotating stool, orbiting by the mike to deliver the three-word chorus and then spinning on, getting cheerier as the song got darker and the threat of violence more explicit. The most spontaneous reaction from the audience came during "Papa Was a Rodeo," when Merritt demonstrated his ability to sing one of his most romantic and well-loved songs while using an uncooperative lighter to get his cigarette going. "I like your twisted point of view, Mike," flick flick flick, "I like your questioning eyebrow," flickflickflickflick, "You've made it pretty clear what you like," flickflickflick success! "It's only fair to tell you now," inhale, audience applause, "That I leave early in the morning/ And I won't be back till next year/ I see that kiss-me pucker forming/ But maybe you should plug it with a beer."

[ETA: There are no concert dates scheduled in the DC area. Two of the three February shows at NYC's Town Hall are already sold out, and the remaining show is a Thursday night. Le forlorn sigh.]

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Think, when we speak of horses, that you see them

Because it's been years since anyone succeeded in taking a photo of Grayson in which he did not look like devilspawn, ears pinned and mouth snarling and eyes glowing uncanny green. If photos are pictures of the soul, though, that's pretty accurate. Unclean! Unclean! The leopard-print app marks of the beast!

I brought Grayson around and out to his halter with a cube of alfalfa, which depending on your school of training is either rewarding bad behavior or a sensible way to keep the horse happy. I don't care which it is, I'm too damn old to be proving my foolhardiness by attempting to wrassle or sweet-talk him out of his stall. While I was grooming him ("How did you get mud on your eyelids, you glaikit creature?"), I discovered that he loves having his forehead and the skin over his eyes rubbed. Nothing loath to do something that might him in a better humor, I went to town. He leaned into the brush...but kept his ears flattened even while he closed his eyes in apparent ecstasy. He is determinedly sulky, this one. He did his level best to bite and kick as I cinched him up and got ready to put foot to stirrup. Once I'd gotten into the saddle, with Pat keeping him from twisting to kick the mounting block, he even tried to kick her, keeping it up until I pulled him into a series of backing steps. Having to back up seems to keep his brain occupied. Another useful thing to file away in the dossier labeled "Horses, fucking bastards among."

And then, as has become standard, he turned into a pretty good partner. We managed a slogging canter ("Come ON, you bugger, come on, sweet boy, canter UP ah finally"), and he pricked his ears at a fox as we passed the door, but his bending and crossing were lovely and he picked up his knees nicely as we went over cavaletti. At the end of the class, Pat showed me how to pick him up onto the bit, and after a few minutes of twiddling the reins I found myself looking at a glossy arch of neck and holding the lightest contact on his mouth. Satori. Doing it on a regular basis will be a real trick, but it's good to know that we can do it at all.

The jumping class that follows our dressage lesson took Grayson, so I didn't have to clean him up and was free to go a-visiting to my crew of favorites. I also got to chat a little more with Pat, who gave me some positive feedback and generally made me feel as though there's hope for my riding.

And in other news completely, covetousness is a sin in most major religions. Don't care. Want Bat Smaks!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Sing, o muse

Christmas: This Time It's Orthodox has passed into history now, and I have a lovely stack of books to show for it. They are mostly from the library. Except for the Serenity graphic novel, which I get to keep forever or until it disappears in my stacks, and Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, which I think someone must've recommended as a bit of odd history.

I got through Spook Country pretty quickly, finding to my surprise that it had a genuine honest-to-deities plot. A William Gibson novel! With an arc! Who knew such a thing was possible? But I had to keep putting it down, lest the temptation to lick those delicious wicked sentences overwhelm me. When he's on his game, Gibson's balance of dry wit and perfect alienated observation jacks straight into the pleasure center of my brain and makes me cackle like an idiot. Pattern Recognition got me a couple of times, mostly with the text of the letters from the illicit archaeologist in Russia (thanks, guy who looked uncomfortable sitting next to me on the Metro! next time just switch seats!), but Spook Country was chock with lines that had me yeeping with delight. Fans of pure old-school cyberia will be disappointed, but people who like a cocktail of current events and black humor should have fun.

John Varley's Mammoth was another fast read. It rolls along at a good clip, mammoths and time travel and survivalism and animal liberationist movements. The ending ticked me off, though, because Varley basically waved his hand, said, "Eh, that bit's ineffable and nobody can figure it out," and seemed to cop out on explaining his looping logic and technological gizmo. Which, you know, fair enough, it's sciencey rhubarb and no real explanation would work, but it felt a little cheap. I'm glad that it was a library book.

I have read only the first page of the book of Clark Ashton Smith stories, but already I know (a) that the Inquisitors of Ong should really be the name of a post-punk band fronted by someone dressed as Ming the Merciless and I would pay a lot to see that show and (b) who Jim Theis was aping in his infamously horrible slush novel The Eye of Argon. "Things have crept in from nether space, whose incursion is forbid by the gods of all proper and well-ordered lands; but there are no such gods in Yondo, where live the hoary genii of stars abolished and decrepit demons left homeless by the destruction of antiquated hells." I jolly well bet that they have. Yondo: Set Up Camp!

Snow joke

La Mère and I hit Kim Phung for some last-minute Christmas Eve snacks. The owner tells us that the rice cakes with brown sugar that I've been craving aren't available during the colder months and that it needs to be warm for the culinary alchemy to work. We joke with him about how addictive the cakes are, while his son, maybe eight years old, looks on.

As we're checking out (pickled mango with chili flakes, small coconut pastries, some char siu bao-equivalents), the kid pops up from behind the counter and fixes us with a look.

"Is it true," he demands, "that if you sleep with your pajamas inside out and fill the toilet with ice, it'll snow the next day?"

Nonplussed, I blink at him. "Um. Did you try it?"


"Did it work?"

"NO." He sounds betrayed.

I have never heard this urban legend but am disinclined to do anything that might reduce the world's weirdness quotient. The counter staff are biting back grins.

"Maybe it takes more than one person. Maybe you have to get lots of people to do it with you."

The kid looks thoughtful and with no farewell takes off for the back of the store. We head out in search of boba coffees, and we make it about three strides before bursting out laughing.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

But does it have a pointe?

Teal and I are trying to wrangle our schedules and budgets to allow for another hit of Mariinsky ballet goodness. A couple of summers ago, I ended up with tickets to their production of "Le Corsaire," one of the story ballets I didn't know well. I did know that one of the male dancers traditionally spends the show shirtless, which is how I sold it to Teal, who is not a big dance buff but who will try anything once. It's in the name of the arts, we agreed.

We were lucky enough to see the lineup with young Leonid Sarafanov dancing as Ali. Sarafanov is slimmer than the average male dancer, with long lines like a Balanchine girl, and the contrast between his form and that of the chunkier lead dancer was striking. Also striking was the fact that the stagehands apparently hadn't prepped the stage correctly: The ballerina dancing Medora came gliding out en pointe in a beautiful pas de bourée couru, but just as she reached center stage, she slipped entirely off her toes and fell onto her hip with a thud that the whole theater could hear. The audience gasped, she got back up and finished the scene, to firm applause, and the curtain came down. It stayed down for a long few minutes, too, but nobody in the audience muttered; we were all picturing stagehands being chivvied across the floor, driven by Russian invective, trying to get the surface fixed properly. The rest of the show wasn't marred with anything so bad, but once or twice it was possible to see a dancer's foot skid when it was meant to be planted, and some of the dancers were just visibly conservative. It must've been nerve-wracking for them.

But you couldn't have told that from Sarafanov's performance. Ali is a supporting role, but like Mercutio it gets some of the best solo bits. The Kirov's Ali has a solo in the second act, reassuring the captured princess or something, and Sarafanov came bounding out like a kid on Christmas. He had long clean lines, a sharp point, and beautiful ease in his leaps, not so much defying gravity as treating it as a quaint convention. There came a point where he did a series of three spinning kicking jumps, and when he went into the first his body was so far off the vertical that it looked as though he was bound to fall as hard as Medora had. No; he spun like a cat and landed cleanly, then rose and jumped again, body again angled out in space. The audience gasped; he was doing it on purpose. He landed again, the audience started to applaud, and he did it a third time, still looking cheerful and easy in the air. Ballet crowds are pretty quiet most of the time, like golf fans in foundation garments and industrial hairspray, and so when I say that I heard actual screaming believe me it came as a shock. Sarafanov finished his solo still looking unruffled and happy, which is more than can be said for the lead cavalier, who stalked out glaring at the applause for a secondary character. The Post's reviewer made a snippy remark about the jumps being more fit for martial arts than ballet, but if the Mariinsky is willing to allow it, who am I to judge?

This time it's "La Bayadère," which is another ballet for abs fans (man, these things must seem weird to actual Indian and Turkish dancers: "Is that supposed to be us?"), and he's dancing the lead. I've got my fingers crossed for lots of jumps; it does the Kennedy Center's chandeliers good to get the dust shaken out of them by the whooping and hollering.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

First farewell of 2008

George MacDonald Fraser, OBE, the author of the Flashman series, the pitch-perfect novel The Pyrates, and a host of other works, is dead at 82. Coincidentally, I started rereading a couple of Flashman novels over the weekend, and I finished Flashman in the Great Game this morning. I had forgotten how much fun they were. Although the Flash books, like the Bond movies, tend to follow a certain pattern—encounter with prominent British politico, meeting with a beautiful powerful and/or famous woman with whom our antihero gits it on, scene of diabolical torture, historical battle, Flashy exhibits cadfulness but triumphs (or appears to) by sneakery or luck—they're tremendously entertaining. They're educational, too, but not pedantic; like Patrick O'Brian, Fraser had a gift for bringing history to life, weaving the story through events rather than making the fictional bits a frame for a lecture on names and dates.

Ave atque vale, Mr. Fraser. Thanks for everything.

(ETA: And Neil Gaiman, writing from a month in the future,[he fix] has his own take.)