TBT: Uncle Bob Guiscard

So this week is the hundred and fiftieth anniversary of Lincoln's assassination, but I did a bit on him earlier for his birthday and there are only so many "Our American Cousin" jokes available.

If you didn't already know, that was the play Abe was watching when John decided the Reformation would go a lot smoother without the 16th president. He was probably really really wrong about that, but he didn't live long enough to find out.

There is a current revival of the play, but supposedly it's rather droll even for it's time, and there's kind of that awkward moment when the big laugh is supposed to come, but it's darkened by the fact that it was the exact moment that Lincoln got Tupac Shakured.

There's also been a lot about the Armenian Genocide, since it's the hundredth anniversary of that part of history, but I'm not gonna touch that . . . like . . . at all.

So let's skip all the way down to April 16th, 1071.

The day that Robert Guiscard kicked the Byzantine Empire out of the town of Bari.

Robert was a Norman. Meaning he was French and from viking decent, and in no way related to the fat guy on Cheers.

But there's a good chance he's related to me through my french lines on my mother's side.

I shall call him Uncle Bob from now on.

In the picture above, Uncle Bob is the guy in the red cape and turquoise culottes. He clearly wants to rub the bald guy's head for good luck.

He rose to prominence during the invasion of Southern Italy, married his first cousin, invaded Sicily, went back to the Puglia region, became head honcho, divorced his first cousin, because even then that was a no-no, married someone a little further away on the family tree, and ended Byzantine rule in that part of the Mediterranean.

I think he may or may not have established a Pope in Rome.

Wanna fun bit of history? The Moors of Sicily were Shiite Muslims until Uncle Bob came in with his big old Jesus complex and claimed Palermo for Christianity. But don't feel too bad for them, they invaded the island a hundred or so years earlier and drove out the Catholics.

History is all give and take.

Mostly take.

Anyway, the reason it caught my eye, is because Bari is the town my wife's parents come from.

How cool is that?

Given a few months and the ability to read latin, I could probably trace their ancestry back to good old Uncle Bob and the beaches of Normandy (Where the Normans come from.)

That makes me and her related at some point in history. Which sounds gross, but nowhere near marrying your first cousin kind of gross.

Fun bit of family history: My wife's grandfather (or great grandfather, I can never remember) was known as "The Scot" cause he was a big fellow and had a flaming shock of red hair.

Very unusual for man with 900 years between himself and the viking horde.

My wife got none of that.

Dark curly hair and an olive complexion, probably more suggestive that there was a lot more than casual conquering going on with the Sicilian Shiites.

Bari is in the Puglia region in Southern Italy. The heel of the boot, they say. It's also where we get Primitivo, the peppery thick red wine that the rest of the world calls Zinfandel.

Or Zin, for short.

And an acceptable play in Scrabble.

Bari has only recently joined the modern world (I mean historically recent, not like, last week).

In the 1930's and 40's, while the rest of the world was splitting the atom and selling vacuum cleaners, Bari still had a town oven for which to bring your unbaked bread.

Imagine lining up barefoot in the town square to have your dough baked for tonight's dinner.

My mother-in-law did that.

Uncle Bob's ex-wife probably did that too.

It was probably the same oven.

His new and less genealogically close wife probably did no such thing.

Once you're married to a guy who is responsible for establishing Popes, there is no more queueing up barefoot for your loaf of ciabatta.

And it's not that I'm teasing Bari for being backwards, rustic maybe, but not backwards, and at least they had shoes. I've got a picture of my own grandmother during the time my mother-in-law's mother was queuing up for bread, and she (my grandma) and her family were dressed in their Sunday Best, barefoot.

I highly doubt they even had a town oven.

But that's Tennessee during the Great Depression.

And if I were to choose a time and place for wine and bread, 1071 Bari looks a lot more appealing than present day Nashville.

After Uncle Bob kicked out the Byzantines of course.

No one wants to be connected to the Byzantines, who eventually became the Ottomans, who eventually became the Turks, who eventually became responsible for the Armenian Genocide.

Whether they admit it or not.

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