What are the Ides of March and Why Should Anyone Beware Them?

The Murder of Caesar (1865) - Karl Theodor von Piloty

The Murder of Caesar (1865) – Karl Theodor von Piloty

March 15 is the “Ides of March”, which we know from the phrase “beware the Ides of March”.  But what are “ides” and why should anyone worry about them?

Under the old Roman calendar, the Ides of March was the date of the first full moon of the year.

March was important as the first month of the year for the same reason January is important on our modern calendar. The beginning of a week, month or year always always holds some psychological (and frequently, legal) importance.

Ides was an important day because it was one of three fixed points in each month of the Roman calendar.

Kalends was the first of the month, the day of a new moon. About a week later came Nones, the day of a half moon (or the “first quarter” as you’ll usually see it on a calendar). Another week later came Ides, with the full moon.

The Romans counted towards these marker days. So March 14 would be “the day before Ides”.  March 21 would be “7 days before Kalends”.

It sounds complicated, but remember that long before there was writing, people around the world could see the moon, and could accurately predict its phases. Many of us do the same thing when we count down the days before Christmas or New Year’s Day.

(By the way, our word “calendar” comes from Kalends.)

The only person who was ever warned about the Ides of March is long-dead: Emperor Julius Caesar. Caesar was assassinated on March 15, 44 BCE.

According to Greek historian Plutarch’s biography of Caesar, a seer warned the emperor that he would come to harm by the Ides of March.

That rather vague prediction is likely to be Plutarch’s romanticized fiction, although there is historical evidence that Caesar had been warned of an impending assassination attempt, even if it were not as specific as Plutarch’s version.

The phrase we know comes from Shakespeare’s 1599 CE play about Caesar’s assassination.

More than 400 years later, the phrase is still part of our cultural landscape, although most of us think it’s a general warning about a day that is unlucky, on par with Friday the 13th.

So what are “ides” and why should anyone worry about them? They’re a bit of historical trivia that should give no one any cause for worry.

Tested: 2008 Can-Am Spyder Roadster SE5

2008 - CanAm - Spyder Raodster SE5

  • Model: 2008 Can-Am Spyder Roadster SE5
  • Color: Millenium Yellow
  • Miles ridden: Test Ride ≅ 20 miles
  • Fuel:
  • Location: Cycle World International Motorcycle Show, Phoenix AZ.

I’m tempted to label the Can-Am Spyder as the first motorcycle I’ve ridden that I actually disliked, but I’m not sure it’s fair to call it a motorcycle.

I did a 20-mile test ride (freeway, highway and street) at the 2008 International Cycle Show in Phoenix on October 27, 2007. I found the three-wheel machine to be too bulky, with handling that was too much like a carnival ride and little like a motorcycle.

Arguably, it comes closer to the feel of a two-wheel motorcycle than a trike, due to the suspension that allows the Spyder’s body to lean and rock in curves and turns. The automobile-style tires ride on the flat tread, not on the sies like rounded motorcycle tires.

2008 - CanAm - Spyder Raodster SE5 - Suspension

The Spyder is manufactured by the Canadian company Bombardier, inventors of the modern personal snowmobile, the Ski-Doo. I’ve been told the Spyder handles much like a snowmobile (the machine has suspension which allows the main unit to rock while the tracks maintain steady contact with the ground). I’ve never ridden a snowmobile, so I can’t compare the two vehicles.

The Spyder was indeed very stable. I never felt like a wheel was going to come off the ground send the the whole thing tipping over. The Can-Am reps stressed the stability engineering that makes the Spyder corner and steer with a sureness and encouraged riders to test it for ourselves.

Prior to the test ride, I had to demonstrate my riding skills on a short course. I failed the first go-round by coming only to a rolling stop at a stop signpost. On the second go-round, I came to a full stop and, out of ingrained habit, put my foot down. The Can-Am rep gave me a hard time for that because, of course, the three-wheels machine is not a two-wheel motorcycle and is not going to fall over.

And that underscores what I did not like about this machine: it’s simply not a motorcycle. If you’re expecting a motorcycle’s handling, it will disappoint. It’s also not an off-road four-wheeled ATV. It’s not even a convertible.

But it does have more motion in turns and curves than a typical trike. It also gets a lot of attention on the street. So if you’re looking for something to ride around town that combined bits of all these, this could be the vehicle for you.

Tested: 2008 Yamaha FJR1300AE (Semi-Automatic Transmission)

2008 - Yamaha FJR1300AE  - Granite Gray

  • Model: 2008 Yamaha FJR1300AE
  • Color: Granite Gray
  • Miles ridden: Test Ride ≅ 25 miles
  • Fuel:
  • Location: Cycle World International Motorcycle Show, Phoenix AZ.

The paddle-shift (semi-automatic transmission) version of the FJR1300 was sold in North America for four model years (2006-2009) as the FJR1300AE.  (As of 2015, the model is still sold in the rest of the world, as the FJR1300AS.)

I had a chance to test this bike at the Cycle World International Motorcycle Show in Phoenix on October 27, 2007.

The electronically-assisted shift (introduced in 2006 and discontinued after 2009) isn’t a fully-automatic transmission, but it does allow riders to shift without pulling a clutch lever. The shift control (a short lever that toggled to shift up or down) replaces the clutch normally found on the left hand grip.  The left footpeg has  a traditional shift lever, but it’s a five up, so experienced riders have multiple mental adjustments to make.

The benefit (in my opinion) of the semi-automatic transmission is in stop-and-go commuting. With this bike, you can come to a stop in any of the lower gears, and take off again without shifting down to first gear. (I tried it as part of the test ride included street riding with four-way stop signs.) The motor automatically makes adjustments as you take off until your speed and gear match again.

I think what hurt the bike in this country was that it filled a market segment that was too small.  People who primarily ride to commute are generally looking for smaller and cheaper bikes (or scooters) with great gas mileage. People who are looking for a motorcycle that can do anything, from long-distance riding to commuting were simply unwilling to pay the additional cost of the semiautomatic transmission.

Factor in the large number of motorcyclists who like to tinker with traditional motors and have more direct control over engine performance and the perfectly-good FJR1300A sitting nearby on the showroom floor looked even better. If anything, the AE model cannibalized its sales from standard FJR, which sealed its fate in North America.

Ridden: 2005 BMW K1200S

2005-BMW-K1200S

  • Model: 2005 BMW K1200S
  • Color: Dakar Yellow / Arctic Grey
  • Miles Ridden:
  • Fuel:
  • Location: California—Laguna Woods to Ridgecrest (via Victorville). Ridgecrest to Death Valley (via Trona) and Beatty NV and return. Ridgecrest to Manzanar (via Lone Pine) and back to Laguna Woods.

I rented this bike for three days in January 2009.  I called it the “rumblebee” because of its unique yellow-and-gray stripe paint job (which was stock).

I had hoped to rent a Kawasaki Concours14 to compare with the Yamaha FJR1300 I had previously rented, but it was booked. The rental guy (who delivered his bikes in a “garage on wheels”) said I would be happy with this BMW sport-tourer, and from my notes below, I was.

My first day was short, getting from Orange County over to Ridgecrest so I could check out the Navy base where I lived for many years. The second day was long, over to Death Valley and back. (The distance wasn’t bad, but Death Valley is huge and I wanted to see as much as I could in one day.) The third day was just right, heading up to Mazanar (a WWII Japanese internment camp) then back to Orange Country. I stared the day in sub-freezing temperatures and had to peel off layers as I left the desert and back into the warmer inland empire.

2005 BMW K1200S - Quarterview

January 2009 — I enjoyed this rental quite a lot! My initial fear that this sportbike wouldn’t be comfortable for the long haul across California was quickly dispelled…once I got out of the Los Angeles morning rush hour traffic and could pay attention to the bike.

In freeway traffic, this bike hauled butt in the diamond lane at the speed limit (or a little higher) but was also easily maneuverable on surface streets. Power delivery was very smooth, and overall the engine ran very smoothly in the upper gears. Throughout my trip, I had difficulty deciding between first and second gear at low speeds–– I never felt like I was in the “right” gear.

The linked ABS braking felt very sure. I didn’t have any wet road conditions, but on some of the crumbling desert roads, the bike felt very stable in braking and cornering.

Under less-than-normal conditions, the K1200S performed just as well. Scary crosswinds at Rancho Cucamonga (look it up if you think I’m makin’ it up!) had me drifting across the freeway lanes, but I tucked under and found the bike easy to control, if not relaxing. Later in the trip, a lower saddle height and smooth low-speed grunt even made it possible to crawl through a half-mile of six-inch-deep sand without ditching the bike!

As you might expect from a BMW, this bike has a little adventure-tourer in its blood. It also has all the bells and whistles expected. I didn’t really do much with the electrically-adjusted suspension (preload and rebound/front and rear)…”set it and forget it” was my motto.

Ergonomics were a mixed bag. Despite being a sport bike, the bike had better long-term ridability than I expected. My posture didn’t put as much weight on my wrists as I anticipated, although I still experienced “numb thumb” in my throttle hand after long periods of riding at a fixed speed.

The saddle had a comfortable shape and didn’t cause me to ride up on the tank as much as some sport bikes, but the seat was very stiff and was tough on the pelvic bone. The saddle height was a little lower than I am used to, which may have helped my upper body posture but caused some discomfort with foot position. My feet were tucked a little further behind me than I prefer, making it harder to change foot position during long stretches of unbroken riding.

Still, it was nice to be able to put my feet solidly on the ground when stopped. And while the K1200S is a little heavier than my Bandit, the weight felt a little lower, and I had no problem holding the bike up with just my legs when stopped.

On the night ride home from Death Valley across unlighted desert territory, I really appreciated the bike’s very bright headlights. The high beam seemed to cast a very bright swath far down the road, allowing me to maintain pretty high speeds without fear of unseen curves or obstructions (wildlife). The instrument panel automatically lighted at dusk, which was a nice feature.

On the chilly mornings in the desert, I learned to appreciate having heated grips. I like BMW’s separated turn signals (right turn on right grip, left on left) but as with my last BMW experience, learning to hit the left turn instead of the horn was difficult, and for some reason, the signal cancel button for both indicators is on the throttle side.

Finally, I have to give BMW credit for a great idea: gusseted luggage. The semi-hard-sided bags expand to nearly double-size with waterproof fabric gussets. The bags also managed to not look too out of place on the slim bike and were easy to mount/dismount.

Overall, this bike seemed a little smaller (height and length) than el Bandido, but certainly had all the zip a reasonable person might want. It would make a great commuter, and a perfect choice for weekend trips. For the avid touring rider, it might lack a bit.

Oh, and the paint job totally rocks! This little rumblebee would certainly be welcome in my garage.

You Are Here: Windsor Ruins

2006.10.09-MS.PortGibson-WindsorRuins-03B+W

Windsor’s columns are much larger than they seem in photos.

Twenty-three Corinthian-style columns and a few sections of wrought-iron linking them are all that remain of what was once the largest mansion in Mississippi.

The columns have lost much of the plaster that made them look like they were carved from stone, revealing the common brick underneath. Ferns sprout from the tops of many of the columns, arcing in curls that echo the ornate column capitals to which they are attached.

2006.10.09-MS.PortGibson-WindsorRuins-07And yet it’s easy to look at the “Windsor Ruins” and imagine from just these few bare bones how beautiful the face of this plantation home must have been.

Windsor was built in 1861 on a 2,600-acre plantation near Bruinsburg, a port town on the Mississippi River halfway between Natchez and Vicksburg. It was also near the old Natchez Trace, a trade route that ran from the Mississippi River at Natchez, MS to the Tennessee River at Nashville, TN.

The house was luxurious, even by todays’ standards.  Typical for antebellum plantations homes, it was a massive block built in a Greek Revival style.  Twenty-five rooms (each with its own marble fireplace) were stacked four floors high, and wrapped by galleries (long covered balconies). A rooftop observatory permitted a view of the Mississippi River some distance away.

2006.10.09-MS.PortGibson-WindsorRuins-04AInside, the house featured a wrought iron grand staircase, bathrooms with running water supplied by an attic cistern,  and expensive hand-milled furniture brought down from St. Louis.

The house’s ground-level floor was the “basement”, where a school room, doctor’s office, kitchen, and dairy were located.  (“Dairy” being a room for the storage and processing of milk products, not for housing cows.)

Construction costs came to $175,000, a fantastic sum in that era, equivalent to over $5 million today. Considering the dramatic increase of labor costs over the years (and that much of the work was done by unpaid slave laborers), today’s true cost would be much higher. And that doesn’t count the furnishings and décor.

2006.10.09-MS.PortGibson-WindsorRuins-02In true southern gothic manner, the house was to have a colorful and ultimately tragic life.

The owner, Smith Daniell II, died at age 34, within a few weeks of moving into the house, leaving his wife Catherine to manage the plantation in his absence.

During the Civil War, the house was used first by Confederates and later by the Union; both prized the rooftop observatory’s view of the river and the Union Army used it as a hospital for a time.

2006.10.09-MS.PortGibson-WindsorRuins-01ARemarkably, the house survived the war with most of its furnishings, but the Daniell family was forced to begin selling off parcels of land to pay their bills.

And then on February 17, 1890, the house burnt to the ground, less than 30 years after it was constructed.

Lore has it the fire was started by a cigarette left to burn by a guest. Regardless, all that remained afterward were 23 of the 29 columns and a wrought-iron staircase. The furniture and all possessions were lost in the fire.

Today, after more than a century of rains, wind, ice storms and the oppressive heat of Mississippi summers, the columns still stand.

And they still inspire curious visitors to imagine what the house must have looked like and to wonder what it would have been like to visit the grandest home in Mississippi.

Plan your trip:

From I-20 (west of Jackson) or I-55 (north of Jackson), take the Natchez Trace Parkway south to the exit for County Highway 552. Follow Highway 552 past the turnoff for Alcorn State University; follow the signs to the site entrance.

The site has no official website, but the Natchez Trace Compact’s site has information about all scenic and historic sites along the trace: scenictrace.com

Visitors to Vicksburg National Military Park can pick up information about Windsor at the park’s visitor center.