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Archive for the ‘History’ Category

The Original Starbucks

Yesterday I was at a conference in downtown Seattle. In the afternoon I had some free time so I walked down to the pier to the famous Pike Place Market. Seattle has more Starbucks stores than any other city. You can literally step out of any building and look around in all direction and you will likely see a Starbucks. Here is a fun little article that illustrates my point. 

When I got down to Pike Place Market, I was in for a treat. Because that’s where the original Starbucks store is.

The first Starbucks store was established in 1971 at 2000 Western Avenue where it operated until 1976, when it moved to 1912 Pike Place Market in downtown Seattle. So this address, while still hosting the original Starbucks, is actually the second location for the chain.

There are now 27,339 Starbucks stores worldwide.

As you can see in the picture above, there is a line going into the store. While it is not visible in the image, the line continues along the sidewalk to the left and goes all the way down the block.  There were probably a hundred or more people lined up – to get a cup of Starbucks in this store. I was not in the mood.

But I enjoyed a bit of coffee history and took this photograph.

My plan was to visit the Seattle Art Museum, just a few blocks down the road, but unfortunately, it was closed Monday as Tuesday, as museums are wont to be. Perhaps another time, after a good cup of coffee.

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Set in the last ice age in Europe, a tribe of Cro-Magnon men goes on a hunting trip. Keda, the chief’s son, comes along for the first time. His proud father is teaching him how to hunt, and how to be a man. But during the hunt things go horribly wrong, a buffalo charges Keda and throws him off a steep cliff. The hunting party can only assume he is dead and eventually they leave, the distraught father almost being dragged away by his friends.

Miraculously, the boy survives and must now fend for himself, fight off predators, and somehow find his way home, before winter comes and makes travel impossible. When a pack of wolves attack him,  he barely escapes into a tree, but he injures one of them. The wolf and the boy reluctantly form a bond and protect each other as they try to journey home. He calls the wolf Alpha.

Alpha is a survival movie. We see and feel how prehistoric people lived and survived. The landscape didn’t look like Europe 20,000 years ago to me, but rather more like South Dakota, but that is a minor point. I liked the fact that the tribe didn’t speak English. That would have been too easy and too distracting. They spoke their own language, accompanied by easy to read subtitles. This helped make the film more realistic.

I marvel about prehistory, and how unlikely it was that men survived at all, and how amazing it is that we’re all here today, descendants of these very Cro-Magnon men. If you have ever speculated how humans first started domesticating dogs, this is the movie to watch.

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Visiting Dana Point

Yesterday we visited Dana Point, a little city on the shores of the Pacific not an hour’s drive away from my home. In my more than thirty years of living in Southern California I have never been to Dana Point before.

After reading Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana recently, I have had plans to go and see the location. Richard Henry Dana, with this book, gave Dana Point its name, basically on the grounds of the following passage from the book which I read out loud on the beach to celebrate the occasion:

Coasting along on the quiet shore of the Pacific, we came to anchor in twenty fathoms’ water, almost out at sea, as it were, and directly abreast of a steep hill which overhung the water, and was twice as high as our royal-mast-head. We had heard much of this place from the Lagoda’s crew, who said it was the worst place in California. The shore is rocky, and directly exposed to the southeast, so that vessels are obliged to slip and run for their lives on the first sign of a gale; and late as it was in the season, we got up our slip-rope and gear, though we meant to stay only twenty-four hours.

We pulled the agent ashore, and were ordered to wait for him, while he took a circuitous way round the hill to the Mission, which was hidden behind it. We were glad of the opportunity to examine this singular place, and hauling the boat up, and making her well fast, took different directions up and down the beach, to explore it.

San Juan is the only romantic spot on the coast. The country here for several miles is high table-land, running boldly to the shore, and breaking off in a steep cliff, at the foot of which the waters of the Pacific are constantly dashing. For several miles the water washes the very base of the hill, or breaks upon ledges and fragments of rocks which run out into the sea. Just where we landed was a small cove, or bight, which gave us, at high tide, a few square feet of sand-beach between the sea and the bottom of the hill. This was the only landing-place.

Directly before us rose the perpendicular height of four or five hundred feet. How we were to get hides down, or goods up, upon the table-land on which the Mission was situated, was more than we could tell. The agent had taken a long circuit, and yet had frequently to jump over breaks, and climb steep places, in the ascent. No animal but a man or a monkey could get up it. However, that was not our lookout; and, knowing that the agent would be gone an hour or more, we strolled about, picking up shells, and following the sea where it tumbled in, roaring and spouting, among the crevices of the great rocks. What a sight, thought I, must this be in a southeaster! The rocks were as large as those of Nahant or Newport, but, to my eye, more grand and broken.

Beside, there was a grandeur in everything around, which gave a solemnity to the scene, a silence and solitariness which affected every part! Not a human being but ourselves for miles, and no sound heard but the pulsations of the great Pacific! and the great steep hill rising like a wall, and cutting us off from all the world, but the “world of waters”! I separated myself from the rest, and sat down on a rock, just where the sea ran in and formed a fine spouting horn. Compared with the plain, dull sand-beach of the rest of the coast, this grandeur was as refreshing as a great rock in a weary land. It was almost the first time that I had been positively alone — free from the sense that human beings were at my elbow, if not talking with me — since I had left home. My better nature returned strong upon me. Everything was in accordance with my state of feeling, and I experienced a glow of pleasure at finding that what of poetry and romance I ever had in me had not been entirely deadened by the laborious life, with its paltry, vulgar associations, which I had been leading. Nearly an hour did I sit, almost lost in the luxury of this entire new scene of the play in which I had been so long acting, when I was aroused by the distant shouts of my companions, and saw that they were collecting together, as the agent had made his appearance, on his way back to our boat.

We pulled aboard, and found the long-boat hoisted out, and nearly laden with goods; and, after dinner, we all went on shore in the quarter-boat, with the long-boat in tow. As we drew in, we descried an ox-cart and a couple of men standing directly on the brow of the hill; and having landed, the captain took his way round the hill, ordering me and one other to follow him. We followed, picking our way out, and jumping and scrambling up, walking over briers and prickly pears, until we came to the top.

Here the country stretched out for miles, as far as the eye could reach, on a level, table surface, and the only habitation in sight was the small white mission of San Juan Capistrano, with a few Indian huts about it, standing in a small hollow, about a mile from where we were. Reaching the brow of the hill, where the cart stood, we found several piles of hides, and Indians sitting round them. One or two other carts were coming slowly on from the Mission, and the captain told us to begin and throw the hides down. This, then, was the way they were to be got down — thrown down, one at a time, a distance of four hundred feet! This was doing the business on a great scale.

Standing on the edge of the hill, and looking down the perpendicular height, the sailors “That walked upon the beach appeared like mice; and our tall anchoring bark diminished to her cock; her cock a buoy almost too small for sight.” Down this height we pitched the hides, throwing them as far out into the air as we could; and as they were all large, stiff, and doubled, like the cover of a book, the wind took them, and they swayed and eddied about, plunging and rising in the air, like a kite when it has broken its string. As it was now low tide, there was no danger of their falling into the water; and, as fast as they came to ground, the men below picked them up, and, taking them on their heads, walked off with them to the boat. It was really a picturesque sight: the great height, the scaling of the hides, and the continual walking to and fro of the men, who looked like mites, on the beach. This was the romance of hide dropping! Some of the hides lodged in cavities under the bank and out of our sight, being directly under us; but by pitching other hides in the same direction, we succeeded in dislodging them. Had they remained there, the captain said he should have sent on board for a couple of pairs of long halyards, and got some one to go down for them. It was said that one of the crew of an English brig went down in the same way, a few years before. We looked over, and thought it would not be a welcome task, especially for a few paltry hides; but no one knows what he will do until he is called upon; for, six months afterwards, I descended the same place by a pair of top-gallant studding-sail halyards, to save half a dozen hides which had lodged there. Having thrown them all over, we took our way back again, and found the boat loaded and ready to start. We pulled off, took the hides all aboard, hoisted in the boats, hove up our anchor, made sail, and before sundown were on our way to San Diego.

— Dana, Richard Henry. Two Years Before the Mast; A Personal Narrative (1911): WITH A SUPPLEMENT BY THE AUTHOR AND INTRODUCTION AND ADDITIONAL CHAPTER BY HIS SON (Kindle Locations 2302-2351). Houghton Mifflin. Kindle Edition.

I took a picture of the cliffs Dana is describing. It was still morning, and the marine layer over the coast had not yet cleared, hence the grey sky.

Later, after spending some time walking along the board walk and getting some lunch in one of the seafood places, we drove up the hill, where there are now housing developments with ocean view as far as the eye can see. However, we found the spot where Dana was likely standing when he took the hides off the ox cart and threw them down the cliff like huge Frisbees.

Here is the view from the top:

Moored down in the harbor is the Pilgrim, a full-sized replica of the ship Dana sailed on from Boston in 1835 on the trip he described in Two Years Before the Mast.

This is that the Pilgrim looks like under full sail, which I found on the Ocean Institute’s website. Click on the image to jump to that site for more information.

[picture credit: Ocean Institute]

The Pilgrim moored at Dana Point is a replica of the original ship that was built in 1825 in Boston for $50,000 and designed for shipping back and forth between the American East Coast and California. To do this, they had to sail all the way around Cape Horn, the southern tip of South America. This replica was built in Denmark in 1945. 

I truly enjoyed our visit to Dana Point, tracing some California history, and I strongly recommend reading Two Years Before the Mast, a book for which I gave a four-star review.

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Browsing Facebook this morning I found that there was a Fahenweihe this weekend in Illkofen, my childhood village in Bavaria. The word Fahenweihe means the “ordination of the flag” or “blessing of the flag.” This usually takes place at significant anniversaries of clubs, mostly of the volunteer fire department.

Here is their brochure and program for the weekend. Illkofen, when I grew up, was a little village in the heart of Bavaria with perhaps 250 souls. Today it may be 400 or 500. For a Fahnenweihe they have a serious program of religious services, dances, a parade, and lots of beer and Bratwurst. The celebrations go on all weekend, and as I am writing this post, the beer tent is probably teeming with serious music and drinking.

The beer tent is a tent put up for the weekend, similar to those we’ll find at county fairs in the U.S. They have a band stand at the end, a dance floor in the middle, and rows of picnic tables on both sides.

In the picture above you can see the ceremonial tapping of the first keg. The people in uniform in the back are not soldiers. These are firemen in their dress uniforms. It’s all about the 150th anniversary of the Freiwillige Feuerwehr Illkofen (volunteer fire department of Illkofen).

One of the highlights of the event is the parade, which takes place on Sunday afternoon. The local village invites the fire departments from many surrounding villages for the parade. A small village may send a handful of people. Large villages can send dozens of them. They come with all their pomp and glory, in full uniform. The parade, of course has a marching band, and then, one by one, the clubs march by. Each club brings their flags which are carried in front of the group by one of the members. Then, in front of each club, a boy is assigned to carry the “sign” identifying the club, usually the village name.

And now comes the part about reminiscing about my childhood.

I came about this Facebook post of the 150th anniversary by accident, but in the summer of 1968, when I was just going on 12 years old, the Freiwillige Feuerwehr Illkofen had its 100th anniversary, and I was there.

The interesting and exciting part for the local boys at a Fahnenweihe is this: the boys get assigned villages for which to carry the signs. They are called Taferlbuam, which is a Bavarian slang term for sign boys. You won’t find that in any dictionary. It is tradition that the visiting club tips the Taferlbuam for their services of carrying the sign, and invite them to eat and drink with them after the parade in the festival tent. The larger the club you are assigned to, the larger the likey tip, since they just pass one of their hats around the membership and collect. So if each person of a large club just puts a few bills into the collection, it can make for a massive tip for a 12 year old boy. There was quite some competition amongst us boys for the assignment. Everyone wanted to be assigned to a large club. I don’t know who does the assignment, probably the fire captain, and I don’t remember the name of the club I was assigned to. It was medium sized and I remember having a pocket full of money and being happy.

The sign boy gets to sit with the club in the festival tent and celebrate. Bratwurst, Sauerkraut and a roll are consumed, all paid for by the club. And the beer flows freely.

And now, my American reader, you have to set aside your customary puritan views about alcohol and youth drinking, as it is tradition in Bavaria that the poor sign boy not only walks away with a pocket full of cash, but that he is also completely and thoroughly drunk. In fact, I may venture to say that a Fahnenweihe could well be the first introduction to serious alcoholic consumption to young Bavarian boys.

It was certainly so for me. I don’t remember much about the festival tent. It does not take too much beer to make a 12 year old drunk. I remember somehow making it home, which was only a few hundred yards away. I remember throwing up violently. I remember wallowing and writhing in pain in the grass in the yard of my house in the sunny afternoon, with my sisters and mother looking over me. I remember being so sick, so wasted, that I was sure I was going to die. I remember begging my sisters not to leave me alone, because dying alone would be too frightening.

Eventually, somehow, I got over it and I am sure I slept a long time. I could not even smell beer without gagging for years afterwards. I may have made it to age 15 or so before I took another sip.

Interestingly, an American reader might be shocked and worried about the abuse of alcohol by youth, but I can assure you after inductions like these, there is no mystery about alcohol.  Alcoholic binging that occurs with American young people when they finally reach legal drinking age does no happen there. It’s all too common and by then many have lost interest. As a result, by young people getting acclimated to alcohol as they grow up, the lure is less intense. I am not saying one system is better than the other, but I can say that my experience contributed to very modest alcohol use over the course my own life.

And this was my childhood reminiscence that was prompted by an innoccuous Facebook post about the Fahenweihe in Illkofen 2018 that took me back into my childhood to the summer of 1968.

 

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[click to enlarge] Photo Credit: Credit James Cruz (jamesjcruz on Instagram)

I have never been to Egypt and have not seen this view with my own eyes. But it must be one of the most spectacular views in the world, truly awe-inspiring.

What gets me is what I see in the lower left corner of the picture. It looks like a shed, or a chicken coop in a slummy back yard. If I owned a property in that spot I’d have a palatial veranda overlooking the most awesome view in the world. I would not put a shed in that corner.

But then again, this pyramid was completed more than 4,500 years ago. When Cleopatra was born in 69 B.C., those pyramids were already 2,500 years old. In other words, Cleopatra is closer to us in the time line than she is to the time the pyramids were built.

The chicken coop will long be gone, and Cairo will likely be dust 2,000 years hence, and the pyramid will still be there, and the sun will still set behind it.

That thought gives me comfort.

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Winston Churchill was a pivotal figure in the 20th century, and, had it not been for his presence and dogged perseverance, the world might have turned out quite differently.

If Hitler had not lost the war, my parents would never have met, and I would not have been born. I would not be here to write this review.

The Germans could have been stopped before they took over Austria and made their first forays into France. Their military was not ready for a major war. But the British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, didn’t put pressure on Hitler when he could, and we all know the outcome.

Winston Churchill came to power when the Germans had encircled the entire British army of about 300,000 men near Dunkirk in France. (There is a separate movie of the same name about this backstory, that I have not seen yet, but must now go and see).

In the face of severe pressure to negotiate with Hitler and save the British army, Churchill steadfastly believed that this was the wrong approach.

The Darkest Hour chronicles those weeks in British history. When I walked out, I had learned more about who Churchill was than I had from all the history books I had ever laid eyes on. A very rewarding film.

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It was on January 24, 1776:

In the cold, nearly colorless light of a New England winter, two men on horseback traveled the coast road below Boston, heading north. A foot or more of snow covered the landscape, the remnants of a Christmas storm that had blanketed Massachusetts from one end of the province to the other. Beneath the snow, after weeks of severe cold, the ground was frozen solid to a depth of two feet. Packed ice in the road, ruts as hard as iron, made the going hazardous, and the riders, mindful of the horses, kept at a walk.

— John Adams, by David McCullough – opening paragraph of the book. See my review here.

When John Adams embarked on a journey from Boston to Philadelphia in the winter of 1776, he faced over two months of travel on horseback. He had to leave in the bitter winter to be there in the spring for the session of the Continental Congress that year. He could make such a journey only once a year at best, and while he was gone, his wife and children at home had to fend for themselves.

Along the journey he had to find shelter every night in an inn or private home. Not only did he need to find room and board every night for himself, but he also needed to take care of stabling for his horse. The expenses for such a trip were enormous, and the physical hardship of being on horseback outside, in the winter, in all weather, on terrible “roads” must have been crushing. But John Adams did it, and certainly thousands of other travelers along the route did too.

This morning at about 6:30am I boarded a flight from Boston to Philadelphia. Once airborne, the flight took one hour and four minutes.

If I could have told John Adams that I would, some 240 years hence, enter an aluminum tube with about a hundred other passengers, which would travel at close to the speed of sound at 30,000 feet of elevation, high above the clouds, he would not have been able to believe me. Yet, here I am, writing this blog post, with a hot cup of coffee next to me. I am warm, comfortable, and even a little sleepy.

To John Adams, this would have been indistinguishable from magic.

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I am an artist, a painter, and you would think I’d have known more about the artist who created the two most famous paintings in history. Sadly, I knew pretty much only his name: Leonardo da Vinci.

The second most famous painting in history is The Last Supper. It is featured every year as the “grand finale” of the Laguna Beach Pageant of the Masters. And every year it is a new, powerful image.

Of course, the most famous painting in the world is the Mona Lisa. It is also the most visited, the most written about, the most sung about, and the most parodied work of art in the world [Wikipedia]. It is also widely believed to be the most valuable painting in the world.

Leonardo da Vinci was born in 1452. He was not just an artist, but an engineer, a scientist, an inventor, and a relentless researcher. He wrote thousands of pages of note books, filled with ideas, speculations, checklists, drawings, designs and drafts throughout his life. Through his writing, we know a lot about him, but on the other hand, a lot of mystery surrounds the man and his history.

Walter Isaacson, the author of the biographies of Steve Jobs and Einstein, guides us through the life of Leonardo da Vinci from birth to death. We see the artist grow from his humble beginnings as an illegitimate son of a Florence notary, to a true superstar of art who consorted with the most powerful people in the world at the beginning of the 16th century. Leonardo was at the peak of his game around the same time when Columbus first reached the New World. The world was very different then, and reading this biography, I learned a lot about the world in those years, and about the pursuit of art.

Now I feel like I know Leonardo da Vinci. I would like to visit him in his later years with a time machine and bring him back to my house. I’d have him ride in my Prius with some Mozart playing off my iPhone through the sound system. I’d show him how I could make a phone call from a moving car to the other side of the world. We’d go to the airport and I’d buy first class tickets to Washington, DC. I’d let him have the window seat and look out over the world from 36,000 feet. Once in DC, I’d take him to the National Gallery of Art and guide him to the Ginevra de’ Benci, the only original da Vinci located in the Americas and therefore the only da Vinci original I have ever seen with my own eyes. He would recognize his own greatness in the history of the western world.

And now I know I need to – as soon as I can manage it – go to the Louvre in Paris and see the Mona Lisa and all the other da Vinci originals there. I know there’ll be crowds of people. I know there’ll be lines. I know I won’t be able to get near the painting. But I know I’ll stand there and I’ll wonder who all has stood in front of that painting over the years, over the centuries and marveled about it. Did Vincent van Gogh ever go and see the Mona Lisa? Did Bob Dylan? Did Pablo Picasso? Did Frieda Kahlo? Did Henry Miller? Did Benjamin Franklin?

Maybe they all did, but someday not so far out, I will have gone – inspired by Isaacson’s Leonardo da Vinci.


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“There’s no time to lose”, I heard her say
Catch your dreams before they slip away
Dying all the time
Lose your dreams and you will lose your mind
Ain’t life unkind?

— The Rolling Stones, from Ruby Tuesday

When I was a youth in the little land-locked German state of Bavaria I never left a radius of about 150 miles around my home town. I dreamed of getting a sailboat and living on my boat crisscrossing the Mediterranean, visiting all the Greek islands I read so much about in my Latin classes. I bought books about sailing. It was a life-long dream.

It wasn’t until I was in my 40ies, living in San Diego, that I started taking sailing lessons. But I really never ventured out much further than the San Diego Bay, sailing out to the “point” at Point Loma, where the bay opens into the Pacific. My dream of sailing the open ocean has faded over the years. I lost my dream, but I didn’t lose my mind…

The day after our wedding was Trisha’s 60th birthday. She hired the Aolani, a great catamaran, to take out all the out-of-town guests for a cruise on San Diego Bay. Here we are boarding:

Aolani

Picture Credit: Lothar Frosch

While on the cruise, our captain was “Captain Steve” and he told us many a sailing yarn and gave us a lot of history of the San Diego Bay, much of which I had never heard before. Here is Captain Steve. I am sitting on the right side in the middle.

 

Capt Steve

Picture Credit: Lothar Frosch

It turns out, Steve fulfilled the dream I had but never chased after. He has sailed alone around the world several times, once even achieving a speed record. I was in awe.

Then he recommended a book about sailing: Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana. A few days later I picked up the book on my Kindle, and I had no idea what I was in for.

Melville’s Moby Dick was published in 1851. Two Years Before the Mast was first published in 1840, more than ten years earlier. Melville actually had made some jokes about Two Years Before the Mast, about the section of rounding Cape Horn having been written with an icicle. Two Years Before the Mast is known to be one of the first classics of American literature.

Richard Henry Dana was from the upper class of Boston society and an undergraduate at Harvard College. His father was a poet, his grandfather had been chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court, and his great-grandfather was one of the original Sons of Liberty in Boston. While at Harvard, Dana became ill with the measles which affected his vision. He could not read without great pain. He felt he needed a change, took a leave from college and hired on as a common sailor on the brig Pilgrim, a merchant ship which was ready to go on a journey to California. In those days, that meant the trip had to go around Cape Horn, the southern tip of South America. It took many months at sea and was fraught with danger. He eventually returned to Boston two years later on a different ship, the Alert, owned by the same company.

In the book, Dana tells the story of the two-year journey from the point of view of a sailor. Being a sailor on a ship was as close to slavery as one can get without actually being a slave. Sailors got paid $12 a month. While on ship, the captain was the ultimate authority. There was no law, no protection, no leisure, unless authorized by the captain. The sailors performed backbreaking labor, day and night, holiday and weekend. There was no healthcare, extremely poor nutrition, much brutalization of the men, no justice and no way out. Once you signed up for a journey, you were indentured for the duration of that journey. You didn’t know when you would come back, or, for that matter, if you would come back at all. Many sailors died, from falling overboard, being overworked, getting ill, or from malnutrition.

Dana tells the story of the common sailor, interwoven with elaborate sailing jargon I usually did not understand. Here is a sample:

By and by — bang, bang, bang, on the scuttle — “All ha-a-ands, aho-o-y!” We spring out of our berths, clap on a monkey-jacket and southwester, and tumble up the ladder. Mate up before us, and on the forecastle, singing out like a roaring bull; the captain singing out on the quarter-deck, and the second mate yelling, like a hyena, in the waist. The ship is lying over half upon her beam-ends; lee scuppers under water, and forecastle all in a smother of foam. Rigging all let go, and washing about decks; topsail yards down upon the caps, and sails flapping and beating against the masts; and starboard watch hauling out the reef-tackles of the main topsail. Our watch haul out the fore, and lay aloft and put two reefs into it, and reef the foresail, and race with the starboard watch to see which will mast-head its topsail first. All hands tally-on to the main tack, and while some are furling the jib and hoisting the staysail, we mizzen-top-men double-reef the mizzen topsail and hoist it up. All being made fast — “Go below, the watch!” and we turn-in to sleep out the rest of the time, which is perhaps an hour and a half. During all the middle, and for the first part of the morning watch, it blows as hard as ever, but toward daybreak it moderates considerably, and we shake a reef out of each topsail, and set the top-gallant-sails over them; and when the watch come up, at seven bells, for breakfast, shake the other reefs out, turn all hands to upon the halyards, get the watch-tackle upon the top-gallant sheets and halyards, set the flying-jib, and crack on to her again.

— Dana, Richard Henry. Two Years Before the Mast (Kindle Locations 5843-5855). Houghton Mifflin. Kindle Edition.

However, I must admit that now I am looking for a book on sailing ship diagrams and descriptions of the rigging, so I understand what the various types of sails are. If I were 40 years younger, I’d hire on a sailing ship like the Star of India and “learn the ropes.”

Speaking of the Star of India – this is the oldest still operating steel hull sailing ship in the world, and it is permanently parked in San Diego on the waterfront as a maritime museum.

 

Star of India

Picture Credit: Lothar Frosch

Some of the most fascinating parts about Two Years Before the Mast are Dana’s descriptions of California. In 1935, they visited many places in California that are there today, including San Diego, Santa Barbara and San Francisco. The missions in California had been there for centuries even then, and towns had grown around those missions, but those towns were just a few shacks or adobe buildings with hard dirt floors. San Francisco was two shacks down by the water a few miles in from the bay entrance. San Diego consisted of a little “harbor” where the Navy fuel yards are today. The ships docked there and the sailors came to the shore by boats. Since the California trade with the United States at the time was mostly hides, there were four hide houses there. Those were storage facilities for tens of thousands of hides, which the ships brought to San Diego from all over the California coast for curing, drying and treating before they were loaded on ships to be taken to the east coast. Then, a few miles inland from the harbor, where we now have “Old Town,” were a few homes, some merchant buildings, and that was San Diego. The Presidio was up the hill from there. Dana’s descriptions of the California locations I now know so well, having lived here for more than 30 years, are priceless historical references.

But that’s not a modern phenomenon. Dana’s book, published in 1840, was the unequivocal reference book for California used by the San Francisco 49ers (the visitors to the area due to the Gold Rush). Even then the book was a bestseller.

There was a cliff on the coast of what is Orange County today, where Dana and crew, when they collected hides, just threw them down like Frisbees rather than carrying them down the steep cliffs. They did this for a number of visits. He called this spot one of the most romantic spots in California. Well, there is a town called Dana Point on the California coast today, and it was named after the author. I had no idea! I even know a person named Dana, and I will not disclose his last name here, who once told me that his name was Dana because he was conceived at Dana Point on the beach. I wonder if he knows the book Two Years Before the Mast?

Eventually, Dana became a lawyer and was quite active defending sailors and working on making their lives less brutal.

Dana’s trip from Boston to San Diego, California, picking up a load of 40,000 hides, and then returning to Boston, took over two years. That was his two years before the mast. I have traveled from San Diego to Boston and back in 6-hour one-way airline trips many times. The whole journey would sometimes have me away from home no more than 48 hours.

What a fascinating world we live in!

And what an amazing book Two Years Before the Mast is!

 

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Richard Nixon with John McCain [picture credit: unknown]

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We are mired in wars that seem to never end. When our children think of war, they think of Iraq and Afghanistan. For the majority of our population, Vietnam is ancient history. Vietnam veterans are now all in their mid to late sixties or seventies. They know their combat stories, and their politics, and they remember the days of their young selves, when they were asked to give up their youths to fight in a brutal and bloody war far away from the American reality. They all have friends they lost, whose names are now on the Vietnam Memorial in Washington. And they all still grieve for their comrades, their friends, every day of their lives.

Every soldier of the 58,220 who lost their lives in Vietnam had loved ones at home, girlfriends, wives, children, parents, neighbors, buddies. Thousands of those lives of those loved ones were changed forever the moment two or three soldiers in uniform walked up to the front doors of their houses to bring the impossible and unbearable news.

In Backtracking in Brown Water, the author, Rolland E. Kidder, a Lieutenant Junior Grade in the U.S. Navy, tells his own story of his tour of duty in Vietnam in 1969. He saw many soldiers die, but three of them were close friends. Chief Eldon Tozer, Captain Bob Olson and Lieutenant Jim Rost all lost their lives while serving alongside the author.

While he tells his own story of how he ended up in Vietnam in the war, he recounts the lives of his three fallen friends. Then, forty years later, between 2010 and 2014, he visits their families back home, interviews them, shares stories with them, and goes to see their graves. While it does not bring closure – nothing ever seems to do that – it honors the men who gave their lives for their country, even now, 40 years later.

He also went back to the brown waters in the Mekong Delta and visited the places where he had served, and where his friends had fallen, so many decades ago.

When I read Backtracking in Brown Water, I was first with the author right there in Vietnam, in 1969, and experienced the horrors of that war. Then I was there again with him when he returned to Vietnam. I saw the country through his eyes by reading his words. And I got to know the fallen heroes almost like they were my own friends.

And above all, I came to abhor war even more than I already do, this vicious thing our so-called “leaders” initiate to make themselves large, by sending other people’s children into foreign lands to suffer and to die – for illegitimate causes.

When will we ever learn that war does not work, that war never works?

Ask Eldon Tozer, Bob Olson and Jim Rost. You can’t. Because they lost it all so abruptly in 1969, while the rest of us got to live on. Every one of us should read Backtracking in Brown Water to remind us of the horror of war.

Check out the author’s website and blog.

He now lives in Stow, New York, in the heart of Chautauqua County.

***

But wait, there is more. It turns out I know author. Here he is on the left, in a picture taken in March 1975 in Albany, New York.

left to right: Assemblyman Rolland Kidder, unknown student of Jamestown High School, myself, Senator Jess Present

I was a foreign exchange student with AFS at Southwestern Central High School in Lakewood, New York, in the year 1974/75. My history teacher, Mrs. Tarbrake, chose me (of all the students in her classes) to go on a visit to the New York State government. There was just one student per high school. It was such an honor.

Senator Present picked me up at my house in Lakewood, New York and I rode with him the seven hours to Albany, while we chatted about the life of an exchange student and world politics. When we arrived in Albany, he passed me on to Assemblyman Kidder, who, with the help of his staff, hosted my visit and allowed me to sit with him in the chamber while legislative votes were taking place. I saw state government in action with his personal commentary.

In the picture above, I am the one that looks the least like the other three. Nobody had told this poor foreign exchange student that there was a dress code in the New York Assembly Chamber. You needed coat and tie to enter. I had not brought any. For me to get in, Assemblyman Kidder let me use one of his jackets, and one of his staffers gave me a white shirt and a tie. Along with my blue corduroy pants, I am sure I was not much of a fashion statement in the assembly chamber, but I was honored to be there wearing the Assemblyman’s jacket.

At that time, I didn’t have much of a perspective on Assemblyman Kidder’s role there. I just found out when I read this book that he had only been in office for a few months at that time, in his first term. To me, he looked like a seasoned and distinguished politician.

The picture above was published in the Jamestown Post Journal, the local paper in Chautauqua County, during the following week, telling the story of two local students from the two local high schools in the Jamestown area, visiting the State Legislature. I was famous.

And of course, I had no idea that Assemblyman Kidder was a Vietnam veteran, and that I would stumble upon his book 42 years later.

It’s been an honor – twice.

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What were they thinking?

Why would a presidential campaign, just because two southerners were running, use a symbol of oppression, hate and treason as one of the campaign icons? Or were we less sensitive then?

Here is more of what I think about the confederate flag.

 

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The crane that lasted 400 years! I came across a 9-year-old post about the crane on the Cologne cathedral. Check this out and marvel about the crane. That crane was on top of the cathedral for longer than the United States has existed as a nation, for much longer….

Norbert Haupt

In 1977 I lived in Cologne for about a year. I was a 21 year old soldier. Many a Saturday afternoon I would walk from my apartment, across the river, into downtown, and on my way I would walk past the awe-inspiring cathedral.

cologne-cathedral-facade-60.jpg

Yes, I looked up. Yes, I was awed, but what I was looking at didn’t really faze my youthful mind much.

After reading The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett, I studied up on cathedral construction, and I was fascinated with what I found out.

Check this link for a nice snapshot.

I didn’t know that for some time, the building was the highest building in the world, until the Washington Monument was constructed.

Construction began in 1248, but by 1560, political changes had taken place, and funds dried up. So all construction stopped until 1842.

There was a massive wooden crane on top of the south tower…

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Norbert at Sunset on Maui — Picture Credit: Trisha

One of the best things about Hawai’i is that it puts me in my place. I love the islands, and I love even more marveling about them.

The islands are one of the most remote places on earth. It takes six hours by plane from the nearest mainland, California, to get here. There is no land in between. And once here, there is no other land in any direction closer than that. We’re in the middle of the Pacific, as far away from any land as you can get.

As the islands formed, only one new species of animal was added every 10,000 years, since it was so difficult for life to get here. Driftwood carried insects and seeds, and occasional storms carried birds. Of course, that all changed when humans started coming here a thousand years ago.

Whenever I am here, I am struck by how young these islands are compared to geological ages. I can see the youngness in the land, and still, compared to human history, it is ancient.

The Hawaiian islands were formed by a single hot spot under the Pacific that has been spewing lava for tens of millions of years, while the Pacific plate is moving from east to west. The oldest of the islands are toward the east, the biggest one remaining is Kauai. There are older islands west of Kauai, or remainders of islands, all washed back to the sea. Kauai is 5.1 million years old. That’s all. Oahu is 3 million years old. Maui is 1.32 million years old. The Big Island is only 400,000 years old. Proto humans already walked the earth and came out into the savannahs in Africa when the Big Island was formed.

And now, Lo’ihi is an active submarine volcano located about 22 miles off the southeast coast of the Big Island. Its top is now about 3,000 feet below sea level. When it finally reaches the surface, it will be the next Hawaiian island as the other ones slide northeast.  

Maui is called the Valley Isle. There are really two major volcanoes on Maui,  the western side is 5,700 feet high, and Haleakala is 10,000 feet high. The valley between the two mountains is pronounced and very obvious when looking down from either mountain. Driving from ocean to ocean from the north end of the valley to the south end takes only about 20 minutes. Looking at the water lapping at the edge makes me think how the ocean is biting into the land, foot by foot. Every time I drive that stretch I am aware that this land will be under water in the not too distant future. It won’t take many feet of sea level rise before this valley ocean, and Maui becomes two islands. Our descendants will see two islands where I only see one. The only question is, will it be my grandchildren, or will it be another 50,000 years?

To think that all of Haleakala will be washed into the sea, completely gone, in another 10 million years boggles my mind. Ten million years is nothing in geological terms. To wash a 10,000 foot mountain completely into the sea in 10 million years, the rain and wind only has to erode it by 1 foot every 1,000 years. Quite possible.

In my entire lifetime I just got to catch a small glimpse of land being formed in Hawaii, and being washed away. A blink of an eye only. This puts my human lifespan into perspective and lets me understand how long a span of 10 million  years actually is.

Watching time shape Hawaii reminds me of a quote in a John Denver song:  I have to say it now, it’s been good life all in all, it’s really fine to have a chance to hang around.

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Trump Quotes

trump-quote-2

There is a “make your own pizza” restaurant chain in California called Pieology. As you go through the line, you pick your ingredients. The wall is filled with notable quotes. Long before Trump ran for president, there was his quote that says:

As long as you’re going to be thinking anyway, think big.

— Donald Trump

This quote was attributed to Trump in Forbes Magazine as early as 2013, as far as I can tell. I actually thought it was an old Napoleon Hill quote, but I cannot find any reference to that now. I read The Art of the Deal many years ago, and I must have misattributed it then. The quote is on the wall of Pieology along with Ronald Reagan, Napoleon Hill, Thomas Jefferson and dozens of other luminaries.

There are a lot of Trump quotes circulating and now magnified by his own tweets. Here is one from May 2, 2015 that is ominous:

trump-quote-1

Anyone who thinks my story is anywhere near over is sadly mistaken.

— Donald Trump

You have to give Trump credit. He thinks big, he thinks against all odds, and he has bombastic confidence. And then he pulls it off and becomes president of the United States.

Now let’s see how he governs.

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