Friday, July 31, 2009

Day 148/365 I Had A Farm in Africa.....

Or, at least a small house.

And it was actually my parents house.

Which they were renting.

But it was in Africa.

Other than that, me and Isak Dinesin both played "Out of Africa".

Her in the early 1900's, me in 1972.

Her on a coffee plantation in Kenya, me at age 16 with my parents at a fisheries wildlife station in Chilanga, Zambia, a little wide spot in the road outside of the capitol Lusaka.

She got the hot adventuresome lover played by Robert Redford, I got bored to tears because I wanted to be home in the States with my friends.

Nevertheless, this was the first building I saw when we landed in Lusaka. This is a modern-day photo, after they added the pavement and the grass. I had expected Africa to be all wild animals, and bush huts. It wasn't. Lusaka was traffic, hoards of people (all chattering in different languages -Zambia's official language was English, but there were 300 common tribal dialects. No one understood anyone else).

This was our home in Chilanga, with it's beautiful bouganvilla climbing over the front door. The rooms were all painted pink or aqua, and up by the ceilings there were huge flat wall spiders the size of saucers who ate the mosquitos at night. It was one of those things you got use to.

This was our servants home, which sat just down the hill in back of our house. It took a good month to convince my mother that she "needed" a house servant. The local Africans would come and knock on the door asking if Mam needed help. They knocked a lot. Finally it was explained to us that as "English" (anyone white was considered English, with actual nationality listed after that - we were English-American). Anyway, as "English" we were considered the "new business" come to town, and owed it to the community to employ someone.

Or in this case, someone and his wife. With their children. And this little white house was considered "the upper East Side" in Chilanga.

Afternoon life in Chilanga. This is what happens when video games haven't been invented, and all electricity comes from a generator.

Villagers in the Chambeshi River using fishnets. You could just as easily see the village women out washing their fabric wraps on the rocks, avoiding hippos and crocodiles who share the river with them. (Note: Hippos are cute. And mean. Avoid them.) (This is not meant as any sort of endorsement for the crocodiles, but they are usually self-explanatory.).

The southern plains of Zambia. The bush, so to speak. The home of 6 foot tall termite hills and herds of hundreds of wildebeasts.

A very tidy village we drove through, with no apparent sign of life. It was not uncommon to see huts with TV antennas sprouting from the roof. There was no TV inside, nor any sort of TV reception or for that matter any TV station for hundreds of miles, but having an antenna was a sign of wealth.

One of the first fisheries tilapia ponds near Chilanga. I got to see a lot of this, since dad worked with the newly-emerging fisheries industry in Zambia. At the time he was helping Zambia find new industries and food sources, one of those being a fish called tilapia. At the time tilapia was almost unknown to the West, but now, thirty-seven years later, you can buy family pack boxes at Walmart (and I do). Tilapia is native to Zambia, particularly Lake Bangweulu.

The beautiful Lake Bangweulu, looking for all the world like the Indian Ocean, but it wasn't.

Kafue National Park - FINALLY - I got to see the Africa I expected. It never, ever dawned on me that in Africa (of all places), the wild animals would be confined to national parks. Yes, even in Africa, the only place to see giraffes, elephants, lions, zebras, wildebeasts, etc is inside a national park. I found that incredibly depressing. I was hoping there was still someplace in the world where they could run free. So remember that the next time you're watching a cool Nat'l Geo show - yep - national park.

Whomping willow? NO! African Baobab tree. Very cool, HUGE possessed trees that look like they could swallow a small car, and sit next to a large wizard's school.

Zambian plains, on the way south to Livingstone. In 1972, the only road was a single lane of asphalt, the width of a Volkswagen Beetle. When one met oncoming traffic, each vehicle was expected to drop two of their wheels off the asphalt edge, and share the asphalt strip. This is why even today "overcorrecting" while driving holds no mystery for me - I've done it, in a VW Bug, faced with a large oncoming dilapidated truck, loaded with cargo and passengers hanging off the sides, driven by a driver who may or may not have been licensed. Never mind the zebras.

Our destination and reason for the adenturous drive south - my one birthday request: a visit to Victoria Falls, the largest waterfall in the world.

It was amazing. Criss-crossed with tiny hanging bridges, surrounded by rainbows, rain forest greenery wet with mist that hung in the air, and nothing but the sound of roaring water. That's the one sound that will always remind me of Africa -rushing, roaring water.

If I know a song of Africa, of the giraffe and the African new moon lying on her back, of the plows in the fields and the sweaty faces of the coffee pickers, does Africa know a song of me? Will the air over the plain quiver with a color that I have had on, or the children invent a game in which my name is, or the full moon throw a shadow over the gravel of the drive that was like me, or will the eagles of the Ngong Hills look out for me? Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesin), Out of Africa

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Day 147/365 I Am Too Fond of Books...

Sometimes only your oldest friends can tell you the truth....

and you can do nothing but totally agree with them.

Today in the mail I got this great birthday present sent from the Little House in the Wisconsin Woods.

And she's right, I am far too fond of books, and they have completely addled my brain.

Actually, she could have sent me a case of these, and there would still be room for comment.

I'm going to hang it right over my monitor to remind me of best friends and the all-too-accurate insights they might have from time to time....

If you are similarly addled and wish to declare it publicly, this hanging decoration is from Laini's Ladies and you can find them here:

(Probably other places too, but I haven't looked around myself)

Monday, July 20, 2009

Day 146/365 40 Years Ago ....

Earth was very different.

I've just watched the Moon Landing (again) live on the History Channel. And at the same time on

We Choose the Moon had some interesting little facts tucked in among the moon info.

In 1969:

The median income in the United States was $8,389

A gallon of milk cost $1.10

A first class stamp was 6 cents

A gallon of regular gas was 35 cents (and we were all driving full-size cars)

A dozen eggs wwere 49 cents.

I decided to run with all that, and find some more 1969 info:

A new house could be built for $15,550

Or you could rent an apartment for $135 a month (usually included utilities)

The average new car cost $3,270 (but you could get a new Toyota Corona for $1950)

The Dow Jones closed at 800 points.

A transistor radio cost $8.10

A large bottle of ketchup was 49 cents.

A dozen tangerines cost 29 cents.

The Pontiac Firebird Trans Am was introduced.

Two weeks after the astronauts returned, members of Charlie Manson's Family committed their infamous murders.

Less than a month after the Moon Landing, 500,000 people ended up at Max Yasgur's farm in upstate Woodstock, New York.

Hurricane Camille hit the Gulf Coast, killing 248 people.

and three events that would shape our present-day world occurred:

Wal-Mart incorporated as Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the first Automatic Teller Machine (ATM)is installed and the microprocessor was invented.

1969 left its imprint in so many ways, just as surely as Neil Armstrong's boot print is still in that lunar dust.

Day 145/365 We Choose The Moon Part 2

So in July 1969, first we did this (8 years before President Kennedy's deadline, although he didn't live to see it):

The Apollo 11 was powered by these:

Saturn 5 rockets were the biggest rockets ever built and they had to be, to push the Apollo spacecraft along this path:

They worked just fine. Apollo 11 arrived with just 20 seconds of fuel to spare (talk about flying on a wing and a prayer):

Plenty of time for photo ops and small steps leading to giant leaps:

And of course the money shot:

One day the first step would be stuck to a stamp:

And all the while Uncle Walt was watching and laughing, and filling in every detail we missed on the scratchy transmission from a tiny rock in the sky:

We left the important stuff up there. It's still there, waiting for the next arrivals.

Neil, Buzz and Mike arrived home safe. They were on top of the world.

New York City threw a party and a tickertape parade - Neil, Buzz and Mike are in there somewhere.

We even drank a toast to the crew from a special souvenir Moon Landing glass.

Kids got their own Question & Answer Race for the Moon books.

But all I got was this 500-piece Life magazine commemorative puzzle Journey To the Moon...

And a 14th birthday I will never forget.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Day 144/365 We Choose The Moon... Part 1

I was going to wait till Monday to send my readers to the moon, it being the 40th anniversary of The Moon Landing, but I've just discovered a great site where all the space fans and virtual moon walkers can follow the entire mission in real time:


And I admit to be just a tiny bit of a Moon Landing freak, not only because it still sends chills down me to watch the launch and hear the transmissions but also because it happened on my 14th birthday.

As I type this, forty years ago, the Apollo 11 is in Stage 6, 31565 miles from Earth.

How come nothing is this exciting anymore?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Day 143/365 Utilitarianism

My description of a book I'm offering for sale:

Spinoza's Selections, Edited by John Wild -1930 Red Cloth Edition~Rounding to the top and base of spine from shelving~Previous Owners Name Inscribed on First Loose Endpaper~*1* word written neatly in margin on page 286, as well as *3* vertical lines at various points in the introduction.

Usually people fall into one of two categories: those who mark in books and those who don't.

Those who don't are sometimes obsessive. Not only do they not mark in books, but they do not dog ear pages to mark their place, nor do they scrawl their names across the inside front cover, much less pencil their initials on the forepages. God forbid they should grace the book with their own personal illustrations or provide running commentary in the margins.

And then there are those who DO mark in books. In them, outside of them, on the spine, on the foredges, on the endpapers, on the title page (HAPPY BIRTHDAY FROM GRANDMA!), sometimes on the table-of-contents (stars besides which chapters are important), underlining, circling, highlighting, sometimes making notations in the margins that show orgasmic agreement with the author (YES!!!YES!!!YES!!!) or equally disdainful contempt (i.e. the short but expressive WTH?), and of course, let's not forget the artists among us, gracing endpapers with everything from stick figures to a detailed pencil illustration of the sinking of the U.S.S. Maine.

As a book re-seller, I adore the first group - the non-markers. Nothing like finding a pristine 1880's edition that looks as if it had never been opened, much less marked in.

(On the other hand, was that owner so shallow that he simply bought books that looked good on the shelf? Did he spend his lifetime surrounded by a beautiful library, just to impress his visitors, but never cracking open a single volume? Poor sad man- now he has my pity.)

As a reader I think I prefer those that simply must make their mark upon the printed book, if for no other reason than I know they actually opened it, and read a bit (and sometimes enough to provoke a strong reaction).

The marks themselves tell a great deal about the one who made them: engineering books tend to have solid, ruler-straight, red-pencil underlining, with to-the-point notations (always in very
careful lettering). I always wonder if engineers have a specific class for this -instructing them how to comment in their textbooks?

My favorite was the U.S.S. Maine illustration. It was drawn in great detail on the inside of a army textbook with the date February 15, 1898, and was almost as detailed as this painting from Uncle Sam's Navy, courtesy of the U.S. Naval Historical Center.

The young man who drew it would have been immediately caught up in the Spanish-American War that shortly followed, and his illustration (and the one above) were that generation's equivalent to our memories of planes flying into towers. No wonder he (or his family) kept that textbook for so many years.

Religious books are the least likely to be marked in (or opened for that matter, even the vintage ones appear to be unread). Apparently the buyers have the same premise I have concerning gym memberships: if I paid for it, it is, by default, beneficial to me.

As for Spinoza and his selections - the owner has used a fountain pen to inscribe his name on the first loose endpaper (Eugene J. Welds). What points in the introduction were worthy of a vertical line notation? Just this: Reason will lay down moral principles in calm moments, applying them to imaginary situations, thus steeling the will against catastrophe.

What one word was chosen to write in the margin? Utilitarianism, printed right besides the definition: By good, I understand that which we certainly know is useful to us. By evil, I understand that which we certainly know hinders us from possessing anything that is good.

And what of that second vertical line notation in the introduction? Our conduct transcends all rigid principles and we play on life as a great musician plays on his instrument...we have become one with God, thus we are capable of neither jealousy nor envy...God loves no one and hates no one, and yet God loves, for love is an aspect of thinking, and therefore really the essence of God.

There you have it, the secret to life, wrapped up in 17th-century rationalist philosophy.

I wonder what notes Spinoza made in the books he read. Somehow I can't picture "Happy Birthday, Love Spinoza". Much easier to visualize "WTH???" in the margins, and possibly a little 1600's stick figure drawn on the endpapers. I'm betting he was a marker.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Day 142/365 Rough on Rats

Tonight I've found a bit of a mystery in an apparently widely-known, obscure Southern author.

How can Edna Henry Lee Turpin be both widely-known and obscure?

I'd never heard of her before I picked up Peggy of Roundabout Lane this evening, and I'm a Virginian.

Miss Turpin was born on July 26, 1867 (somewhere), growing up in those horrible years after the Civil War, coming of age during Reconstruction, and becoming at some point an independant well-respected woman author.She wrote children's books (Honey-Sweet), school textbooks (Brief biographies from American history, for the fifth and sixth grades for elementary schools of New York state education department), agricultural reference texts (Agriculture, its fundamental principles), and teen series books such as The Old Mind's Secret and the afore-mentioned Peggy of Roundabout Lane.

I just know there's a fascinating life story here.

There is a university library collection with "A Christmas card from Miss Edna Lee Turpin, explaining that she was very impressed with Miss Densell's illustrations, and she'd would be in Blacksburg (Va) soon and would like to discuss them".

And there's a book called The Promise of the New South, by Edward L. Ayers, which contains a reference to Miss Turpin, a reference made casually and without further explanation, so that it is apparent that the reader would of course recognize her name:

Edna Turpin wrote to a former student to tell of a difficult evening with "three old maids, the Misses Noel," who insisted their visitors taste various things, from cod liver oil to tomatoes. Turpin became uncomfortable, "but the dear old souls seem so anxious for you to enjoy their dainties (?!) that I verily believe they could inveigle me into making a meal on Rough On Rats." "Rough on Rats," as it colloquial name suggests, was a widely advertised vermin posison, familiar to everyone who read a Southern newspaper." The Promise of A New South, Edward L. Ayers

That's it.

That's all I can find about this once famous author.

Oh, except - she died on June 7, 1952, and is buried in Hollywood Cemetary, in Richmond Virginia.

She's buried in among others who must be family members, possibly her brother, a sister and sister's husband, and possibly her sister's daughter. Edna outlived them all. The daughter died before her time, her father following two years later.

And this is the lady herself, busy conducting research in a library (maybe her own), with a lovely corsage on one shoulder (highly fashionable at the time).

Other than this - I got nothing.

I can't find anything else about her.

How did she become an author? Was she the unmarried spinister sister who choose between marriage or independence for love of writing? Or did she turn to writing when it became apparent married life was not in her future (this was, after all, just after the Civil War, and an entire generation of men were decimated by the War Between the States, particularily in the South)? How did it come to pass that she saw her entire family pass away before she did?

I love a good mystery.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Day 141/365 Yellow Dogs

The definition of Yellow Dog Democrats: If the only candidate on the Democratic ticket is an old cur yellow dog running against a highly regarded Republican, we would vote for the yellow dog. Period.

The term originated in Alabama, when a Democratic senator refused to support the Democratic candidate for president, choosing instead to support Herbert Hoover. We all know how well that turned out. In response, the errant senator's constituency coined the phrase: "I'd vote for a yellow dog if he ran on the Democratic ticket!' "

Yellow Dog Democrats have two predominant traits: absolute party loyalty, and an equally absolute belief in liberalism.

And now I'd like to introduce you to my grandmother, our matriarchal Yellow Dog Democrat herself.

This is Inez Hazelwood, about the time her parents were discovering she had quite a temper and a extremely stubborn disposition. Her mother was America McKinney and she took her politics seriously (being a Scot). She was a Democrat before there were Democrats and she raised her daughter the same way.

This is Inez during high school. She's just won an elocution award for giving a most excellent speech supporting Woodrow Wilson, then-current President of the United States, a Virginian and a Democrat to boot. I need not mention which of those three characteristics was most important.

My grandmother was an unusual person. She was no shrinking violetand no soft-spoken Southern lady. She preferred wearing pants, excelled at basketball, never hesitated to speak her mind, knew how to handle a gun and seat a horse, and above all, would rather be fishing.

However, it being the 1920's, she chose the accepted working occupation for young ladies. She became a school teacher. Raised on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, she could have remained at home, teaching school while waiting for Mr. Right.

Instead, she graduated from teacher's college, then picked up and moved to the wilds of western Virginia, taking up a postion at a one room schoolhouse, up in the mountains of Highland County,Virginia. During the winter, the roads were impassable, and teacher and students arrived either on foot or by sled drawn by draft horses.

And then Mr. Right appeared (I knew him as Grandpa, but when he was younger, he was smoking hot. Looked alot like Al Capone with his fedora.) This was their first visit to his parent's farm in Bland County, when she was introduced to his family, discovering they were also dyed-in-the-wool Yellow Dog Democrats, and Scots, and avid horsebreeders. What more could she want?

The ensuing years brought a family business, and four sons serving in World War II and Korea. Even so, still Democrats. Various members of the family served as party chairmen, and FDR was the mantra.

In the early Sixties, Kennedy was a household word, and Grandpa still wore a fedora, and still looked cool in it. His cigar just added to the mystique.

By the late Sixties, my Grandpa having passed away, Inez was still outspoken , still a good shot (she did not suffer fools or trespassers), and an accomplished musician on the accordion, mandolin, and organ. And not half bad with a kazoo. "Nixon" was considered a swear word in her home. And "Reagan" was a joke. Yep. Still a Democrat.

Many women might prefer jewelry from their husbands, but my grandmother's idea of a great present was a boat. It made fishing so much easier. By the time of her death in 1980, she had three: a rowboat for the creek in back of her Virginia home, a motorboat for her lake home, and a larger 20' cruiser for her Florida home.

My grandmother took her fishing, her boats, and her politics seriously. From cradle to grave, she was the walking definition of a Yellow-Dog Democrat.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Day 140/365 Time Travel and All The Rest

Thomas Edison hated him.

Mark Twain counted him as a close friend.

Some of his contemporaries thought he was an angel from Venus, sent to help Earth with technology.

And in his later years he was in love with a pigeon.

Nikola Tesla would have been 153 years old today.

This is the man who invented radio, introduced the robot in the 1890's, invented alternating current, VTOL aircraft (Vertical Take Off and landing) which includes helicopters, wireless transmission of electricity, designed a remote control, perfected AC hydroelectric power (still operating at Niagra Falls), believed he had received radio transmissions from space, and is rumored to have experienced time travel when he absorbed a massive electrical shock.

He once tore up a contract with George Westinghouse -one that would have made him millions- because he believed in free electricity for the world.

His friends included Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, Rudyard Kipling, the naturalist John Muir, John Jacob Astor, Theodore Roosevelt, architect Stanford White, and his most important financial backer: J. Pierpont Morgan.

In fact, Morgan may be responsible for your monthly utilities payment.

From 1901-1905, Tesla oversaw construction of the famous Wardenclyffe Transmission Tower, a 187 foot tower, topped with a 55-ton steel "cupola" . Tesla designed this tower to provide wireless electrical transmission to the world.

After last minute design improvements temporarily halted operation, Morgan asked Tesla what good power production was, if there was no place to put the meter? At that point, he cut off his funding, and local newspapers labeled the tower "Tesla's Million Dollar Folly". The newspapers failed to mention that five years earlier, in 1900, Tesla had built a successful wireless transmission facility in Colorado Springs - one that lit up a bank of 200 incandescent light bulbs, without wires of any kind, from 25 miles away.

Between the loss of the Wardenclyffe funding, and a disastrous laboratory fire that destroyed many of his notes and experiments, Tesla fell into depression, living out the rest of his life at the Waldorf-Astoria, finally dying in 1943.

And the pigeon?

"Tesla had been feeding pigeons for years. Among them, there was a very beautiful female white pigeon with light gray tips on its wings that seemed to follow him everywhere. As Tesla confessed, he loved that pigeon: "Yes, I loved that pigeon, I loved her as a man loves a woman, and she loved me." If the pigeon became ill, he would nurse her back to health and as long as she needed him and he could have her, nothing else mattered and there was purpose in his life.

"One night as he was lying in bed, she flew in through the window and he knew right away that she had something important to tell him: she was dying. "And then, as I got her message, there came a light from her eyes - powerful beams of light". "...Yes," " was a real light, a powerful, dazzling, blinding light, a light more intense than I had ever produced by the most powerful lamps in my laboratory."

"Tesla admitted to O'Neill that when that particular pigeon died, something went out of his life. Before that time, he could complete the most ambitious programs he could ever dream of but after the pigeon flew into the beyond, he knew his life's work was done for good."John J. O'Neill Prodigal Genius - the Life of Nikola Tesla, pp. 316-7, Ives Washburn Inc., 1964; 1st ed. 1944

Imagine if J. Pierpont Morgan has been a bit more of a revolutionary, with a more humanitarian ambition, instead of one driven by profit?

To read more on Nikola Tesla (and there is so, so much more, including Earthquake Machines, Thought Photography, Radio-Controlled Torpedos, Death Rays, Force Fields)