Friday, July 31, 2015

The Blue Moon

Today we will see a "Blue Moon"! Its a rare phenomenon when we have more than the general amount of full moons in a season. As it happens so infrequently, hence the expression about something happening "once in a blue moon".

Lunar activity is always compelling. Even though we have actually stepped on its surface, it still hold magic for us, with people recording its unusual or spectacular activity.

For example, on May 18, 1761, the moon was plunged into darkness for an hour and a half, in a deep total eclipse that showed the moon 45% of its diameter inside the Earth's shadow. Because of the Earth's atmosphere at the moment and evidence of volcanic eruption in the Indonesian Island of Halmahera, the moon looked red in color! You can imagine the fear and trepidation.

Nevertheless, as spooky as it might have been, it must also have been remarkable. So, don't forget to look up into the sky tonight. You may be able to see the Blue Moon!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

One Man's Treasure

Yesterday, a bit of debris was retrieved from the ocean near the east coast of Africa that might lead investigators to understand what happened to the Flight MH370, the Malaysian airliner that was lost last year somewhere in the Indian ocean. It's a long shot. The piece of "wing" is only 6 ft long. 

The mysteries that the sea sometimes gives up are always fascinating. Recently, professional treasure hunters discovered over $1 million dollars worth of coins and jewels in a shipwreck from the 18th Century. The Spanish ship, called the Capitana, was the flagship of the Spanish fleet that sank in a hurricane in July of 1715, going through Florida to Havana carrying loads of fortune! Its captain was Don Juan Esteban de Ubilla.

The treasure found includes 51 gold coins, 40 ft. of ornate gold chain and a Tricentennial Royal, an extremely rare Spanish coin valued at about $500,000 by today's standard, which was minted to honor King Felipe V of Spain. The ship was carrying more than 3.5 million pesos in treasure, including the queen’s jewels, when it sank A lot more impressive than a 6' section of a wing (maybe), but as they say, "one man's junk is another man's treasure". If the wing debris leads to the area where the plane crashed, a lot of folks will have the treasured closure they hope for.

The Capitana haul represents part of the 300th anniversary of the ship wreck. The coins are now on display at the Naval Museum in Cádiz.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

"Museum-Quality" Doodles!

The other day, I saw an interesting bit in the internet about Michelangelo and his market list! We think we are the only ones that doodle in the corners of our note pads, or pieces of paper we carry about to remind us of what to accomplish.
Of course, more and more people now enter these items in their Iphone apps, but the charm of individual or eccentric artistry goes by the wayside!

Whether Michelangelo sent his list with a servant, or went to the marketplace square by himself, this list is really a kick. He draws in a fish, fennel soup, a bottle of wine, etc etc. Perhaps the servant was illiterate. This would be a good way to guide him with the purchases. The list is archived at a museum in Florence, the Casa Buonarroti, along with other of his handwritten notes.

By the 18th Century, we have Thomas Jefferson, maybe not doodling, but keeping handwritten lists of the mundane.  Shown here at right are lists of vegetables and fruits sold from 1801-1809 from his garden. He was an avid gardener, and collector, who kept records of a wide variety of plants in his garden, but also the vegetables in the market in Washington DC, charting the first and last days the vegetables were available!  

And then there was Wolfgang Mozart, who did doodle on his letters! One example, above, is a drawing of his cousin Basle. 

Friday, July 24, 2015

Indiana Jones, 18th Century Style

Recently, (I don't know what possessed me), but I got out my DVD series of the wonderful Indiana Jones saga.  I started looking at Raiders of the Lost Ark, and soon I was hooked. I have now watched them all, and looking at the "bonus" disc of the making of each of the films. It really is an addictive thing. For those interested, there is an actual site, that of course, promotes the sale of all the films, but also has information about archeology in the 1930's, Indy's bio, the villains, etc. etc.

As we know, archaeology is the study of human activity through the ages, primarily focused on recovering artifacts, cultural data, human remains, religious practices, architecture, and analyzing the findings, not only for their place in history  at the time but as a benchmark as it relates to other time periods. We get to understand peoples of a different age, but how they relate to the people we are today. 

I looked into the history of archaeology, especially through the 18th century, and can report the following:
The antiquarian movement of the 17th Century gave rise to a nationalistic endeavor to turn private collections over to museums for the general public's education and pleasure. By the way, antiquarians were those interested in personal collections of artifacts and curios, usually kept in their homes, libraries filled with bones, fossils, or shards of pottery  from ancient civilizations. One could play the "scientist" and boast a bit about their particular collection to those who were invited to view!  

People were hired by museums to go out and look for collections, and entice the owners to give up their personal treasures for the greater good, and perhaps with their name attached to the particular museum gallery in which they were to be displayed. One man, Giovanni Battista Belzoni, was hired by Henry Salt, British consul to Egypt, to gather antiquities for England from far away lands. London, of course, to this day, has one of the greatest collections of Egyptian antiquities in the world.

The father of archaeological excavation is William Cunnington, who lived from 1754-1810.  He undertook excavations in Wiltshire, England around 1798, along. His work was funded by a number of patrons.  

Cunnington's terms for categorizing archaeological finds are still used today. He kept meticulous records of Neolithic and Bronze Age barrows. The first use of a trowel as an excavation tool are sited in a letter Cunnington wrote to one of his wealthy patrons, Richard Colt Hoare, in 1808.

A casual aside: One of the Freemason's tools is the trowel, symbolic of  "the more noble purpose of spreading the cement of brotherly love and affection, that cement which unites us into one sacred band or society of friends, among whom no contention should ever exist, but that noble contention, or rather emulation, of who can best work and best agree."
The Masonic ideal was very popular in the 18th century. Among some of the notables were Founding Fathers George Washington, musician Mozart was a mason. Alexander I Zsar of Russia, poet Robert Burns, naval hero John Paul Jones, and
Madame de Xaintrailles, Republican heroine of the French Revolution.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

A Pie is not always a pasty!

I have been watching the new PBS series, Poldark, set in the 18th Century. The leading character, Russ Poldark, is from Cornwall, England.  After fighting in the American Revolutionary War, with General Cornwallis' defeat,  the British soldiers return home, Poldark, among them, only to find his father dead, their lands left unkempt, and their copper mine abandoned. Russ picks up the mantle, and tries to make a go of it. It's a good story, based on a series of novels by British author Winston Greene (1908 – 2003). (He also wrote Marnie in 1961, later turned into the Alfred Hitchcock film).

Cornwall is noted for its tin and copper mines, producing the majority of the UK's production of these metals until very recently. So, mining was the thing in the region, hence the story revolves around the importance to the success or failure of the area residents.

And, now for the best part! The Cornish pasty! During the 17th and 18th centuries the pasty became popular with the workers in Cornwall, the miners adopting it as the food of choice for their daily fare. It had a unique shape, forming a complete meal that could be carried easily and eaten without forks or knives. In the mines,  the pasty's dense, folded pastry would stay warm for several hours, and if it did get cold it could easily be warmed on a shovel over a candle flame!

The side-crimped edge gave rise to the thought that the miner might have eaten the pasty holding the thick edge of pastry, which was later thrown away,  ensuring that his dirty fingers  did not touch food or his mouth. There was fear of intake of arsenic. This may or may not be true, but I don't believe poor folk would throw away any food.

The recipe for the Cornish pasty, includes diced or minced beef, onion, potato and swede (a turnip type vegetable) in rough chunks seasoned lightly with pepper and salt. The cut of beef used is usually skirt steak. Sometimes carrots are included, but generally frowned upon in Cornwall. Baked in shortcut barley flour pastry 'til golden brown, they make a hearty meal.  

There is a belief that the pastry on a good pasty should be strong enough to withstand a drop down a mine shaft! By the way, the pasty recipe and its traditional "D" shape have a protected status. A meat pie may not always be a pasty!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Bobbin Weave!

With a pending trip to the Normandy area in France, I am starting to research some of the local color, so to speak, and found that in Bayeux, lace making has been a big deal for centuries. These wonderful traditions of handiwork, if not passed on to new generations, will soon be gone, the way of so many beautiful, artistic endeavors. But, the citizens of Bayeux are doing something about that, giving classes to locals, and selling their finished product to visitors! Yay!

By the way, Bayeux is a small town in northwest France, established during the Roman Empire as Augustodurum (durum meaning Gate) about 4 miles from the coast of the English Channel. It later took the name of a 
Celtic  tribe, Bodicassi (meaning Blond Locks).

But the lace making is the thing to remember! Lace originated in Venice in the 1300's, but by the mid 1600's, any lace not made in France was prohibited in France, and so French artisans really stepped up their game, in order to compete on the world stage.

Lace was made to adorn the fronts of gowns, called engageantes. Sleeve ruffles were called quills. Lace was used for aprons as well as head caps. This delicate lace was created  with either a needle or bobbins. Bobbin lace is created by weaving linen threads separated by weighed bobbins around pins stuck in a pattern on a little circular pillow. Pins are removed as sections develop, and then the pins are reinserted to a new portion. Sometimes, between 80 and 200 bobbins have to be manipulated to create the most intricate patterns!

After the French Revolution, and the banning of ruffles in 1794, production really fell off. Can you imagine a law banning ruffles!! But, the town of Alencon continued to produce its noted lace. Good thing for us!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Raise a Glass to New Horizon!

With the Pluto flyby last night, which I find very exciting, I wanted to pay tribute to astronomy, and found this quaint bit from the 18th Century. Apparently there is a Astronomer's Drinking Song, sung at a dinner in 1798 at the Mathematical Society in London, to honor Mr. Fletcher, the society's solicitor. The society had begun giving public lectures on mathematical or philosophical subjects. An action was brought against the organization for holding unlicensed public forums. The charge was £5000. Mr. Fletcher refused to pay! And so in his honor as a tribute, the drinking song was composed!

Here below is a good deal of it!

Whoe'ver would search the starry sky,
Its secrets to divine, sir,
Should take his glass - I mean, should try
A glass or two of wine, sir!
True virtue lies in golden mean,
And man must wet his clay, sire;
Join these two maxims, and 'tis seen
He should drink his bottle a day, sir!

Old Archimedes, reverend sage!
By trump of fame renowned, sir,
Deep problems solved in every page,
And the sphere's curved surface found, sir;
Himself he would have far outshone,
And borne a wider sway, sir
Had he our modern secret known,
And drank a bottle a day, sir!

When Ptolemy, now long ago,
Believed the earth stood still, sir!,
He never would have blundered so,
Had he but drunk his fill, sir:
He'd then have felt it circulate,
And would have learnt to say, sir,
The true way to investigate
Is to drink your bottle a day, sir!

Copernicus, that learned wight,
The glory of his nation,
With draughts of wine refreshed his sight,
And saw the earth's rotation;
Each planet then its orb described,
The moon got under way, sir;
These truths from nature he imbibed
For he drank his bottle a day, sir!

(more vodka needed)

The noble Tycho placed the stars,
Each in its due location;
He lost his nose by spite of Mars,
But that was no privation;
Had he but lost his mouth, I grant
He would have felt dismay, sir,
Bless you! he knew what he should want
To drink his bottle a day, sir!

Cold water makes no lucky hits;
On mysteries the head runs:
Small drink let Kepler time his wits
On the regular polyhedrons:
He took to wine, and it changed the chime,
His genius swept away, sir,
Through area varying as the time
At the rate of a bottle a day, sir!

(Many more verses continue the chronology; then the final verse)

How light we reck of those who mock
By this we'll make to appear, sir,
We'll dine by the sidereal clock
For one more bottle a year, sir:
But choose which pendulum you will,
You'll never made your way, sir,
Unless you drink - and drink your fill, -
At least a bottle a day, sir.

So, with that, I think it's time to toast one up to NASA's New Horizon team and their incredible flyby accomplishment.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Happy Bastille Day!

A friend reminded me that today is Bastille Day, and so Happy Bastille Day! Today marks the 225th anniversary of the storming of the Bastille prison on July 14, 1789, marking the culmination in Paris of the violent revolution that begun in 1797, and the unity of the French people against the monarchy. 

By order of the new government, the prison was torn down. On February 6, 1790 the last stone of the hated fortress was presented to the National Assembly. Not too long after, the 14th of July was made the official national holiday.

And by the way, the key to the prison was entrusted by French General Marquis de Lafayette to Thomas Paine, to give to General George Washington as a symbol of solidarity and friendship. The key, to this day, hangs in the entryway hall of Mount Vernon!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Cur non?

Recently I saw a wonderful report about the frigate "Hermoine", an exact reproduction of General Marquis de Lafayette's 18th Century ship that he brought to America to fight along side General Washington in the Revolutionary War (1780). The project was started about 20 years ago, a group of folks deciding to try to reconstruction this very famous ship.

It's taken a long time (beginning in 1997), and a lot of money, I'm sure, but today the work is completed! It is the most authentically built tallship in 150 years! It set sail from France recently in April of this year, with a destination to the United states for this Summer 2015!

The journey started from the River Charente in Port des Barques where General Lafayette originally came aboard in March 1780, a 38-day passage, arriving in Boston. He reported to Gen. Washington, and played a major role in the victory achieved on October 19, 1781.

This new crossing to the US has taken a little under a month. On July 6th, the event culminated in the ship's arrival in Greenport's harbor, Long Island, NY, in time to be a part of the four-day Tall Ship festival! You can imagine what a magnificent site!

The Marquis' motto was "Cur non", or "Why not?" Why not, indeed! Nothing really great is accomplished without taking the big chance! And this endeavor was truly worth the effort. Not only exciting to see Hermoine sail again, but the preservation of history is the most important aspect of the reconstruction!

Monday, July 6, 2015

Phisick: Medical Remedies from 1710

The other night, I watched another episode of The Crimson Field, a new PBS series about a British military field hospital located in France during the first World War. So very interesting. Last night one part of the story revolved around an experimental procedure for saving a soldier's leg from amputation. It was real quite hideous to watch, very graphic, with the soldier writhing in pain. The doctor finally admits that it is an experiment with an outside-chance effort to save the leg. The soldier, after much anger and consideration, decides to give it a try.

Experimentation in medical practice is nothing new, and oft times leads to a correct answer, and to medical advancement.

In the 18th century, much earlier however, some "cures" seem downright barbaric, ridiculous and cruel, but sometimes had their positive effect, even if for the wrong reason. Giving someone a dose of a poisonous substance, could in turn purge the body of an unknown toxin, and by chance, result in a cure. A lot of it was trial and error.

In 1710, a book of remedies was published, called A Book of phisick, 1710-1725. It includes a collection of medical cures and remedies written in English, of 217 pages. It is even said to contain even a "receipt for a person to make her husband love her". Now, that's quite a prescription! (if it works). haha

Most of the remedies involve the use of plants and minerals to cure everything from bad breath to cancer. Some of these treatments are still found today in non-Western areas, but used extremely carefully.

Here's a quirky one:
A remedy for breast cancer - "ingredients like sage, bay leaves, chamomile, and red roses, all left to mature in a dunghill for precisely eight days". I guess then it was topically applied. Good luck!

Here's another for "The Gripe" (upset stomach):
"The recipe required a gallon of brandy and as many mature poppy leaves--which would have been heavy with opium--as could be stuffed into a container. The concoction was left to steep for a few days, strained, and then mixed with some nice liquors to make it more palatable;--3 or 4 spoonfuls at a time is enough. And for children, just two, with a little water. It was probably incredibly effective--unconscious people are seldom bothered by stomach upset."

So there you have it, "modern medicine"! I guess we shouldn't be too critical. After all, what good does some of our current trends do, i.e. snail slime facial treatments! As a matter of fact, when I was recently in London, while I was in a Boots Chemist store (an all-purpose drug store), I came upon a shelf teaming with snail slime products. I was horrified! I took a picture of it, too! See below. I almost feel sorry for the poor snails who have given their lives for science of this type!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Evolution of the Holiday!

The 4th of July holiday is only days away, with its festive Red, White and Blue décor, themed pies and cakes, and the Capitol Fourth TV program. Of course, there will be the Buy One, Get one Half Off Big Blow Out sales, and fireworks when darkness descends.
But let's look at the beginnings of the celebration:

In 1777, thirteen gunshots were fired in salute, once at morning and once again as evening fell, on the 4th in Bristol, Rhode Island. Philadelphia celebrated the first time in a manner a modern American would find quite familiar: an official dinner for the Continental Congress, toasts,  a 13 gun salute, speeches, prayers, music, parades, troop reviews, and fireworks. Ships were decked with red, white, and blue bunting in the harbor.

In 1778, General George Washington marked July 4 with a double ration of rum  for his soldiers and an artillery salute . Across the Atlantic Ocean,  John Adams and Ban Franklin held a dinner for their fellow Americans in Paris, France.

In 1779, July 4 fell on a Sunday. The holiday was celebrated on Monday, July 5.

In 1781 the Massachusetts General Court  became the first state legislature to recognize July 4 as a state celebration.

In 1783, Moravians in Salem, NC held a celebration of July 4 with a challenging music program assembled titled "The Psalm of Joy." This is recognized as the first recorded celebration and is still celebrated there today.

In 1791 the first recorded use of the name "Independence Day" occurred.

In 1870, the US Congress made Independence Day an unpaid holiday for federal employees.

In 1938, Congress changed Independence Day to a paid federal holiday.

And from this time forward, the holiday has become more and more commercial. Everyone puts on the Red, White and blue, but do they truly recall the holidays meaning. When you celebrate this year, give that some thought! Once upon a time, a lot of folks paid dearly for us to enjoy our freedom today!