First Day Issue / Tierra de los Sueños / TdSPosta: Lewis or Uig chess pieces / PizzaQ! / media noche at the Versailles / mark of a devious mind / Staunton v. Fancy-Schmantsy or Artsy-Fartsy designs / Scotland 11, England 67 (score not Final)
First Day Issue
Tierra de los Sueños ■ TdSPosta
Lewis or Uig chess pieces
And a PizzaQ ... 2 slices extra mozzarella ...
What are the perforations?
Eleven of these are in the Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh. Admission to gawk at these astonishing objects is free, but I'll stuff a Scottish Pound (issued by the Bank of Scotland, but usually accepted south of the border) into the donations box.
The other 67 chess pieces are in the British Museum, London. Hovering over them is a huge and vociferous tug-of-war over where they should reside, should they be reunited; and recently a smaller collection with pieces from both sets toured small regional museums in Scotland.
Okay, I bought the resin reproduction, a standard complement chess set.
Real chess players -- good ones, serious ones -- play exclusively with the familiar Staunton design, and most of the time a cheap $5 plastic child's starter set, because in timed games you bang the pieces pretty violently on buttons on the top of the clock to end your move and start the opponent's clock running.
Fancy sets of any design other than Staunton are confusing in serious play -- is Shiva a knight or a bishop, is Ulysses S. Grant the king, is Cal Ripken the rook?
But chess sets have always been a focus of design art, the temptation to design a new and pretty chess set (or just a geeky one, like Napoleon's Grand Armee vs. Wellington's Waterloo coalition, or Red Sox vs. Yankees) is as overwhelming as the temptation to design a new type font. I am one of the idiots who buys pretty (and useless for play) art chess sets, although for play there's a nice wooden Staunton nearby and ready. I got Tenniel's "Looking Glass" set, a really nice machined heavy brass set, and I finally couldn't help myself anymore, I paid the outrageous price they were asking for Yankees vs. Red Sox.
Sherlock Holmes did not respect the game or its players. He concluded that chess is the mark of a devious mind, and those too fond of or skilled at the game were an untrustworthy lot capable of bestial acts.
Somewhere around here I have a book of recorded games by famous people; it includes a game by Karl Marx, and I think a game between Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.
These chess pieces are, I think, the oldest complete chess set on Planet Earth -- although scholars suggest they may have been a merchant's trove of pieces from five sets. The buzz, from similar pieces found, is that they were carved in Norway. They're dated to the 12th century A.D., people played more or less modern chess with them in the 1100s. (Castling and en passant are fairly recent innovations.)
The Lewis chess pieces were found in an exposed dune on the Bay of Uig in Scotland in 1831. The man who found them exhibited them at home for a while. Locals concluded they were pagan mini-idols, likely infected with ancient pre-Christian Bad Magic. They were then sold to Captain Roderick Ryrie, who recognized them as chess pieces, and a remarkable surprise from the past.
A good game of chess is one of the most intimate and intense experiences two personalities (or one personality and one robot, or two robots) can have. For somewhere under an hour -- occasionally considerably longer -- two strangers alternately reveal and conceal the most profound traits of their personality and character to and from one another. At competitive grandmaster levels, chess burns more calories per hour than most physical athletic activities, a day of it is more exhausting than a triathlon.
Most odd of all, a Spanish-speaker and Russian-speaker can sit down and commence a volcanic, anxiety-ridden, ferociously competitive game, conclude it in a win or a draw or a concession, and neither player needs a single word of the other's language. You can test this odd phenomenon around 1 a.m. in a chess and domino park across from the Versailles restaurant on Calle Ocho in Little Havana, in Miami. (Cubans socialize in those hours, after the oppressive day heat has broken.)
After the game, eat the lengua asada at the Versailles. Or a media noche. Lots of killer desserts. A favorite beverage is fresh-squeezed sugar cane juice, in a large glass.