Exploring the Basilica of Saint-Denis in Paris while reading “Pillars of the Earth” by Ken Follet

I found Saint-Denis while stumbling through Paris on my off-day from oilfield training. I explored a-lot of the city but my favorite by far was the Basilica of Saint-Denis. This was largely due to a friend who gave me Pillars of the Earth to read. The book does a fine job of mixing a love story with royal intrigue and the incredible task of building a cathedral in the 12th century.

Saint-Denis was built early in the transition from Romanesque architecture to Gothic architecture. Saint-Denis was the first Bishop of Paris and was beheaded on Montmarte. The legend goes that he walked headless until he reached this spot and the church was built over him. In Pillars of the Earth the protaganist, Jack Jackson travels to find work at Saint-Denis and is marveled by the revolutionary new techniques in cathedral building, ie. flying buttresses, pointed arches, and ribbed vaulting.

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http://www.francethisway.com/paris/saint-denis-basilica.php

Pillars does a great job pitting the dark triad royalty against the pious Prior Philip, the leader of Kingsbridge Priory, who wants to bring prosperity to a decaying and insignificant monastery and township. Philips efforts are thwarted and resisted along the way by a machiavellian Bishop Waleran Bigod and psychotic Lord William Hamleigh.

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Philip is aided in his quest by the hero of the book, Jack Jackson, a skeptic of the church but intelligent, hard-working, and of high character.

He leaves England and makes his way to Paris while Abbot Suger is constructing the Basilica of Saint-Denis. The new design incorporates ribbed vaulting and point arches, replacing the Romanesque groin vaulting and rounded arches.

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One thing I took away from the book was an appreciation for cathedral architecture.

 “To someone standing in the nave, looking down the length of the church toward the east, the round window would seem like a huge sun exploding into innumerable shards of gorgeous color.”
-Ken Follet

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“I’ve worked with volunteers before,” he began. “It’s important not to… not to treat them like servants. We may feel that they are laboring to obtain a heavenly reward, and should therefore work harder than they would for money; but they don’t necessarily take that attitude. They feel they’re working for nothing, and doing a great kindness to us thereby; and if we seem ungrateful they will work slowly and make mistakes. It will be best to rule them with a light touch.”
― Ken Follet

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https://traveltoeat.com/saint-denis-basilica-paris/

Saint-Denis is also the final resting place of 800 years of French Royalty. One of the more interesting memorials include the remains of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. I am currently reading about Alexander Hamilton and the Reign of Terror. Hamilton is loathe to intervene in European wars even though they are bound to France. Hamilton argues that the US should remain neutral because the Treaty of Alliance signed in 1778 with King XVI was voided when he was beheaded in 1793.

“The cathedral is God’s shadow over history, Father. We… we live in a world that is striving for order, which is art, which is learning, which is people creating something that will bring God’s heart into their community, that will survive wars and famine, that will survive history.” -Ken Follet

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Book Review “I Will Teach you to Be Rich” by Ramit Sethi: Frontload the Work and Relax

This book is great for young professionals that want power over their finances. Ramit is a smart bachelor whose mission is to maximize his utility and manage his limited willpower. I’ve put his systems into action and I’ve saved thousands. We also agree on how to eat chicken wings.

I read this in college after hearing Ramit on the Art of Charm (back when it was pickup podcast, RIP). After 2 years in the oilfield, I know this book laid a solid foundation. Last month I put his negotiation tactics to work while shopping for car insurance and got a 30% reduction by switching to Allstate. His tactics paid for the book 20 times over. Besides that he makes financial literacy interesting and has a biting dry wit.

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Ramit sets 6 weeks to put in his systems. By the end all of your finances will be automated. Your credit card, online savings and investment accounts will be connected. They will all be low-fee, high-interest, and minimal maintenance. The last section is about saving for weddings, negotiating for cars, and creating a rich life for yourself.

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These are the habits I gained and recommend doing:

  • Mint: Probably the best thing I have learned from reading this back in college was getting a Mint account. I have had it for 4 years now and have an awesome data set. I spent the other day running through what I’ve spent over the past 4 years on alcohol, bars, groceries, amazon shopping, and even income.
  • Get rid of all subscriptions: Magazines, cable, Netflix, and linkedin. They are soul sucking. If you want them, buy a la carte.
  • Craigslist: I find its great to buy/sell used items.  I have sold bikes, shoes, furniture and TV’s.
  • Investing: Automation, putting money away for an index fund. It’s like tinder dating for your money. Keep working hard and learning at your job so you deserve the raises that will come your way, and you can invest those. Nothing feels quite like making money while you sleep.

Ramit has a large collection of articles and courses. I almost pulled the trigger on Dream Job but I decided to implement his free stuff first before I moved on to the premium services. This is an entertaining book and I plan on giving it to my nephews and cousins when they are in college.

For 2 great interviews of Ramit:

http://theartofcharm.com/podcast-episodes/ramit-sethi-will-teach-you-to-be-rich/

http://theartofcharm.com/podcast-episodes/episode-172-ramit-sethi-iwillteachyoutoberich-com-dream-job/

For another good book review of IWTTBR. Look to Mr Money Mustache’s Book Review.  He calls the title into question, “At best, it should be called I Will Teach You to Stay Out Of Trouble”. MMM is more of a stoic frugalist. Ramit is more of a measured hedonist.

Ramit’s main message is to set up the financial system so you CAN live a rich life. Whatever that means to you.

Buy the book here

 

Best parts of “Empire of the Summer Moon” by S.C. Gwynne: Comanches vs. Texas Rangers

Empire of the Summer Moon by S.C. Gwynne

The book tracks the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the creation of the Texas Rangers, and the closing chapter of Manifest Destiny in early Texas.

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Promotional hand out photo of the cover of “Empire of the Summer Moon,” by S.C. Gwynne. CREDIT: Simon & Schuster. Received 06/28/10 for 0704gwynne. For 2010 Texas Book Festival Illustration.

The Comanches, never numbering more than 15,000, kicked out the Spanish, Apaches, Mexicans and Texans from the Great Southern Plains, the better part of 5 U.S. States, from 1650 to 1850. They were the most powerful Indian Tribe in U.S. history.

Here are my favorite parts of this book, which was an exciting and engaging read from cover to cover.

Comanches

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“The Comanche horsemen who rode up to the front gate of Parker’s Fort [Texas] that morning in May 1836 were representatives of a military and trade empire that covered some 240,000 square miles, essentially the southern Great Plains. Their land encompassed large chunks of five present-day states: Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas, and Oklahoma.”

“Comanches, meanwhile, carried a disk-shaped buffalo-hide shield, a fourteen-foot plains lance, a sinew-backed bow, and a quiver of iron-tipped arrows.The Comanches had been fighting this way for two hundred years. War was what they did, and all of their social status was based on it.”

“He would dance for hours, or days. He loved to gamble and would bet on anything. He loved to sing. He especially loved to sing his personal song, often written expressly for him by a medicine man. He often woke up singing and sang before bed.”

Texas Rangers

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“Ranger John Caperton estimated that “about half the rangers were killed off every year” and that “the lives of those who went into the service were not considered good for more than a year or two.”

“The western part of Texas in those years was awash in young, reckless, single men with a taste for wide open spaces, danger, and raw adventure”

“The only thing the government reliably provided, in its wisdom, was ammunition.”

“Many were large, physically imposing men with thick, brawny arms, long hair, and full beards. Seen from the more civilized parts of nineteenth-century America, they occupied a place in the social order just this side of brigands and desperados.”

”They had learned the fundamental lesson of plains warfare: It was either victory or death.”

Early Texans and Manifest Destiny

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“The vanguard of the America push westward were simple farmers imbued with a fierce Calvinist work ethic, steely optimism, and a cold-eyed aggressiveness that made them refuse to yield even in the face of extreme danger. They were said to fear God so much that there was no fear left over for anyone or anything else.”

“It is one of history’s great ironies that one of the main reasons Mexico had encouraged Americans to settle in Texas in the 1820s and 1830s was because they wanted a buffer against Comanches, a sort of insurance policy on their borderlands.”

“They hated Indians with a particular passion, considering them something less than fully human, and thus blessed with inalienable rights to absolutely nothing.”

“The Texans were not the Spanish of the Mexicans. They were tougher, meaner, almost impossible to discourage, willing to take absurd risks to secure themselves a plot of dirt, and temperamentally well suited to the remorseless destruction of native tribes.”

“They pushed as far into Indian country as their courage, or Indian war parties, would let them. Imagine the alternative: the U.S. government sending troops to shoot down God-fearing settlers who simply wanted a piece of the American dream. It never happened.”

Mustangs

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“When the Pueblos pushed out the Spanish from New Mexico, the horses were abandoned, thus thousands of mustangs ran wild into the open plains that closely resembled their ancestral Iberian lands. Because they were perfectly adapted to the new land, they thrived and multiplied. They became the foundation stock for the great wild mustang herds of the Southwest. The event has become known as the Great Horse Dispersal. The dissemination of so many horses to a group of thirty plains tribes permanently altered the power structure of the North American Heartland.”

Walker Colt Revolver

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“In the first phase of the Comanche wars, the Indians held all the advantages. When Texans arrived from the east, they brought with them their main firearm, the Kentucky rifle”

“No one knows exactly how these revolvers came into the hands of Jack Hays and his Rangers…the date is sometime in 1843…the same year Sam Houston disbanded the navy. The Indians now faced the prospect of being blasted from horseback by guns that never emptied; the whites could now fight entirely mounted. Colt asked Samuel Walker [a Ranger Captain], to help him with the design. The result, the Walker Colt, was one of the most effective and deadly pieces of technology ever devised… Hays had adapted a weapon no one else had wanted and had turned it into the ultimate frontier sidearm, one that soon changed the very nature of the experience of the American West.”

“Jack Hays: He was the greatest Texas Ranger, the one the Comanches feared most…It was said that before Hays, Americans came into the West on foot carrying long rifles, and that after Hays, everybody was mounted and carrying a six-shooter.”

This was a great read. Also recommended is Rebel Yell, his book on Stonewall Jackson. S.C. Gwynne does an incredible job detailing the weaponry, tactics, and geography of battlefields. When I was in Virginia I went to Manassas with his book in hand. I can’t wait to go to the Texas Panhandle with Empire of the Summer Moon.

https://www.amazon.com/Empire-Summer-Moon-Comanches-Powerful/dp/1416591060/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1471465121&sr=8-1&keywords=Empire+of+the+Summer+Moon

Mastery by Robert Greene. Chapter 1 Relfection

Robert Greene’s philosophy, strategy and self-help books are some of my favorites. He has written four international bestsellers, including two of my favorites The 48 Laws of Power and The Art of Seduction. I anticipated his newest book, Mastery, because I think it can give me guidance on how to be more successful. I have recently realized that I need to examine my past behavior and actions, and figure out how to become more self-disciplined in order to achieve the goals I have set for myself.

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I thought that Greene’s new book would help me by offering examples on people who faced obstacles and overcame them to get to success. In Mastery, he makes the case that humans are hardwired for success not destined. In other words, they had to work at success, but are hardwired to do so. The book, like his past works; examine great historical figures such as Mozart, Einstein, Henry Ford and Charles Darwin, and their paths to success.

Some Drake to read, and get hype too. Love his new Album.

What is Mastery?

Mastery is defined in the dictionary as a comprehensive knowledge or skill in a subject, or control over it. According to Greene it is a mindset. Our thoughts focus and we are exposed to new details and ideas we become creative and inspired. In this period of exceptional creativity, we are impelled to get something done, normally by some deadline or crisis. But this brilliance does not appear out of nowhere, due to luck, or talent. This power can is a kind of intelligence that can be manufactured and maintained. The great masters of their field, Da Vinci, Edison, and Bonaparte made it their way of seeing the world.

Why is it important today?

The idea of mastery and craft is increasingly looked down upon in today’s world. Distraction and entertainment are the main impediment in our society. No one wants to work hard and expose himself or herself to failure. Technology which puts all the world’s knowledge at our fingertips also causes us to expend minimal energy and lose respect for the repetitive process needed to master any subject or skill. Greene warns,

“This hunger for the magical shortcut has survived to our day in the form of simple formulas for success, ancient secrets finally revealed in which a mere change of these efforts- for instance, the emphasis in magic on deep focus. But in the end all of this searching is centered on something that doesn’t exist- the effortless path to practical power, the quick and easy solution, the El Dorado of the mind.”

During projects I sometimes focus extensively on finding the fastest way to finish. I have probably ignored the real power that I actually possess of mastering a skill through focus and creativity.

Greene points out that,

“We can see the material effects of this power in history- the great discoveries and inventions, the magnificent buildings and works of art, the technological prowess we possess, all works of the masterful mind. If we don’t connect to our calling we become slaves to time, as it passes, we grow weaker, less capable, trapped in some dead-end career. We become captive to the opinions and fears of others. The human that depended on focused attention for its survival now becomes the distracted scanning animal, unable to think in depth, yet unable to depend on instincts.”

Greene dishes out tough love and harsh truths that I need to hear. He is credible because he bases his advice on his continual analysis of great historical figures and current scientific literature.

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During the night of July 4th I made the decision to drink in excess by using the excuse that it was a holiday, in essence, free time. One man Greene examines in chapter two, Charles Darwin, had this to say about time. “A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life.” Greene continues to warn me of my hedonism in harsher terms.

“It is the height of stupidity to believe that in the course of your short life, your few decades of consciousness, you can somehow rewire the configurations of your brain through technology and wishful thinking, overcoming the effect of 6 Million years of development. To go against the grain might bring temporary distraction, but time will mercilessly expose your weakness and impatience.”

At this point in the book it moves beyond a scared straight seminar, and Greene gives reason to not put the book down.

“The great salvation for all of us is that we inherited an instrument that is remarkably plastic. Our ancestors over the course of time, managed to craft the brain by creating a culture that could learn, change, and adapt to circumstances, that wasn’t a prisoner to the incredibly slow march of natural evolution.”

I can still turn myself around. My brain is plastic, and the decisions good or bad, work to shape my character. He writes,  “At any moment we can choose to shift our relationship to time and work with the grain, knowing of its existence and power.” I can reverse the bad habits that have plagued me for many years. The ways I use to deal with anxiety, biting my fingernails, drinking, surfing the Internet can be dealt with.

“This is the real secret: the brain that we possess is the work of six million years of development, and more than anything else, this evolution of the brain was designed to lead us to mastery, the latent power within us all.”

Greene believes in identifying and honing your natural proclivities, perhaps through the long and difficult apprenticeship he describes in chapter 3, that he recommends before I can have a fulfilling vocation.

What are some takeaways from the book that I can use today?

1) The rewards in life come from learning skills. Our short-term attention span culture does not particularly push discipline before pleasure. Entertainment is preferred to moving toward pain, but in the long run the rewards far exceed that momentary relief. If you learn self-discipline and delayed satisfaction in your 20’s, your rewards will follow.

During my time in college I have been able to acquire lessons from great mentors and friends. I have grown my social skills and lost the shy demeanor that I used in high school. One skill I began to work on over the past year was learning to play the piano. I only known 12 songs and some scales at this point but I am immensely better than where I came from. I will continue to develop this skill more and more because I gain pleasure overcoming the challenges presented by the piano. It also helps that the student center has some free pianos in  that I can take advantage of during study breaks at the Library.

2) Learn one skill at a time. Do not multitask when you a trying to learn. Start with skills that you already have some natural ability in. Remember Cesar Rodriguez, the Last American Ace. Trust the process of trial and error, mixed with mentorship outlined on page 75 that took Rodriguez from the bottom of his elite flight school class to top. Greene summarizes this model quite well.

“You want to learn as many skills as possible, following the direction that circumstances lead you to, but only if they are related to your deepest interests. You are sure not where this will all lead, but you are taking full advantage of the openness of information, all of the knowledge about skills now at our disposal. You see what kind of work suits you and what you want to avoid at all costs. You move by trial and error. This is how you pass your twenties.”

3)  Take what you are given to do for others and make it yours. Follow the example of Leonardo da Vinci’s painted Angel’s and the enormous bronze statue of Francesco Sforza. He became the first artist to create realistic angelic wings, and invented a totally new way of seamless bronze casting. When someone else gives me a project, I should try and make it mine.

While not on the scale of da Vinci’s Angel’s I used this process while completing my student conduct sanctions. I received this book for Christmas and had been meaning to get to it for 6 months, but I had not. By establishing a deadline and consequences for not reading it I was able to read the book in three weeks. I though about the messages contained within for a few weeks, watching and listening to around 15 videos and podcasts given by author and then re-read certain sections that immediately applied to my situation. Beyond writing this paper, I plan on continuing my study of the book and annotating the book to send out to friends who share my interests of self-development.

My Favorite Podcast Interview.

Best Robert Greene Interview about Mastery

4)  Finally I plan to look for mentors once you have acquired some elementary skills and discipline that you can rely upon to interest them. Develop a solid work ethic and organizational skills. Once I am ready to learn I hope the teacher will appear. Once I identify a potential mentor, I will do a as Greene advises, to establish a relationship by appealing to their self-interest at all times. I will try to see the world through their eyes and ask the simple question of what it is they need most. And probably hardest for me, I will take Greene’s advice to “Get them to give you challenges that will reveal your strengths and weaknesses, and allow you to gain as much feedback as possible. Accustom yourself to criticism.”

Throughout the process of writing this I have started to discipline myself in various ways that give me confidence in my ability to change. It is a tough road, as Greene has told me, but the rewards for this are already starting to appear. At first I was very angry that I, a first offender, was given extra work. But now that I am finished with the program I am glad and appreciative of the value I gained during this course correction.