You can tell I’m in research mode as I keep finding little snippets of things that set my mind spinning. And of course, I have to save some of these snippets for fear I shall forget.
Today’s inspiration is an oil painting in the Metropolitan Museum of Art called The Arab Jeweler from about 1882 by Charles Sprague Pearce (1851–1914). It is very much in line with the rise of public interest in the “exotic” and Orientalist themes, but I will say, I still found the image striking.
The note on the auction website says: “Very unusual oversized cabinet CDV of a dwarf with a long beard, dressed in uniform with kepi and holding a gun. The picture was taken by Griffin & Watkins, which operated in Princeton, Kentucky during the latter part of the 19th century. Back of the card reads ”Portraits in Oil, Pastille & Crayon Old Pictures Copied and Enlarged.” Image very sharp. Card in superb condition. Measures 4” x 6”. Very interesting image.”
In the draft “Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn,” Baba Ali carries a carved wooden stick from his grandfather. We were looking to have Ali to have a means to protect him and although he did have a khanjar, using a blade seemed too violent for the character. I didn’t want readers to fall into the assumption that he would know and use staff fighting. In part, because most people would think of Robin Hood and Little John’s staff fight on the log over the river (or at least that’s what I thought of). So instead, I brought in the idea of tahtib. It seemed like a natural fit. His father was a travelling merchant and Ali having an *uncle from Egypt from whom he could learn Tahtib would not be out of place.
Tahtib is…unusual and very awesome. It is a very old style of stick fighting and dance from the Middle East, more specifically, Egypt. In a lot of ways it reminds me of Brazilian Capoiera in its connection to music and dance. It is both self-defense, combat, sport, martial art, and folk dance. It dates back to ancient Egypt where images show it as a set of fighting and combat techniques.Â Modern Tahtib seems split between the more dance-oriented, sport or competition oriented, and combat/martial art styled.
Tahtib from the Abusir Necropolis more than 5000 years old
The stick, or Naboot is about four feet long. It is held, usually single handed, from the end and flailed in large figure-8 patterns across the body.
The demonstration below is from 2010 at the International Martial Arts Festival in Paris.Â The first time (I believe) Tahtib was shown broadly to an international audience.
Adel Paul Boulad, a martial art expert and big proponent of Tahtib, has worked to develop and codify five forms or katas. Below is a video of the most basic form – “NAKHLA: The Palm Tree.”
Tutankhamun’s pectoral with large scarab from Libyan Desert Glass
All right.Â I’ll admit it.Â This bit of research was so awesome I had to includeÂ desert glassÂ in the book even though I know that geographicallyÂ this phenomenonÂ does not occur in the Arabian desert where my novel takes place. Also of note was that this form of desert glass wasn’t even discovered until 1932.Â Of course, the nice thing about Steampunk is that this is re-written history, so at the very least, from a time perspective, I think I’m off the hook.
What I am talking about is generally known as Libyan Desert Glass (LDG).Â Â It is something of a geological mystery.Â In 1932, a desert survey expedition travelling in the corridors between the dunes (saifs) in the Sand Sea on the frontier between Egypt and Libya discovered, scattered about on sand, transparent to translucent pieces of a pale yellow-green glass.Â It was dated at over 28.5 million years old.
So what is so strange about LDG that it excites so much intellectual curiosity? LDG is an amorphous glass of silicon dioxide, more commonly found in its crystalline form as quartz. Small pieces of silica glass are often found associated with lava flows which cool suddenly as they pour into the sea. The silicon in the lava freezes, forming an amorphous mass that resembles broken glass. These materials are about 75% silica, the rest being made up of crystals of quartz and oxides of aluminium and iron. Desert glass, by contrast, is 98% pure silica, the purest natural glass in the world.
How LDG was formed in the first place is a mystery. Why did it form here and nowhere else? The composition and structure of the glass is consistent with the scenario that is was formed from melted dune sand, and then cooled over a period greater than 24 hours in an earth atmosphere.