Monday, February 27, 2012

MESA VERDE, COLORADO: Home of the Ancient Cliff Dwellers

Caroline and her brothers at Spruce Tree House, Mesa Verde, 1958
When I was fourteen years old, my family went on an extended summer camping trip from our home in Minnesota to southern California.  One of the highlights along the way was a visit to Mesa Verde National Park in southwestern Colorado.  At that time, the campground was on top of the mesa, just a stone’s throw away from the visitor center and the ruins of Spruce Tree House.  My brothers and I spent hours climbing the ladders and exploring the ruins.  Inside the visitor center I loved peering at the dioramas with their tiny houses and people, and reading about the pottery, tools, and other items in the exhibit cases, trying to imagine what life was like when the Ancestral Puebloans had inhabited these mesas and canyons.  In the evening, our family cooked our meal and ate it around the campfire, much as the Ancestral Puebloans must have done more than a thousand years ago.

Native Americans known as the Ancestral Puebloans [formerly called the Anasazi] lived at Mesa Verde between A.D. 550 and 1300. They left at a time when there was a long drought and never returned.  Their descendants are among the Native American people who live in the southwest today.
Diorama of Spruce Tree House, which was inhabited 1100 - 1300 A.D.  The dioramas at Mesa Verde were constructed in the 1930's by the Civilian Conservation Corps.
When I returned to Mesa Verde in 1990 with Richard Hewett to do the research and photography for our book, The Ancient Cliff Dwellers of Mesa Verde, I found the park just as fascinating as I had as a child.  The campground had been converted to a picnic area and as we ate our lunches there it brought back memories of my childhood visit.  Since then, many more ancient sites within the park had been discovered and excavated, and new research was offering new evidence to explain why the Ancestral Puebloans had abandoned their cliffside dwellings so suddenly.

One of my favorite parts of the park was a small garden plot near the visitor center where the park rangers were growing corn, squash, and beans, just as the Ancestral Puebloans had in prehistoric times.  I have always been fond of bean soup and I was delighted to discover in one of the gift shops a package of red beans with a recipe on the back for Anasazi bean soup.  The recipe is below.  Although I doubt that the Ancestral Puebloans used ham hocks or lemon in their recipes, I can imagine that they might have put a chunk of deer meat and locally gathered flavorings into their beans as they cooked them over the fire.  In any case, as you eat this delicious soup, you can imagine that you are high on a Colorado mesa, gazing across the plain below.

Anasazi Bean Soup

1 package of red, pinto type, beans
2 quarts of water
1-2 ham hocks
Salt and pepper to taste
1 16 ounce can of tomatoes
1 large onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1-1 ½ teaspoons chili powder
Juice of ½ lemon

Soak beans overnight.  Drain beans.  Add water, ham, salt and pepper.  Cook until beans are tender.  Add tomatoes, onion, garlic and chili powder and cook another half hour.  Add lemon juice before serving.  Enjoy!

The high elevation of Mesa Verde, which is about seven thousand feet above sea level, makes it slightly cooler in summer and wetter than the plain below.  Both the climate and rich soil made it a good place to grow crops.  Beans were added to the Anasazi diet during the period about A.D. 550-750, and were an important source of protein.  Anasazi beans were very much like today’s pinto beans.  The Anasazi ate them fresh and also dried them to be used later. [Page 25, The Ancient Cliff Dwellers of Mesa Verde by Caroline Arnold (Clarion Books, 1992)] Note: the term Ancestral Puebloan replaced Anasazi after my book was published.

Visit Mesa Verde: The National Park Service website for Mesa Verde has everything you need to know to plan a visit to the park including directions, maps, things to do, and links to information about camping and lodging.  There are also pages with downloadable activities for kids and for teachers.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Oxfordshire: A Weekend in the English Countryside, Fall 1998

Oxfordshire, Sheep Grazing
(Excerpt from the London Diaries, September 1998)
 A Taste of Fall
    The weather has changed to more fall-like temperatures and there is a nip in the air.  Every day is a mixture of overcast, sun, clouds, rain, and wind as weather systems sweep down from the north.  One difference between England and California is the skies—here they constantly change.  It is no wonder that artists like Turner and Constable were so fascinated by them.  In our outings we were lucky to be outside during the nice times and inside when it turned nasty.  One thing about changeable weather, it never lasts long.

A Weekend in Oxfordshire

Thames River, near Reading
On Friday evening we took the train to Reading, which is about a half hour west of London, to spend the weekend with friends. Their home, an 18th century stone warehouse converted into a large house, has a beautiful garden with a fountain in back and overlooks the Thames in the front.  At that point the river is perhaps thirty yards across and meanders under willows on one side and along a sheep pasture on the other.  We watched swans and ducks, fishermen, and passing canal boats, which you can rent by the week for a leisurely trip along the river.

Giant White Horses
Uffington White Horse, Oxfordshire
Our morning excursion on Saturday was to see the Uffington White Horse.  This is a giant drawing of a horse (about 40 feet long) carved into the top of a hillside.  According to the sign, it is 3000 years old and was probably carved at the same time Neolithic people built a fort on the top of a nearby hill.  (All you can see of the fort now are the ditches around it, but the view of the countryside from there is terrific.) The chalk downlands are a geologic feature of southern England and are characterized by rolling hills covered with short grass and tiny, almost alpine-like, flowers.  The downlands are used mostly for grazing and apparently people raise racehorses in this region. Just under the soil, is the soft, chalk stone.  The grass and dirt were removed to make the drawing of the horse.  
    The outline of the horse is white, but it is surrounded by green grass, which makes it easy to see from a long way away.  The one thing that puzzled us, though, is that you can’t see the whole horse at once except from the air.  We decided that the neolithic creators of the horse must have known that airplanes would be invented sometime in the future.  I had never heard of these giant chalk figures before, but apparently there are quite a few of them in this part of England. I picked up a piece of the chalk rock and tried writing with it on another stone and it worked almost as well as the blackboard variety.

Churchill’s Home
Blenheim Palace, Birthplace of Winston Churchill
In the afternoon, we visited Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, the home of the Duke of Marlborough and the birthplace of Winston Churchill.  Blenheim is a grand country house and surrounded by 2000 acres of beautiful gardens and lakes, most of which were designed by a renowned 18th landscape architect named Capability Brown.  This was back in the days when, if there wasn’t a lake where you needed one, you simply dug out the landscape and filled it with water to create one.  Or, if you wanted your hedge to look like a bird, you simply sculpted it that way.
Topiary Bird, Blenheim Palace
While we were at Blenheim, the ever changeable weather changed, and it started to rain, so we headed home for a nice cup of tea.
Note: We returned to Oxfordshire a month later to visit the town and university of Oxford, which will be covered in another post.
Hay drying in a field, Oxfordshire

Monday, February 13, 2012

Japantown, San Francisco

Paper lanterns at Soko Hardware, Japantown, San Francisco
When most people think of tourist destinations in San Francisco, they think of Chinatown.  But, just as interesting and not so crowded with tourists is Japantown, on Post Street, between Laguna and Fillmore.  During the Christmas holidays we made a family expedition into San Francisco and stopped for lunch and a look around in Japantown.  Highlights included browsing in Soko Hardware store, which carries everything from lightbulbs and garden supplies to pottery and paper lanterns; posing in front of the Tori Gate on the Buchanan Mall and the Peace Pagoda in the plaza across the street; shopping for trinkets at Daiso, the huge Japanese equivalent of a 99 cent store (one of our purchases was a pair of socks with five toes); and lunch at the upstairs Iroha restaurant, where we had sushi and huge bowls of udon noodles.
Sushi and udon noodles at Iroha Restaurant
Before World War II, this area of San Francisco was a thriving Japanese community, but during the war many residents were forced to leave and go to internment camps.  Although some returned, today this area is mostly for tourists, but with an amazing array of shops and businesses carrying Japanese goods.  We purchased some beautiful handmade Japanese paper, some ceramic bowls, and souvenir chopsticks for the kids. It was fun to window shop and see on display lovely silk fabrics, welcome kitties, all sorts of origami, and more.  Many of the shops and restaurants are in Kintetsu Mall and Miyako Mall, which flank the Peace Plaza.  The Miyako Mall is also the location of the Japanese American Historical Society and has photos and information about the World War II detention camps. 
Origami decorations were everywhere
We did a self-guided tour of Japantown using a card from City Walks San Francisco: 50 Adventures on Foot, published by Chronicle Books.  Each card in the set is a miniature guidebook, with a map on one side and notes about places to visit on the other. In my opinion, the “deck” of cards is a brilliant concept.  I don’t know how many times as a tourist I have struggled with  unwieldy maps (when I only needed to use one small section) and bulky guidebooks, in which I was always losing the appropriate page and had more information than I needed at the time.  The City Walks cards (about 4" by 6"), printed on heavy cardstock, fit easily into your purse or pocket and are easy to consult as you walk along.

After our lunch in Japantown, we headed for the San Francisco Opera House, about ten minutes away (by car) for an afternoon performance of the Nutcracker by the San Francisco Ballet.  Altogether, it was a very successful day in the city!

Getting there: San Francisco is a city with excellent public transportation and Japantown can be reached by buses #2, 3, 4, or 22.  However, we went by car.  Unlike some parts of the city, where parking is a challenge, we had no trouble finding parking along Post Street.  There is also a parking garage adjacent to the malls.

Monday, February 6, 2012

London's Toynbee Hall: The First Settlement House

Toynbee Hall is in London's East End
In the summer and fall of 1998, during our three month stay in London, I paid a visit to Toynbee Hall, founded in 1884.  I wanted to get  more insight into the beginnings of the settlement house movement in England and also how it evolved--or in fact, didn't evolve--in the same way as it did in the United States.  The visit was inspired by the research I did for my book, Children of the Settlement Houses, and my own background growing up in a settlement house in Minneapolis.  (Until I was ten, my family lived at the Northeast Neighborhood House, now East Side Neighborhood Services, which my father directed.  Go to at my website  and to my Dec 14 Art and Books blog for more about my life growing up at Northeast Neighborhood House.)

Social reformers Samuel and Henrietta Barnett founded Toynbee Hall
Much of Toynbee Hall was bombed during WWII, but the main building that has the dining room and main meeting room remains almost unchanged.  I was surprised to find out that the main focus, even into the 1980's, was still residential--that college and post college students from Oxford and Cambridge would live in Toynbee Hall and the idea was that somehow this meeting of the classes in the neighborhood would result in the enlightening of the poor.  I somewhat overstate the case, because there are some ongoing programs for children and the elderly at Toynbee Hall, but it doesn't seem to have the vibrancy of U.S. settlements, which as far as I can tell have changed a lot in the last hundred years to meet the needs of the time.  Part of the stodginess of Toynbee Hall, I'm told, is because of the huge cutbacks in funding for social programs during the Thatcher years.  Many social service agencies in Britain have still not recovered.  In any case, it was fascinating for me to see the roots of the settlement house movement.  You might say that if it hadn't been for Toynbee Hall my parents might never have met and I wouldn't be here today.  (My parents were social workers and met in Chicago in the 1930's.  They lived and worked at Association House as they were training for their careers in settlement house work.)

Settlement houses still exist today, mostly in large cities, and are community centers offering a wide range of social services ranging from day care and food banks to sports and recreational programs, services for seniors, and more.  A famous early settlement house in the United States is Hull House, founded by Jane Addams in Chicago.  I visited Hull House, now a museum, earlier in the same summer that I visited Toynbee Hall.  The neighborhood that Hull House originally served was torn down for urban renewal, but the original building is maintained by the University of Illinois.  Settlements have evolved as the needs of the people in the neighborhoods around them have changed.  Some have closed their doors but many continue to serve the people in their surrounding communities. Sadly, the Jane Addams Hull Association, which had served people in Chicago for 122 years, closed its doors on January 27, 2012, a victim of the economic downturn and inability to fund its programs.

In 1884 when Toynbee Hall was founded, the neighborhood around the settlement, which is in London’s East End, was largely Jewish and eastern European , but now it is almost totally Bengali.  As you walk down the main shopping street you see shops filled with strange vegetables, exotic spices and beautiful saris.   The neighborhood is also famous for its restaurants and on the day of my visit I had a delicious and inexpensive curry lunch at one of them.