A blog about the arts, books, flora and fauna, vittles, and whatever comes to mind!

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Friday, January 14, 2011

We Still Have a Dream...

"I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the 
starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak
 of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality...
I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word."

Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  (1/15/29 - 4/4/68)
Photo by Dick DeMarsico, 1964,  Library of Congress

This coming Monday, January 17, 2011, is a U.S. federal holiday honoring the birthday of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Nobel Peace Prize winner and posthumus winner of a Congressional Gold Medal.  It is always celebrated on the third Monday of the month of January, although his birthday was on January 15th.  The holiday was signed into law in 1983, and first observed in 1986.  It was officially observed in all 50 states for the first time in 2000.

President Ronald Reagan and Coretta Scott King at the signing, 11/2/83.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia. 

This idea began as a union demand in contract negotiations.  Dr. King had collaborated in the 50s and 60s with union activists, and he was assassinated while in Memphis supporting a union strike.  A bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives to make Dr. King’s birthday a national holiday in 1979, but it lacked five votes to pass.  There were two main arguments against the bill:  (1) it was too expensive to make it a paid holiday for federal employees, and; (2) there was a longstanding tradition that only those who held public office were so honored.  It is questionable if they really were the main reasons.  

Crowds surround the Reflecting Pool during the
1963 March on Washington.
Photo by Warren K. Leffler, Library of Congress

The King Center (the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change) enlisted support from the general public and corporate community.  Unions provided financial support to the movement nationwide.  Six million signatures were collected, the largest in U.S. history, for a petition urging Congress to pass the law.

Dr. King with Lyndon Johnson, 3/18/66
Photo by White House Press Officer, Yoichi R. Okamoto
LBJ Library and Museum

There was much opposition.  Senator Jesse Helms (R-North Carolina) led the opposition, issuing a scathing attack on the movement.  He called Dr. King a lawbreaker “subject to influence and manipulation by Communists”.  Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) voted against the bill and backed then-Governor Mecham’s rescission of the state holiday.  He reversed himself when the bill grew in popularity.  Even President Reagan was initially in opposition to it, and signed only after it passed in Congress (338 to 90 in the House; 78 to 22 in the Senate).

Dr. King with Nation of Islam leader Malcolm X, 3/26/64.
Photo by Marion S. Trikosko, LOC

Dr. King is honored in postage stamps all over the world – more stamps have been issued in his honor than any other African American.  Hiroshima, Japan, celebrates Martin Luther King Jr. Day, equating King’s message of human rights and nonviolence with their call for peace.  One of the foremost leaders of civil rights, human rights, and peace, he alongside Gandhi, are worldwide symbols of non-violence.

The Lorraine Motel where Dr. King was assassinated, now the site of the
National Civil Rights Museum.
Photo by Bob Jagendorf

In 1984, in a beautiful ceremony honoring Dr. King in Jerusalem, Navy chaplain Rabbi Arnold Resnicoff quoted a verse from Genesis that Joseph’s brothers said when they saw him coming, “Behold the dreamer comes; let us slay him and throw him into the pit, and see what becomes of his dreams.”  He stated further the belief that slaying the dreamer would slay the dream is wrong, as Dr. King’s death proved.

Dr. King giving his "I Have a Dream" speech, 8/28/63.
Photo courtesy of The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

An outstanding orator, no mention of Dr. King would be complete without his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.  This is ranked No. 1 of the top 100 American speeches on American Rhetoric (Robert F. Kennedy's "Remarks on the Assassination of MLK" is No. 17).  A thoughtful, well-spoken man cut down in his prime, we can only imagine what he might have accomplished.  We share your dream, Dr. King, and remember you with love and respect.


Thursday, January 13, 2011

Rock-Cut Rocks!

The Treasury at Petra, once thought to
actually have been a treasury, or tax house, but
current speculation suggests a library.

Most people are familiar with the rock-cut caves of Petra.  This 6th century BCE capital of the Nabateans, an ancient group of Arabs, is Jordan’s most popular tourist attraction.  A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985, the site was abandoned and forgotten until 1812, when a Swiss explorer rediscovered it.

The "Monastery" at Petra.
Photo by Berthold Werner

Petra’s largest monument is a temple, the "Monastery", which has an inscription to Obodas I and dates to the 1st century BCE.  Obodas I was King of the Nabateans from 96 - 85 BCE.  After his death, he was worshipped as a deity, hence the temple in his honor.  Famed for its water conduit system, as well as its architecture, Petra is also home to thousands of tombs.

Rock houses in Cappadocia.

There is a distinction between decorated natural caves, and man-made and designed ones.  Many rock-cut edifices often emulate the designs of wooden architecture, both in their facades and in their interiors.  There are rock-cut monuments in many regions of the world.  Some are dwellings, such as in Cappadocia in Turkey.  Petra is many known for its tombs, and in India most were monasteries and temples.

Cave 16, the Kailasanatha Temple.
Image courtesy of Frontline.

One of the most remarkable sites anywhere in the world is the UNESCO World Heritage site in Ellora, India.  There are 34 monasteries and temples built for a distance of over a mile in length, chiseled into a high basalt cliff.  Understand, these were carved from the top of the cliff down, inside and out.  There are no added elements, everything is made of the same rock - over a mile of carvings. This includes the basic structures, the sculptures, and the reliefs.

Image courtesy of UNESCO.

Roughly dated from 600 - 1,000 CE, the prodigious planning and work involved is mind-blowing.  Most likely they started out with a leveled field, and probably used some kind of grid system.  Working from the back to the front, and likewise from top to bottom, it is thought that they excavated a certain number of feet down and then across to eliminate the need for scaffolding.  The decorations were very detailed and ornate, and it is difficult to imagine the kind of imaging they did without aid of computers.  No doubt models were used, but no evidence exists of them.    

Image courtesy of UNESCO

Many of the structures were made to look like wood - the material used for palaces and other buildings, which is why they no longer exist.  Since these were dedicated to spiritual purposes, it was fitting they were made from a material that would not deteriorate but be everlasting.

Cave 10, also known as the "Carpenter's Cave".
Notice the emulation of wooden beams arching the ceiling.

These were not far from a trade route, and another remarkable fact is that the temples were built for three distinct religions traditions:  Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain. This is a testament to the religious tolerance that existed.  Imagine the discourse and sharing between the adherents of all three faiths.

Modern puja at the Buddhist "Carpenter's Cave".
(Puja is a ritual showing reverence, in this case to a 15-foot Buddha, also seen above.)
Some of these multi-story buildings included living quarters, sleeping facilities, kitchens, and other rooms required for daily life.  In addition, many have courtyards.

Add caption

What is arguably the "jewel" of the site is Cave 16, also known as the Kailasanatha.  Designed to look like Mount Kailash, the abode of the Hindu god Shiva, it covers an area twice the size of the Parthenon in Athens.  The design of this temple is standard for ones dedicated to Shiva, and has three structures in the courtyard.  There is a large sculpture of Nandi, Shiva's vehicle which is a sacred bull, in front of the central temple, which houses the lingam (a phallic symbol iconic of Shiva).  This structure has at its base life-size elephants that are bearing its weight.  Behind it is the Shiva temple, which is carved with niches, windows, and sculptures.  While most of the deities depicted are Shaivite (related to Shiva), inside the temple on the right the deities are Vaishnavite (related to the god Vishnu).

One of the most famous themes in Indian art is the depiction of the demon Ravana trying to lift Mount Kailash.  The Kailasanatha has an excellent example of this theme within, and it has become an icon of Indian art.  This particular temple took a hundred years to complete, and 200,000 tons of rock are estimated to have been removed.  

Shiva and consort Parvati on Mt. Kailash with the demon Ravana below.
Image courtesy of Nagcharan
Neither words nor images can convey the astonishing and stunning wonder of this site. The beauty of the art, combined with the wonder of the execution of the entire site, is overwhelming.  If there is one place in the world that you must see, I highly recommend this one.  I know, I've been here.  Those few days are one of the highlights of my life.
Unless otherwise noted, images courtesy of Wikipedia.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The First Paid Woman Scientist

Caroline Herschel (1750 - 1848)
Portrait from 1829

Caroline Herschel was dealt an odd hand in life.  She came down with typhus, a bacterial disease caused by fleas or lice, when she was ten.  This affected her growth, and when she was an adult she was four feet three inches tall.  Her parents had dismal predictions for her future:  she would never marry, and at best would be a house servant.  Fortunately she had a loving brother.

William Herschel (1738 - 1822)
Portrait by Lemuel Francis Abbott

William Herschel was an established music teacher and organist in Bath.  He composed numerous musical works, including 24 symphonies and many concertos, but apart from a few oboe concertos his music is largely forgotten.  What he is remembered for is his work as an astronomer.  He discovered Uranus, then thought a planet but recently demoted.  He built telescopes, more than four hundred in his lifetime, and made huge advances in their development.  He went on to discover two moons of Saturn, two moons of Uranus, among many important scientific discoveries.

Caroline went to live with her brother while he was a music teacher.  He taught her to sing and she was the principal singer of his oratorio concerts.  She earned quite a reputation as a singer, but was too shy to accept any engagements.

She did, however, prove to be very competent in polishing mirrors and mounting telescopes, and offered great support to William.  Eventually she learned to record his observations.  He insisted, however, that she work on her own.  She went on to discover eight comets, some which are named after her.  King George III granted her an annual salary for her work.  Thus she became the first female scientist to be paid for her work.

Model of telescope William Herschel used to discover Uranus.

A decade later she undertook the task of reviewing and correcting a star catalog published by John Flamsteed.  Her edition was published by the Royal Society in 1798, and in addition to an index of every star listed by Flamsteed, she added 560 stars and a list of errata.

Photo of a telescope that belonged to
Caroline Herschel by Geni

After her brother’s death in 1822, she returned to her native Hanover and continued to confirm William’s findings.  She also produced a catalog of nebula to aide her nephew, John Herschel, in his work.  In 1828 the Royal Astronomical Society presented her with a Gold Medal for this work.  No other woman would be awarded the Gold Medal until 1996.

In 1835 she was one of two women to be elected to honorary membership in the Royal Astronomical Society – they were the first women to be honorary members.  Three years later she was also elected as a member of the Royal Irish Academy.  In 1846 she was awarded the Gold Medal for Science by the King of Prussia.  She was 96 years old.  One amazing thing about this woman is that she never learned to multiply.  She carried a multiplication chart with her to work from.

Caroline Herschel, as her parents predicted, never did marry.  But she never became a house servant either.  When she died at age 98, it was in good physical and mental health, and without suffering.  MacArthur Fellow and prize-winning poet Adrienne Rich in 1968 wrote a poem about her called “Planetarium”.

Caroline Hershel in 1876, at age 92.

The Herschels’ former residence in Bath, where their telescopes were made and Uranus was first observed, is now the Hershel Museum of Astronomy.  In the basement is the original workshop and there is also a reproduction of the 7-foot telescope William made and used to discover Uranus.

The Herschel Museum in Bath
Image courtesy of Nick Veitch

Caroline Herschel was lucky to have in her a life man who trusted and believed in her, and encouraged her to be all that she could be.  She was smart enough to take advantage of it.
Except where noted, all images courtesy of Wikipedia

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

To Dream, Perchance to Plant...

Not your typical market tomato!
Image courtesy of Wikipedia

This is the time, when closeted indoors and dreaming of spring and warmer temperatures, that gardeners start planning.  Many keep records of what was planted each year and where, what was successful and what might be done differently, what standard plants to use and what new ones to try.  This planning stage is a dream of what is to come.

Some gardeners keep seeds from what they grow – taking from the best fruits of their labors.  Others order fresh each year.  Many like to try different things, and a growing number of gardeners are turning to heirloom seeds.

Heirloom plants are ones that were commonly grown at one time, but never in large commercial ventures.  At one time there were a diverse number of the same kind of plants, and people ate many different types of the same food.  Think of tomatoes, that come in all shapes, sizes, and colors.  There are hundreds of kinds you could plant, but the average grocery store only stocks a few kinds.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

The industrialization of agriculture led to monoculture – the practice of growing very few varieties of a plant in order to get consistent, marketable crops.  The varieties chosen are further developed to be resistance to disease, produce an abundance of the crop, and have a long shelf life.  A plant’s ability to tolerate pesticides and weather fluctuations, mechanical picking and packaging, and being shipped long distances comes into play.  This, however, doesn’t mean the fruit of that plant is tastier or healthier.  On the contrary, many plants lose both nutrients and taste from selective breeding and the marketing process.

Gardeners have different reasons for planting heirloom seeds.  Some plants have historical interest, some have slightly different tastes, some want to preserve the plants for future generations and to widen the gene pool.  A more political motive is that gardeners don’t want seed companies or the government to control seed distribution.  Since hybrid seeds will not be the same as the original plant, this creates a dependency on seed distributors for future crops.  

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

This is not to say that some seeds you have from Grandma’s prize tomatoes will taste just like hers.  Unfortunately with so many developed seeds being planted everywhere, it’s hard to avoid cross-pollination with other types of the plant.  But depending on where you are growing, you have a chance to produce something much more akin to what used to be grown.

As the trend is catching on, especially with organic gardeners, there are a growing number of seed companies that carry a diverse variety of types of plants.  One day I hope to have a large area of tomatoes – at least a hundred kinds – to sample and dine on.  In the meantime, here are some of the companies that I have bought seeds from and continue to patronize.

Number one in my book is the Seed Savers Exchange.  This non-profit group of gardeners has been dedicated to both saving and sharing heirloom seeds since 1975.  Although they concentrate on preserving North American seeds, they offer seeds from many different countries around the world.  They have a 890 acre farm near Decorah, Iowa, where they maintain and grow approximately 25,000 endangered heirloom plants – veggies, flowers, and herbs.  Although you don’t need to be a member to purchase from them, membership allows you a 10% discount and the knowledge that you are funding their worthy endeavor.  We are proudly life members.  They also publish a yearbook for members, which last year offered over 20,000 seeds member-to-member.  This makes Seed Savers one of the greatest sources of heirloom varieties in the world.

Seeds of Change began in 1989, and they offer seeds produced from a network of certified organic family farms and professional growers.  They also offer original varieties, created through traditional plant breeding techniques, which are hybrids but not bred with commercial interests in mind.  Their catalogs are gorgeous, with pictures that will make you salivate.

Bountiful Gardens in Willits, California, is a project of Ecology Action, who also works with projects all over the world.  EA is devoted to ending world hunger by teaching sustainable agriculture.  They have developed a system of gardening that allows for large yields from small spaces, while improving the soil each year, called GrowBiointensive™.  Their selection is great, sometimes unique, and they offer great gardening tools as well.

For varieties that produce best in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast, although most do well anywhere, there is the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.  They offer more than 700 varieties, specializing in heirloom and, specifically, open-pollinated (or non-hybrid) seeds.  Their seeds come from growers.  A percentage of their profits on some things are donated.  Their website offers lots of information and includes a blog.

These are just a few of the many companies that offer heirloom seeds.  Most have excellent and informative websites, and offer valuable information, books, dvds, tools, and other things of interest to gardeners.  Remember, you don't have to have a large plot of land to garden.  One of our friends has a wonderful container garden on the balcony of his condo, and keeps a steady supply of lettuces, tomatoes, herbs, and squash.  Another friend, who does have plenty of space, grows her own popcorn.  (Corn that produces eating corn, and corn that produces popcorn have to be kept well apart.)

Part of the delight of being a gardener, besides eating great tasting and healthy produce, is looking through catalogs and choosing what to grow.  On a cold winter’s day, drinking some herb tea by the fire, surrounded by catalogs and some graph paper and a pencil – it doesn’t get much better than this.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Morna, Another Blues

A Morna group.  Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Like rembetiko and fado, morna is a music genre that stresses separateness, longing, wistfulness, and all the sadness of a disenfranchised people who have experienced pain.  Morna is the music of Cape Verde, an island country comprised of fifteen islands in the central Atlantic Ocean, about 354 miles west of the coast of Africa.  Cape Verde was very important in the slave trade because of its location, hence some of the sadness.  The land is very remote, rocky, and subject to drought.

Morna goes back about a hundred and fifty years, and is complex hybrid of African and European cultures.  It is the national music  of Cape Verde, and is popular in Cape Verdean communities all over the world.  Some musicologists trace the genre back to a genre called the lundum (or lundu), from Africa, most likely Angola.  It is a dance-song from the Bantu tribe, which spread through various regions of Africa.  Slaves brought it to Brazil, where it was very popular among the elite and even became Brazil’s first national dance.  Lundum is related to the Spanish fandango and new world dances like the bolero.  All of these include scarfs, castanets, and holding arms over the head.  There was also a genre in Cape Verde called the choros, which are plaintive songs, like working songs.  Morna is therefore considered a cross between the lundum and the choros.  Initially, morna did not have any romantic themes; they developed along with the genre.

There is some argument where the word came from.  One faction thinks it comes from the English word “to mourn”.  Others say it comes from the French word “morne”, which is the name of the hills in French Antilles where chanson des mornes are sung.  Most writers think, however, that the name is from the Portuguese “morno” meaning “warm”, a reference to the way morna is sung.

The music is characterized by a slow tempo.  The main instrument is a guitar.  A morna can also be performed on a piano.  However, a medium-sized band may have a twelve string guitar, a guitar-like instrument called a cavaquinho, another instrument (perhaps a violin), some percussion and the singer.  A larger band may add an acoustic bass guitar, a clarinet or trumpet, and several percussion instruments, including bongos.  In the 60s, bands began playing morna with electric instruments and a drum kit, but by the late 90s there was a return to the roots and the use of acoustic instruments. 

The theme of a morna can be varied, but certain subjects seem to be used more often.  Besides the universal theme of love, there is the homesickness and love of the sea.  One of the most famous morna composers was Eugénio Tavares of Brava Island.  He used morna to express his heartbreak when his love left on a ship.  He loved fado, which influenced his work, and when he died in 1930 he was considered a national treasure, leaving behind a body of works.

Eugenio de Paula Tavares (1867-1930)
Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

The next great composer of morna came along once morna was a fully-developed form.  Francisco Xavier da Cruz, who went by B. Leza, had written over 1,700 songs when he died in 1980, which remain the standards for the genre.  Late in life he became paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair.  He still performed, changing the form since he suffered from shortness of breath.  He shortened his words and swallowed some syllables, and did it so well it influenced the style of all morna singers.

Cesaria Evora, better known as the “barefoot diva” has sung mornas in concert all over the world once she was discovered in 1980.  She is the niece of B. Leza.   Check out the video below - English translation below the video.

The singer Bana, aka Andriano Conçalves is also hugely popular.  He and B. Leza performed together until the latter's death in 1958.  He is known as the King of the Cape Verde Islands.  His initial albums were so successful that he soon was performing in sold-out shows.  He retired in 1986, but did make one more album after that.  Fans are hoping he will make more.

Image courtesy of National Geographic World Music
The blues seem to appeal to many cultures, and they all have their takes on it. Morna is the Cape Verdean and Brazilian form, and is popular even in Portuguese, sharing the stage with fado.  The blues, whatever style you prefer, is about life, and life is not always fun and games.