Macrame Is About Much More Than 1970s Plant Hangers

My nephew was visiting last week, and because he is a big fan of Captain Jack Sparrow and all things tall ship, we visited the Maritime Museum of San Diego. You can walk through a variety of ships and submarines, all of which are listed on their website.

Besides being able to walk through all the ships at your own pace, the museum offers educational programs with instructors dressed in historically appropriate clothing, teaching various lessons about history and sailing. There are also exhibits about everything from emigration to tattoos to salmon fishing.

One display that caught my eye was about fancy knot work. I immediately flashed back to my tween years in the 1970s when I believed all homes should be decorated with macramé. Although since most of the macramé I remember were plant hangers, maybe I just liked the thought of all those plants.

Fancy Knot Work display at Maritime Museum of San Diego. Photo: Cathy Hanson

I’ve always known that ships are full of ropes, but I never thought about sailors through the centuries having free time. Combine free time, expert knowledge of knots and lots of rope, and it makes sense that they spent time knotting ropes to makes items both practical and decorative. Historically, they created a lot of floor mats to prevent slipping, covers for bottles to prevent breaking, covers for knife handles for a safer grip, and hammocks for sleeping.

Ropes and knots everywhere! HMS Surprise at the Maritime Museum of San Diego. Photo: Cathy Hanson

On boats, different functions are served by different knots. If a sailor went to a new boat, or a boat from another region, they may need to either learn knots that are new to them, or teach others to create the knots from their repertoire. Some knotters, then and now, kept knot boards, which display their skills and knowledge. After all, the safety of the ship and the crew depended upon the sailors’ skills with ropes and knots.

Various types of knots, Internationales Maritimes Museum Hamburg, Author: Andrey Belenko of Moscow, Russia

The first manual for seamen written in English was A Sea Grammar written by Captain John Smith and published in 1627. (Yes, that’s the same John Smith from the Pocahontas stories.) This book was mostly about sailing and living a life at sea, but included a section about splicing rope and tying knots.

Almost 400 years later, there have been many manuals written about knot-tying, most including illustrations to show how to tie each of the knots. The definitive reference is The Ashley Book of Knots by Clifford W. Ashley, published in 1944. It includes entries for over 3,800 knots. An alternate source of all things knots is the International Guild of Knot Tyers.

If you’re interested in creating your own decorative or practical items, or just learning how to tie various knots, there are many workshops and online tutorials available. If you like the nautical look of these items, but don’t want to make them yourself, there are plenty of places to buy items made by experts in the field.

Now, if we could only get Captain Jack Sparrow to lead a workshop about knot-tying.

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Unique and Creative Architecture

To me, one of the best things about travel is the architecture. I love to look at buildings, both in the United States and in other countries. Although I can recognize a flying buttress, I don’t really know much about it. Mostly I just know what I like. As an historian, architecture isn’t just beautiful. It gives clues about the culture that created it, and also the culture that either preserves or destroys it.

I remember the first time I saw photos of the work of the Catalan (Spain) architect, Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926). It was better than the fairy tale castle in Germany, and since then, Barcelona has been in the top 5 on the list of places I want to visit. Some things you just need to see up close and in person.

Portrait of Antoni Gaudí (1878) by Pablo Audouard Deglaire (1856 - 1919). Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Portrait of Antoni Gaudí (1878) by Pablo Audouard Deglaire (1856 – 1919). Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Most of you have probably heard of Gaudi and seen something that he created. He left a body of work that was unique and imaginative. He created not just buildings, but also parks and even lamp posts. His style was inspired by nature, utilizing more curves than straight lines.

Puerta de la Finca Miralles. Photo by Canaan via Wikimedia Commons.

Puerta de la Finca Miralles. Photo by Canaan via Wikimedia Commons.

But as for the man, most of us don’t know much about him except his work. As I’ve been reading about his life, he doesn’t fit the profile of our most famous artists.

He wasn’t from a wealthy or titled family. He was not involved in any scandals. His most outrageous behavior involved an arrest for his involvement in the cause of Catalan independence from Spain, a political battle that continues today. He was famous during his lifetime for his imagination and creativity, but he also had his critics, mostly those who don’t like change. But Gaudi always stayed true to his path and his vision.

Casa Mila. Photo by Olavfin via Wikimedia Commons.

Casa Mila. Photo by Olavfin via Wikimedia Commons.

Gaudi had rheumatism from a young age, which limited his activities as a child. He was a life-long vegetarian (before it was cool) in order to alleviate his illness. He spent most of his adult life living with and caring for his father and his niece. He never married, although it is rumored that he had fallen in love with a woman who did not return his affections.

My personal favorite, Casa Batllo. Photo by tato grasso via Wikimedia Commons.

My personal favorite, Casa Batllo. Photo by tato grasso via Wikimedia Commons.

Most importantly, Gaudi was a man of faith. He was a Catholic who, at least at the end of his life, went to church daily for prayer and confession. One of his most famous works, the Sagrada Familia, is a church that he devoted the last decade of his life to building. (It’s actually still not complete, although there is hope it will be done by 2026, the centennial of his death.)

Sagrada Familia interior. Photo by Charles Curling via Wikimedia Commons.

Sagrada Familia interior. Photo by Charles Curling via Wikimedia Commons.

Gaudi died as the result of a traffic accident. He was hit by a tram, and due to his humble attire, it was believed that he was a vagabond and he was not given immediate aid. By the time he was identified, it was too late to save him. He was interred in a crypt at Sagrada Familia.

One humble man who continues to make a huge impact on the world.

Park Guell. Photo by Canaan via Wikimedia Commons.

Park Guell. Photo by Canaan via Wikimedia Commons.

The famous mosaic salamander at Park Guell. Photo by Valérie et Agnès via Wikimedia Commons.

The famous mosaic salamander at Park Guell. Photo by Valérie et Agnès via Wikimedia Commons.

Astorga Palacio. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Astorga Palacio. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

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Recycling Buildings

I’m a great believer in recycling, reusing and re-purposing. Add in how much I love architecture, and you can imagine how happy I am when I see old buildings serving a new purpose.

The original purpose is not always obvious, but sometimes there are strong clues. Here are some buildings I noticed on our recent trip to England. Everybody loves other peoples’ vacation photos, right?

pizza-express-dairy-supply-companyThis Pizza Express was at one time the Dairy Supply Company. Love those windows. By the way, I’m pretty sure that in London you can’t go more than two or three blocks without running into another Pizza Express. I believe this one was near Emirates Stadium, home of Arsenal Football Club. It’s good that they’re easy to find, because they have pretty good food.

the-comedy-pub-piccadillys-no-7-piano-barThe Comedy Pub at one point was Piccadilly’s No 7 Piano Bar.

the-old-lifeboat-house-bistroThe Old Lifeboat House Bistro in Penzance was actually the building that housed the town’s lifeboat from 1884 until 1917.  Improvements in lifeboat technology allowed Cornwall to have fewer lifeboats and still be more efficient, so the Penzance lifeboat was moved to another town. The steak I had here was amazing, rivaled only by the steaks my brother-in-law Wayne has barbecued for me.

chapel-rock-cafeThe Chapel Rock Cafe in Marazion in Cornwall, just across the beach from St. Michael’s Mount. I don’t know what it used to be, but it’s a great building. And as the sign says, they have Fresh Newlyn Crab, which my daughter said was delicious.

yha-london-st-pauls-hostelThis is YHA (Youth Hostel Association) London St. Paul’s, which is right around the corner from St. Paul’s Cathedral. The window in our room perfectly framed the cathedral’s dome. From 1875 until the 1960s, this building was the choirboys’ school for St. Paul’s.

Recycled buildings are everywhere, we just have to pay attention to what we’re seeing. Feel free to share your favorite example.

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Check Out This Tidal Island, St. Michael’s Mount

My daughter and I just from our vacation in England, so I will be sharing some interesting stuff with you over the next few weeks.

First, a tidal island is a piece of land that you can walk to from the mainland via a causeway during low tide. But during high tide, the causeway is submerged. St. Michael’s Mount is a tidal island in Mount’s Bay in Cornwall. Here are some interesting bits and pieces about St. Michael’s Mount.

  • The distance from the mainland to the island is about 550 yards.
Walking the causeway at low tide. Photo: Cathy Hanson

Walking the causeway at low tide. Photo: Cathy Hanson

  • This year marked the completion of resetting much of the cobble causeway after it was dislodged during the devastating storms of February 2014.
  • Walking on cobbled pathways is hard on your feet and ankles.
Ouchy! Photo: Cathy Hanson

Ouchy! Photo: Cathy Hanson

  • The island has changed hands throughout history, mostly due to politics or religion. It was awarded as a prize until the St. Aubyn family purchased it in the 17th century. The family still lives there, although I assume they can drive straight up to the castle so they don’t have to walk on those cobbled paths, up and down the steps and the hill, every day.
Medieval steps. Photo: Cathy Hanson

Medieval steps. Photo: Cathy Hanson

  • Approximately 12 families, about 30 people, live on the island full-time. Now that is small-town life.
  • To a certain extent, although not as much as in the past, the days are dictated by the tides and the weather.
  • The earliest of the buildings on the island date to the 12th century.
The castle. Photo: Cathy Hanson

The castle. Photo: Cathy Hanson

  • Due to the island’s religious history as a monastery and the belief that it is sacred ground, pilgrims have crossed to the island for centuries. The first man-made causeway was laid in the 15th century to accommodate those pilgrims.
I love round architecture. Photo: Cathy Hanson

I love round architecture. Photo: Cathy Hanson

  • The island (and most of the southern coast of England) was hit by a tsunami caused by the 1755 earthquake that destroyed Lisbon, Portugal.
  • Due to harbor improvements in 1727, it became a flourishing seaport, with the population peaking at 221 people in 1821.
Renowned gardens viewed from the top of the castle. Photo: Cathy Hanson

Renowned gardens viewed from the top of the castle. Photo: Cathy Hanson

Harbor at low tide. Photo: Cathy Hanson

Harbor at low tide. Photo: Cathy Hanson

  • In 1954 the third Lord St. Leven gifted most of the island to the National Trust with an endowment for upkeep. The agreement includes a 999-year lease for the family to live there and show the historical rooms to the visiting public.
  • Approximately 300,000 people visit the island each year.
  • The castle was featured in the 1979 film Dracula.
And here's the causeway disappearing under the incoming tide. Photo: Cathy Hanson

And here’s the causeway disappearing under the incoming tide. Photo: Cathy Hanson

Have any of my readers been to St. Michael’s Mount? Or do you have another favorite tidal island?

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Historic Pool Rescued Again

This past weekend my daughter and I spent some time planning our trip to the United Kingdom in September. One website for a B&B in Penzance said that it overlooked the Jubilee Pool and I immediately wondered why that was a big deal.

Turns out the Jubilee Pool is a lido, which is an open-air public swimming pool. It opened in 1935 and marked the Silver Jubilee of King George V, grandfather of Queen Elizabeth II. Since a pool is definitely more fun and useful than a statue, I think that was a good call.

George V in coronation robes, painting by Luke Fildes (1843-1927). Photo via Wikimedia Commons

George V in coronation robes, painting by Luke Fildes (1843-1927). Photo via Wikimedia Commons

With a little research I discovered that there was a lido craze in the UK at the time, so Penzance was able to honor the King while also being municipally fashionable. The Jubilee Bathing Pool was one of 169 lidos built in the UK in the 1930s as a symbol of those modern times that are now our history.

This wasn’t your basic outdoor swimming pool. Rather than chlorinated water, the pool is filled with fresh seawater, controlled by gates that allow the right amount of water in and out. That this lido existed, along with 168 others, gives us a glimpse into the culture of the time just before World War II. There is also the architectural importance of the Art Deco styling that was popular at the time. The pool, designed by Captain Latham, has curves that conform to the rocks and the wave patterns of its specific location. Also, it’s huge and shaped like a triangle instead of a boring rectangle.

Jubilee Pool. Photo: Nilfanion via Wikimedia Commons

Jubilee Pool. Photo: Nilfanion via Wikimedia Commons

Unfortunately, the lidos fell out of fashion. International travel, including travel to warm beaches, became more affordable for families. The lidos weren’t always well-maintained and began to deteriorate.

By 1992, the Jubilee Pool was showing her age and a retired local architect formed The Jubilee Pool Association to obtain grant funding to restore the pool. In 1994 the restored Jubilee Pool reopened to huge crowds, proof that if the pool was kept in reasonable condition, both locals and tourists would continue to use this piece of history.

And everything went along swimmingly (sorry, I really couldn’t help that) until February 2014. That winter the UK was hit by a series of severe storms, resulting in flooding, power outages, transportation interruptions and evacuations throughout the country. The coastal areas, like Penzance, suffered strong winds, high tides, coastal erosion and waves at record heights.

These storms caused structural damage to the pool, and that damage revealed other structural issues. Once again, using grants and other monies, the pool was rebuilt at a cost of almost £3 million. It just reopened this month, again to huge crowds, and a little bit of history is saved. Although it won’t be open when I get there in September, our chosen B&B has a view.

This is a great statue of King George V, but wouldn't you rather have a pool? Photo: Darwinek via Wikimedia Commons

This is a great statue of King George V, but wouldn’t you rather have a pool? Photo: Darwinek via Wikimedia Commons

So what about you? Would you rather be honored with a pool or a statue?

*Interesting note: King George V died less than a year after the opening of the Jubilee Pool and was succeeded by his son, Edward VIII. Edward VIII served only 326 days as king before abdicating due to the scandal of his marriage to the twice-divorced American, Wallis Simpson. I’m sure you’ve heard of them.

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Historical Weather Records

I’m on vacation in Spokane, Washington this week for my niece’s wedding, so today, rather than a full post, I’m going to give you some facts.

The Great Northern Railway Depot clock tower and United States Pavillion in Spokane's Riverfront Park. Photo: Mark Wagner (User:Carnildo) via Wikimedia Commons

The Great Northern Railway Depot clock tower and United States Pavillion in Spokane’s Riverfront Park. Photo: Mark Wagner (User:Carnildo) via Wikimedia Commons

Yesterday it was 95 degrees, breaking the previous record for this date, which had stood since 1882.

Today it was 96 degrees, breaking the previous record for this date, which was set in 1970.

Tomorrow may or may not beat the record set in 1931.

So happy for air conditioning!

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Is There Really a Mystery Here?

Historians love cemeteries. Years ago I was checking out a cemetery in Spokane, Washington and noticed a high percentage of headstones for babies who had died in the 1950s. Curious, I discovered that Rebecca Nappi, a reporter for the local Spokesman-Review, had written several articles about this, but she had never found a definitive answer.

Photo by Jim and Linda Hanson

Photo by Jim and Linda Hanson

But let me start at the beginning. The Fort George Wright Cemetery was officially opened in 1899 and the first burials were reburials from Fort Spokane and Fort Sherman. Located on a bluff overlooking the Spokane River, this new cemetery was for military veterans and for active duty military and their families.

Photo by Jim and Linda Hanson

Photo by Jim and Linda Hanson

All branches of the military are represented, and the cemetery has always been integrated. It has been owned by Fairchild Air Force Base since 1957, when the Army left Fort George Wright and the cemetery was labeled as surplus. Only 1.7 acres, the cemetery contains about 650 graves. At approximately the same time that Fairchild took over, the cemetery was closed to new burials, except for those who had already reserved a plot.

Photo by Jim and Linda Hanson

Photo by Jim and Linda Hanson

About 325 of those 650 graves belong to children. About 40% of the total, 261, are the graves of babies born to military families between 1951 and 1959.

So what happened? The journalist I referenced above, Rebecca Nappi, researched military, hospital and death records and interviewed doctors who had practiced during that time period. For a large number of the babies at this cemetery, the cause of death was listed as either stillborn or premature. Nobody remembers any type of epidemic ravaging the town, especially one that lasted an entire decade. Most of these babies were born at the Fairchild Air Force Base hospital, but there also seems to have been a spike in infant deaths of babies born in other hospitals in Spokane.

Photo by Jim and Linda Hanson

Photo by Jim and Linda Hanson

There are certain factors that explain what seems to be an inordinately large number of deaths.

  • A lot more babies were being born, as there was a post-war baby boom from 1946 to 1964, explaining a generation of people called “Baby Boomers”. Hey, it’s more self-explanatory than “GenX”.
  • We must remember that the 1950s were a different time. The level of prenatal care was much lower than today.
  • Technology was, obviously, not as advanced. In the 1950s, if a baby was born weighing 3 pounds or less, there was very little chance that baby would survive. They did not have the tools and knowledge then that are available to doctors and nurses today.
  • There were cultural differences between then and now. People generally did not talk about these deaths. There weren’t support groups. People believed in their doctors and did not question them.
  • This cemetery was not open to everyone. Therefore the pool of people allowed to be interred here is limited and is skewed to certain groups. Older veterans could be buried here, but may have made other arrangements in order to be with their families. But the families of active duty military are allowed and those young parents would have wanted their children buried somewhere close.
Photo by Jim and Linda Hanson

Photo by Jim and Linda Hanson

I don’t feel there is any mystery surrounding the number of infants buried at Fort George Wright Cemetery. But I remember walking through this cemetery with my daughter and feeling a deep sadness for those families. It was a reminder not to take anything for granted. Life is fragile.

***It’s been years since I visited this cemetery, so I’d like to thank my parents, intrepid cub reporters Jim and Linda, for checking out the cemetery this weekend and providing me with current photos.

 

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Where the Beat Generation Meets the Zapatistas

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that I love bookstores. Combine that with the wannabe artist side of my personality, and I found the perfect place to visit in San Francisco.

I knew before my trip to San Francisco last week that I wanted to stop at the iconic City Lights Booksellers & Publishers. Poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Peter D. Martin founded the bookstore in 1953 and began publishing in 1955. Both as a bookstore and as a publisher, City Lights have a reputation for intellectual inquiry and progressive politics.

City Lights Bookstore on Columbus Avenue in San Francisco. Photo: Caroline Culler (User:Wgreaves) via Wikimedia Commons

City Lights Bookstore on Columbus Avenue in San Francisco. Photo: Caroline Culler (User:Wgreaves) via Wikimedia Commons

In 1957 Ferlinghetti was arrested for publishing and selling Howl and Other Poems by Allen Ginsberg. This famous obscenity trial, which they won, was a landmark free-speech decision. Once synonymous with the Beat Generation writers of the 1950s like Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, City Lights has retained its anti-authoritarian attitude.

Corner of City Lights bookstore. Photo: Cathy Hanson

Corner of City Lights bookstore. Photo: Cathy Hanson

Behind the City Lights building is an alley that connects the North Beach and Chinatown neighborhoods. For years it was stinky, seedy and dangerous. Ferlinghetti was a force behind changing the name to Jack Kerouac Alley, but the cleanup didn’t happen until the Chinatown Alleyway Improvement Project to rebuild alleys in Chinatown.

Mural behind City Lights bookstore. Photo: Cathy Hanson

Mural behind City Lights bookstore. Photo: Cathy Hanson

Opened in 2007, cars and trucks are no longer allowed, the alley has been resurfaced and includes plaques inscribed with quotes from writers, including Jack Kerouac. The streetlights were replaced, and there is a mural covering the exterior back wall of City Lights.

Prisoner. Photo: Cathy Hanson

Prisoner. Photo: Cathy Hanson

I found the mural as interesting as the bookstore, especially after I did a little research. Painted in 1999, the mural is a reproduction of a mural, Life and Dreams of the Perla River Valley, originally painted in the village of Taniperla in Chiapas, Mexico by artist Sergio Valdez Rubalcaba. It was painted on the headquarters of the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN), a group that fought for indigenous rights in the 1990s.

Maya Angelou quote. Photo: Cathy Hanson

Maya Angelou quote. Photo: Cathy Hanson

In 1998 Mexican Army troops occupied the village and destroyed property, including the mural. Rubalcaba was charged with rebellion for designing the mural and sentenced to nine years in prison, although he ultimately served one and a half years. Human rights workers searched globally for places willing to create reproductions of the mural to show solidarity with the indigenous people whose village was occupied and property destroyed. There are at least six other reproductions in three other countries.

The choice of mural for the back wall of City Lights makes clear that the bookstore maintains its counterculture attitude. That’s my kind of independent bookstore.

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Some People Create Their Own Legends

Angel Falls / Kerepakupai-meru. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Angel Falls / Kerepakupai-meru. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Years ago I had a poster on my wall showing Angel Falls in Venezuela, the highest waterfall in the world at 3,212 feet. To give a sense of scale, the photo included what appeared to be a teeny tiny airplane flying in front of the falls. Looking at that poster, it made sense that Angel Falls is one of the top tourist attractions in Venezuela, even if access was limited by the location.

Angel Falls is located in what is now Canaima National Park. The falls begin near the summit of Auyantepui, one of the many table top mountains (tepui) scattered around the area, so-called because of their flat tops and vertical sides. There is a wet season and dry season, which affect not only the volume of water in the falls, but also how easy it is for tourists to access the site by boat.

Landscape with Tepuis, Canaima National Park, Venezuela. Photo: Diego Delso via Wikimedia Commons

Landscape with Tepuis, Canaima National Park, Venezuela. Photo: Diego Delso via Wikimedia Commons

According to recent legend, Angel Falls was “discovered” by American pilot Jimmie Angel in the 1930s. Of course, as a piece of nature that has existed since long before the 1930s, it was actually made public rather than discovered by Angel.

James Crawford Angel (1899-1956) was one of those oddities that can make historians crazy. There are many stories about his life and adventures, but almost nothing that can be independently corroborated. Jimmie was a storyteller and a salesman, and what he told people about his life was not always entirely accurate, and varied depending upon the audience. Basically, it’s easy to find information about Jimmie Angel in books and all over the internet, but it is almost impossible to separate fact from fiction.

What is true is that he was a pilot. He was an adventurer and spent much of his life in Central and South America. He died in Panama in 1956 due to complications from injuries suffered while landing his plane. His ashes were spread over Angel Falls by his sons in 1960. His death certificate listed his occupation as “Explorer”.

Jimmie Angel's plane. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Jimmie Angel’s plane. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Because Angel lived in the early twentieth century, you would think that we would have access to adequate resources to enable us to either verify or disprove all (or at least most) of the stories. Angel’s life is basically an oral history, consisting of stories that he told and stories that others told about him. It’s like talking to ten different eye witnesses to a crime and getting ten different statements.

And sometimes people try to change the legend. In 2009 Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez changed the name of Angel Falls to Kerepakupai-meru, an indigenous name for Venezuela’s most famous landmark. I imagine most people still call it Angel Falls.

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