Monday, October 27, 2014

FESTIVALS OF MEXICO: Day of the Dead, Guest Post by Ann Stalcup

Skeleton Figures for Day of the Dead
My friend and fellow children's book author Ann Stalcup has been fascinated by Mexican customs and culture for many years. She has taken numerous photographs in the Mexican communities of Los Angeles where cultural events are celebrated frequently throughout the year. She has also visited areas of Mexico where she has observed many of the traditional festivals including The Blessing of the Animals, The Day of the Dead, and A Mexican Christmas. Here are a few of her photos and observations of The Day of the Dead.
Flower market for decorating family altars
THE DAY OF THE DEAD, EL DIA DE LOS MUERTOS, is celebrated on November 2nd. Families prepare for this special day when the spirits of their deceased loved ones return to visit them in candle lit cemeteries. In their homes, they create special altars that display items meaningful to the person who has died - clothes, books, favorite foods, along with water and oranges to refresh their spirits after their long journey.
Skeleton costume
The people of Mexico celebrate death as well as mourning it.  As October approaches its end, families work hard preparing for El dia de Los Muertos, a much-loved holiday.  For many centuries, the people of Mexico have believed that the souls of the dead return once a year to visit their families on Earth.  Preparations are made for the return of the children’s spirits on November 1st (All Saints’ Day), and for the adults on November 2nd (All Souls’ Day.)  Death is a natural part of life.  Having accepted this, people are able to joke about death, rather than fearing it.
Ofrenda, or Family Altar
Setting up an ofrenda or altar is an important part of the celebrations.  Many families follow the ancient Aztec traditions when they prepare their altar, a process that can take several days. The Aztecs believed that there were nine levels in the underworld.  The way a person died, not lived, determined his or her afterlife.  For example, those who drowned joined the Rain God; warriors killed in combat, sacrificial victims, and women who died in childbirth became companions of the Sun God.  Much like the ancient Egyptians, the dead were buried with food, clothing, personal items and sometimes sacrifices. The souls entered the underworld through the temples at Mitla.
Pan de Muertos
Before and during the Day of the Dead, bakery windows are filled with pan de muertos (bread of the dead), round loaves with a knob on the top for the skull and long twists for the bones.  Other loaves have flower designs, and heads and feet too.

Ann’s book for teachers on Day of the Dead celebrations was published a few years ago. It is filled with exquisite drawings by artist/author Pam Smallcomb.
For more information on Ann and her published work, visit her at her website: www.annstalcup.com

Monday, October 20, 2014

POMPEII: THE EXHIBITION, A Vicarious Visit to Ancient Roman Times



Two thousand years ago, Pompeii was a bustling seaside Roman town, not far from the modern city of Naples, Italy.  It lay at the foot of Mount Vesuvius, an active volcano. Then on one fateful day in 79 A.D., the volcano erupted with a massive explosion, engulfing the town with toxic cases and deadly pyroclastic blasts. Within hours, Pompeii and nearly everything and everyone in it became buried in a twenty foot deep layer of ash.



Pottery
Because of the lack of air and moisture, the objects that lay underneath the ash were so well preserved that when they are excavated they seem almost new. Rediscovered 250 years ago, the remains of Pompeii  provide an extraordinarily detailed insight into the life in the ancient Roman empire.
Imperial Portrait, Marble

I have never been to Pompeii to see it in person, but I recently went with my family to see Pompeii: the Exhibition at the California Science Center in Exposition Park in Los Angeles.  (The exhibit, which is traveling to various sites in the U.S., will be in Seattle, Washington at the Pacific Science Center beginning February 7, 2015.) Pompeii: The Exhibition features over 150 precious artifacts on loan from the Naples National Archaeological Museum. It is the next best thing to getting on a plane and flying to Italy.

As we entered the exhibit, we each received a wand so that we could move through at our own pace and listen to the narration at numbered stations. The exhibit is organized around objects that would have been part of daily and civic life in ancient Roman times.  Displays range from statues, coins and helmets to jewelry, household pots and furniture.
Fresco
Walls were lined with beautiful frescoes and mosaics.  Statues that would have decorated the homes of wealthier citizens stood in niches and small courtyards. One of the most successful inhabitants of Pompeii was Aulus Umbricius Scaurus, a manufacturer of garum, a sauce made from fermented fish. Garum was an essential ingredient in ancient Roman cuisine.  Made by crushing the intestines of fresh tuna and moray eels in salt, it added a sharp, salty taste to otherwise bland dishes. 
Mosaic of a Garum Amphora from the house of Aulus Umbricius Scaurus
Apparently, Pompeii is well-known for its erotic art. The exhibit is designed so that families with children can bypass the room with those displays.  Since we had three children we took the bypass and went directly to the room with the plaster casts of people who had died at Pompeii.
Plaster cast of a child
During the excavation of Pompeii, plaster was used to fill in the spaces between the ash layers that once held human bodies. This allows one to see the exact position the person was in when he or she died.  The exhibit includes the body of a young child who was one of thirteen men, women, and children who died in a large garden or vineyard near the city wall. They all died in a single moment as they apparently tried to flee the pyroclastic surges of heat, hot gases, rock, and ash of Vesuvius, six miles away.
Bronze head
As we waited for the doors to open into the body room, the lights dimmed, the floor rumbled and we had a vicarious experience of the volcanic eruption.  It is hard to imagine the horror of that day for the people of Pompeii. Their buried remains, the buildings they lived in, and their personal effects provide us with a window onto the richness of the life they once led. For more on the history of Pompeii, click HERE.

I thank my son-in-law Humberto Gutierrez Rivas for his contribution of excellent photos for this post. 

Mosaic table with lion foot legs from Pompeii
Note:  If you are in Los Angeles and have a chance to visit the Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades, you will see how an ancient Roman house looked at the time.  The Getty Villa and its beautiful gardens are modeled after a first-century Roman country house, the Villa de Papiri, at Herculaneum.  Herculaneum was smaller town near Pompeii that was also destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D. The Getty Villa is home to the J. Paul Getty Antiquities collection.
The Getty Villa is modeled after a first-century Roman country house, the Villa dei Papiri in Herculaneum, Italy.
The building was constructed in the early 1970s by architects who worked closely with J. Paul Getty to develop the interior and exterior details.
- See more at: http://www.getty.edu/visit/villa/architecture.html#sthash.ivnZbmPz.dpuf
The Getty Villa is modeled after a first-century Roman country house, the Villa dei Papiri in Herculaneum, Italy.
The building was constructed in the early 1970s by architects who worked closely with J. Paul Getty to develop the interior and exterior details.
- See more at: http://www.getty.edu/visit/villa/architecture.html#sthash.ivnZbmPz.dpuf
The Getty Villa is modeled after a first-century Roman country house, the Villa dei Papiri in Herculaneum, Italy.
The building was constructed in the early 1970s by architects who worked closely with J. Paul Getty to develop the interior and exterior details.
- See more at: http://www.getty.edu/visit/villa/architecture.html#sthash.ivnZbmPz.dpuf


Monday, October 13, 2014

SPACE SHUTTLE ENDEAVOUR at the California Science Center, Los Angeles

Entrance to Space Shuttle Exhibit at the California Science Center
In the fall of 2012, I watched on television as the space shuttle Endeavour made its slow journey from LAX through the streets of Los Angeles on its way to its new home at the California Science Center in Exposition Park. Tree branches had been trimmed, power lines relocated, and other obstacles moved along the carefully chosen route. Thousands of people lined the streets to witness this historic journey. It was first stage of Mission 26, Endeavour’s final mission.

Space Shuttle Endeavour inside the Samuel Oschin Pavilion
Last July, I went with my family to spend a day at the California Science Center and finally had a chance to see the Endeavour close-up.  Only then did I really appreciate its enormous size and its important role, along with the other NASA space shuttles, Columbia, Challenger, Discovery and Atlantis, in the exploration and understanding of outer space.
Record of  Endeavour's First flight, 1992
The Endeavour is currently housed in a temporary, hanger-like building adjacent to the museum, the Samuel Oschin Pavilion. Walls of the building are lined with photographs of the many space shuttle crews, documenting the history of the program which began in 1981 and ended with the last space flight of the Endeavour June 1, 2011. 

Inside the museum, a companion exhibit, Endeavour: the California Story, shows various aspects of shuttle life in space ranging from what kind of food the astronauts ate to the waste collection system (“space potty”) to scientific experiments and walks in space.  It celebrates Endeavour’s many scientific achievements and its strong connection to California, where all the orbiters were built. The California Story includes images of Endeavour under construction locally in Palmdale and Downey, as well as artifacts that flew into space aboard Endeavour. A film of the Endeavour’s journey from the airport is part of the exhibit as well.
Film of Endeavour on the streets of Los Angeles is part of the exhibit
For a fee, one can also take a “ride” in space–enclosed in a vibrating capsule with a video display, it recreates what it feels like traveling inside the space shuttle.
Space capsule "ride"
I am old enough to remember when Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gargarin was the first person to fly in space more than fifty years ago.  It is amazing to contemplate how much more we now know about outer space than we did then–much due to the space shuttle program–and how much more there is to know.

Note: During the second phase of Mission 26, now through October 25 (dates subject to change), the Science Center will open the shuttle's payload bay doors to install its final cargo. Space shuttle experts will install a flown SPACEHAB and other equipment into the payload bay, in preparation for Endeavour's permanent display. Click HERE to learn more about the payload installation.

This will be the only opportunity to see the payload bay open for several years. After the payload is installed, the doors will be closed until stage three of Mission 26, when Endeavour is moved to its new home, and is lifted into vertical position—another step closer to the launch of the new Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center, projected to open in 2018.

Timed reservations to see Endeavour are required for weekends, holidays, special events and high attendance seasons.

I am grateful to my son-in-law Humberto Gutierrez Rivas for the use of his photos of the Endeavour exhibit.

Monday, October 6, 2014

BOHEMIAN SWITZERLAND NATIONAL PARK, Czech Republic, Guest Post by Tom Scheaffer

Pravcická brána, Europe’s largest sandstone rock arch, Bohemian Switzerland National Park
My brother Tom is a great traveler and last summer went to visit friends in the Czech Republic, staying at their summer house in the country north of Prague. One day they went on an excursion to Bohemian Switzerland National Park, home to incredible rock features, such as the Pravcická brána, Europe’s largest sandstone rock arch. The arch stands 52 feet (16 meters) high and 26 feet (8 meters) wide and serves as a symbol of the entire national park.
Bohemian Switzerland, also known as Czech Switzerland, is a picturesque region in the north-western Czech Republic. It lies on the Czech side of the Elbe Sandstone Mountains north of Decín on both sides of the Elbe River. It is part of a larger geological formation known as the Elbe Sandstones. The park borders Germany’s Saxon Switzerland National Park.
A winding trail leads through the gorge up to the top of the mountain
After the hike, Tom wrote me in an email:  "Today we visited these huge rock formations and the arch you see in the photos. We had to hike about two  miles up a trail where there was an old hotel/restaurant which was built in 1881.There were great views from the top."
Tom has graciously allowed me to share a few of his photos from that day. For more about the park, click HERE.
Tom and friend on the deck of the restaurant
Directly below the arch is the Falcon's Nest, a 19th-century chateau which now features a small museum about the park as well as an excellent restaurant
Inside the restaurant



Monday, September 29, 2014

SUNDIAL BRIDGE, Architectural Wonder in Redding, California

The Sundial Bridge pylon is so tall (217 feet) I had to tip my camera sideways to get it all in.
Several months ago I was in Red Bluff, California, doing presentations to students in the historic renovated State Theater. Red Bluff is at the north end of the San Joaquin Valley, about 100 miles from Sacramento.  From the main street of this charming Victorian town along Historic Route 99 I could see across the Sacramento River to the snow capped top of Mount Lassen to the west.

State Theater, Red Bluff, CA
One afternoon after my presentations were finished, I drove 30 miles north to Redding to see the famous Sundial Bridge and to take a walk along the river.  The Sundial Bridge, which opened July 4, 2004, spans the Sacramento River at Turtle Bay.  It is a suspension bridge designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.  It is both beautiful and eco-friendly. Its huge pylon (the sundial arm) connects to cables that support the bridge, allowing it to avoid the nearby salmon-spawning habitat since there are no supports in the water.  
The bridge walkway is made of steel, glass and granite.
The translucent glass surface lets light through to the water’s surface, both adding to the bridge's aesthetic and minimizing its impact on river life. The bridge is open only to pedestrian traffic.  The view from the bridge is magnificent. Looking west toward the foothills and coastal range, I watched a fisherman trying his luck and a flock of Canada geese floating in the water.
Sacramento River, Redding, CA, view from the Sundial Bridge
I walked across the bridge from the south side of the river, ending at a large open area ringed with markers showing where the tip of the sundial’s shadow falls at the summer solstice.
At noon on June 21st, the Sundial's shadow reaches this marker.
From there I took a short walk in the Botanical Garden where a variety of spring flowers were in bloom.
Botanical Garden in the McConnell Arboretum
When I returned to the other side I visited the Turtle Bay Museum, a small nature museum with exhibits featuring wildlife along the river.  I then took a walk along part of the extensive trail system that borders the river. It was a beautiful spring day and I was hoping to catch site of the bald eagles that I was told had a nest along the river.  I didn’t spot any eagles, but heard a lot of smaller birds and saw plenty of ducks and geese in the water. Someday, I’d like to go back when I have more time and bicycle along this beautiful stretch of California river habitat and enjoy more of its wildlife.

For more about my visit to Red Bluff, see my May 28, 2014 post at Caroline Arnold's Art and Books.

Sacramento River Trail near the Turtle Bay Museum


Monday, September 22, 2014

PETRIFIED FOREST: Three Million Year Old Redwoods Turned to Stone, Calistoga, California

Petrified Forest, Calistoga, California
“The petrified forest, dating from the Eocene Period, is the only known example of a petrified forest in California.  Its size, scope and variety of petrification is unique in the world.  Opalized wood, obsidian, quartz crystal, petrified coral and fossilized insects number among its wonders.”
California Registered Historical Landmark No. 915
Gift shop/Museum and Garden
Like many people today, Art and I rely on GPS to get us where we’re going when we travel.  But sometimes our GPS isn’t as reliable as we would like it to be.  Recently, we were on our way to a wedding at the Hans Fahden Vineyards near Calistoga, California, located on Petrified Forest Road.  We got off the 101 freeway at Santa Rosa and wound our way along a long, narrow country road overhung with live oaks and other greenery.  It was a lovely drive and after following the turns dictated by our GPS, the voice announced: “You have arrived at your destination.”  The problem was that the only thing we saw were trees and rocks–no sign of the winery, or of any other civilization!  We continued and soon came to the entrance to the Petrified Forest, which we decided would be a good place to ask directions.  As it turned out, we were very close and since we were early, we decided to stop for a little while and take a look around the museum and gift shop and find out more about the Petrified Forest.
Petrified log with visible tree rings
Between three and four million years ago, a redwood forest grew in this part of northern California.  Nearby, there was an active volcano. Over time, fallen trees became covered by ashes and mud and then, as water seeped down through the dirt and dust, the buried wood was gradually replaced by minerals, thus becoming fossilized.  In some cases, this occurred so precisely that you can see tree rings and other detailed features of the trees. Under a microsope, individual cells can be seen.
Fossil fish (from somewhere else), petrified wood bookends, guest book, and copies of The Silverado Squatters by Robert Louis Stevenson, inspired by a visit to the Petrified Forest in 1880
The museum at the entrance to the Petrified Forest is filled with samples of petrified wood and a variety of other fossils.  Outside, large pieces of petrified wood can be seen in the garden.  For a fee, one can walk through the forest and see whole logs preserved as they were when they fell millions of years ago. Guided tours are given every day at 11am, 1pm, and 3pm. We didn’t have time to do the walk. Someday I want to go back and do a guided tour.
Fireplace inside gift shop constructed with chunks of petrified wood
It turned out that our wedding destination was just five minutes down the road.  I’m glad we got lost on our way.  Otherwise we would never have discovered the Petrified Forest. It is truly a unique place.
Tree near entrance. Famous botanist Luther Burbank, known as the "tree wizard" visited the Petrified Forest in 1917
The Petrified Forest• 4100 Petrified Forest Road, Calistoga Ca 94515• contact@petrifiedforest.org • 707.942.6667

Monday, September 15, 2014

ALBANIA: Off the Beaten Path for American Tourists, Guest Post by Judith Steihm

Judith at the Milingona Hostel, Tirana, Albania
My friend Judith Stiehm is a professor of Political Science at Florida International University in Miami, Florida, and author of numerous books including Champions for Peace: Women Winners of the Nobel Peace Prize.  She is a true intrepid tourist and loves to travel to places off the tourist path.  Earlier this year she spent two weeks in Albania, traveling with a friend, staying in hostels, and taking local buses to get around. She has graciously allowed me to share a few excerpts from her fascinating blog about the trip.  For a full report, go to www.judithandalbania.blogspot.com .

June 16  The Milingona Hostel in Tirana sits behind stores on a busy street, behind a locked gate with a noisy dog and up three flights of stairs but is decorated with cheery murals, some painted by guests. Albania has a population under 4 million.  It is about the size of Maryland and has fine beaches and mountains up to 9,000 feet. Albania is the poorest European country, but you can drink the water and people--dressed in drab and incoherent clothing--are chatting on iphones.

Tirana Square

Hoxha Museum
Mention must be made of the giant marble pyramid designed as a Hoxha museum. (Communists, led by French teacher Enver Hoxha  created the People's Republic of Albania in 1946.) The marble is now gone and the pyramid is covered with graffiti, but daring souls climb its exterior. Mention must also be made of the many circular bunkers (800,000) which dot the landscape. Designed to withstand the weight of a tank they are too sturdy to easily demolish.

June 18  I present a lecture for the American Embassy on "Champions for Peace: Women Winners of the Nobel Peace Prize",  Afterwards, two young professors from Vitrina University whisk us away to visit their 10 year old campus with 7,000 students.  Ten attend lunch with the Rector--all sit silently and don't even eat while Mollie and I chat with the founder who because of politics was not allowed to attend university--so at age 37 he founded this one.

June 19 Now in Shkodra at hostel called Mi Casa Es Tu Casa, three hours away by bus. An old city of under 100,000 and flat with lots of bicycles. Scenery is green and lush; agriculture seems to flourish and there are many new, brightly painted houses--old ones are just left to deteriorate and are not torn down.


Mi Casa Hostel, Shkodra
At the top of a hill is the Bronze Age Castle of Rozafa.  Rozafa was the wife of one of three brothers whose hard work was undone each night by a spirit who said all would be well once a human had been sacrificed. The three wives brought the brothers lunch each day.  The brothers  agreed that whichever wife came first would be the sacrifice--but the older two told their wives not to come--and Rozafa agreed to be the sacrifice--walled up into the castle on the condition that a hole be left for her breast so she could feed her baby.  The tunnel to the castle still cries and drips her tears.

Komani Lake
June 20 Depart at 6 a.m. for 45 km drive to Komani Lake and a three hour dramatic cruise through a fjord. Fellow travelers: on roof of boat are two Slovak women on bicycles, two Belgians, two Dutch, two Italians, and me. Also aboard is a tour group of nine Israelis who let us ride in their bus to Valbona, our destination, 30 miles away.  There we walk two miles before finding a guest house on a path near the river where we can stay the night before embarking on a long and strenuous hike over the mountain. Our hosts, a widowed mother and daughter, enjoy our family pictures. Shoes off at the door--but they have TV and washers (no dryers) although electricity is irregular. It actually cuts out today--so we have candles and no hot water.  Cat is a mouser, who leaves one in the hall which Mollie steps on in bare feet.  After the soccer match is over a son appears--a soldier slated to get training at Fort Benning, Georgia next month.

Judith and Mollie were in Albania for another week, which included a side trip to Macedonia.  Go to Judith's blog for more of her report.  Here is her list of the 10 best and 10 worst things about the trip:

TEN WORST THINGS
1 Leg problem on 8 hour mountain hike
2. Mollie steps barefoot on a dead mouse
3. Squat outdoor toilet
4. Bathroom waste enters mountain stream people drink from
5. No shower available after 8 hour hike
6. Buildings left to rot, and trash left on ground
7  Mollie's hamburger in Orhid
8. Unemployed men  sitting in cafes all day long
9. Raucous noise outside hotel window
10. Running to catch flight to LA

TEN BEST THINGS
1.Lunch at Vitrana University
2.Taking bets on my age by soldier going to Fort Benning and his family
3. Standing at top of Thetsi Pass
4. Tour of icons with guide in Korca
5. Hotel balconies in Berat and Tirana
6. Berat promenade
7. People eager to help
8. Watching World Cup most nights
9. Shopkeeper who cried over her Susan B Anthony dollar
10. Folk festival in Ohrid
Berat, Albania