Lesson #426: The Double-Headed Eagle

If you’ve been reading for a while, it shouldn’t be a surprise how we got here and why this is of particular interest to me.*

The World Cup is on. I love the World Cup. It’s my favourite sporting event. There are a lot of reasons for this, but one of them is that the popularity of football offers billions more eyes than usual to put politics on a global stage.**

My experience with Albania is limited. I’ve set very tired feet on the ground in Albania, but barely — it was very early in the morning, I had been dozing (at best) on a very uncomfortable overnight bus from Dubrovnik to Skopje (never again), and I literally didn’t know what country I was in until I saw a sign on the side of the road in a language I couldn’t read. But I know about Kosovo, if only because it’s related to the dissolution of Yugoslavia.***

The Shakiri and Xhaka double-headed eagle gestures were a big thing yesterday (and discussions of match bans were on order today), but the politics of that are a separate post. Today, we’re touching on the history of the double-headed eagle.

I had assumed that the double-headed eagle was a Roman thing, but the Romans never used it. Sort of. There’s a fluidity in the Eastern Roman Empire that makes its use sort of Roman, but not really. Anyway, the origins go back to the Hittites, who occupied modern-day Turkey from roughly the 20th to the 7th centuries BCE. Scholars are in agreement that the double-headed eagle took on a later meaning of orthodoxy (in the Orthodox Christian faiths) and dominance (in the Byzantine Empire), but its original meaning has been lost — in part because there’s a two millenia gap in its use after the decline of the Hittites before the Byzantines started using it as a part of their heraldry. The double-headed eagle as heraldry spread into the Arab world and large swaths of Europe — particularly in Southeastern Europe — in the late medieval period (11th and 12th centuries), as a result of the Crusades.

In modern times, Russia’s association with the double-headed eagle is arguably the most recognizable — it’s even in their football crest.**** However, it also shows up on Albania’s flag (thus the ethnic Albanians playing for the Swiss team using it), along with Serbia and Montenegro‘s flags, and if you look at the not-so-distant past, in addition to the Russians, it was used by the Serbian kings, which remains on the Serbian flag; the Habsburg dynasty of Austria-Hungary; the Austrian Empire; the Montenegrin royals;  the German Confederation; and Yugoslavia, generally, up until they exiled their last king after the Second World War.

Fun fact: in this World Cup, five other countries have an (single-headed) eagle in their crests: holders Germany, Mexico, Nigeria, Poland, and Tunisia.

For more on the history of the double-headed eagle, see here and here.

*If you haven’t been, the short version is: the sociopolitics of the Balkans as they’re reflected in football hooliganism. And also history.

**In this regard, it’s a shame the US are not participating.

***Serbia basically spent the 90s being a controlling ex until the rest of the world stepped in and were like, “guy…sit down” — and even then, they didn’t do a great job. I have many feelings on the Dayton Accords and not many of them are good.

****If they’re smart, Xhaka and Shakiri will say, “we were paying tribute to our host country!” Which no one will believe, but at least it’s a feasible explanation.

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Lesson #425: Cherry Bounce

I have a college friend who does reenactments in and around New Jersey. This weekend is the celebration of the 240th anniversary of the Battle of Monmouth,* so I drove up to see her do her thing. In part because I hadn’t seen her since we graduated — much longer ago than seems believeable — and in part because I’d never been to a reenactment. This was pretty much the perfect excuse.

It was super fun!

After the park had closed and I’d gone and gotten dinner with another college friend who drove in from New York, I went back to spend a bit of time with my friend’s regiment, drinking some beer around a campfire. Because I *love* drinking beer around a campfire.** So picked up some local beer and headed back, where the regiment — all still dressed appropriately — promptly tried to drown me — wearing shorts and a Michael Ballack Germany kit — in Cherry Bounce. Of which I took two sips and politely declined to finish. Because it’s delicious! And it also tastes like something that will kill me later, by which I mean it’s smooth and doesn’t taste very alcoholic, but you can tell it’s 100 proof by the smell.

Cherry Bounce is actually a fairly simple drink. It’s basically just brandy, vodka, or rum that’s had cherries and sugar added to it. And then left alone for a bit. It’s also said to be one of George Washington’s favourite drinks, and the recipe for it was found among Martha Washington’s papers. The regiment told me that Washington carried it in his canteen during the Revolutionary War, though I can find zero evidence for this. And since I don’t even trust the word of armchair historians who do this on a regular basis, I won’t go so far as to say that. But I will admit that potable water is a giant question mark throughout history, and Roman soldiers were known to carry wine, so it’s not beyond the scope of belief — or history — for soldiers to carry alcohol in their canteens.

If you’re interested in making your own, the recipe can be found here. It really is good. But I was smart enough to only have two sips and give it over to someone who wasn’t driving 150 miles home later, so I can’t speak to how quickly it’ll get a person drunk or what the hangover is like.***

Even when they’re camping out, the reenactors are still true to their history. The regiment had absurd amounts of alcohol, all of it home brewed. On top of the Cherry Bounce, there was: beer, mead, rum, and grog. I thought this was really cool. They called themselves “a drinking club with a history problem” — which spoke to me as someone who would probably describe my supporters club as a drinking club with a football problem — but they’re very inventive in how and what they drink. And what they drink out of. My sips of Cherry Bounce came out of a salad bowl.

*Until yesterday, everything I knew about Monmouth, I learned from Hamilton. Which is not exactly the most historically accurate of stories. To the point that early last year, I saw a picture of Aaron Burr and was somehow surprised to see the face of a white man. It’s not like I don’t know he was a white man, but my future best friend, Lin-Manuel Miranda, did such a great job of cross-racial casting that when I think of Aaron Burr now, I imagine him as black. Good work, Lin!****

**It’s second on my list after drinking in/on/next to water.

**Even though my tolerance has decreased significantly over the last few years, I actually don’t think I could drink enough of this to be drunk. It’s very sweet.

****The complete lack of people of colour yesterday was glaring to someone who lives in a city that is predominantly black and sees a lot more faces of colour on a day-to-day basis than people who look like me. My friends and I discussed it briefly, but it seems to be a case of while they’re not unwelcome to participate in reenactments, there’s not much of a place for them, historically speaking, which sort of makes them unwelcome by proxy. That said, the only civil war/WWII reenactors I know are black. So there *is* a place for people of colour in the reenactment world, but Revolutionary War history isn’t particularly inclusive of them, so neither are the reenactments.

Lesson #424: France Has the Most Time Zones

No lie, France exists in 13 time zones. Russia has 11.*

You may be wondering how this is even possible? Well, France has a lot of island holdings. Like Saint Pierre et Miquelon, off the Newfoundland coast. And Reunion off the East Coast of Africa. And Guadaloupe and Martinique in the Caribbean.

This would be a fantastic Jeopardy! answer. But also a great bet to make with people for free beer. It’s also an interesting look at the remnants of colonialism.

A list of the French time zones and the associated holdings is here.

*I’ve had this bit of information floating about in my brain for years for no discernible reason. I have literally never needed to know how many time zones are in Russia.

 

Lesson #423: 51158, Kinna

This is among the more random lessons I’ve posted here. I was doing nine things all at once the other day and heard a five-number string of numbers. If you live in the United States or you’re familiar with the US postal system, you know that zip codes (postal codes) are five digits long.

So, as I often do when I hear a string of numbers, I went to find out where that zip code was. Because things like that amuse me for no reason.

It turns out that 51158 is not a zip code in the United States. Oddly enough, it *is* a postal code for the Swedish town of Kinna. Which is in the same county as the city where The Swede lives. I don’t know what the odds are of hearing a random number and then finding out that the only place in the world where it’s a postal code is in the same county as one of my closest friends lives in a foreign* country, but I can’t imagine it’s very high. Maybe the universe is telling me it’s been too long since we were face-to-face.**

There’s not a whole lot I can find about Kinna, other than it has a population of around 15,000 and that it’s cold there in the winter. Like the rest of Sweden. It doesn’t also say that it’s dark most of the time in the winter, but I can assure you it is.

*Foreign to me. Sweden is not foreign to The Swede.

**It has, but I’d think that even if it had only been two weeks since we were last in the same place.