Sunday, June 24, 2012

Solstice Festival

The sun is shining, and it's almost the longest day of the year ...

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Welcome the sun with rows and rows of dancers in sparkly costumes ...

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Bands of drummers with an African god for a leader ...

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Dragons and monsters including Nessie, pushed by a man in a kilt ...

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Families and kids buying gauzy halos and polka-dot wings from street vendors with carts...

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Handmade floats powered only by human labor, like this one with Ganesha onboard and a blue Hindu god pushing it down the parade route...

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Santa Barbara has a long tradition of an alternative parade for the summer solstice, which took place yesterday. We bicycled down to the parade route and around the car-challenged city. For lots more photos, click on any of these to see them on Flickr.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Dreaming in Ojai


What if you dreamed that your books were taking over your whole house? Sometimes it seems as if books are doing that. You would find that your kitchen had filled up with cookbooks.


Even your sink turned into a bookshelf. You could hardly see your old tiled countertops. The stove had disappeared behind a bookcase.


And your living room was crowded with more and more books. Scarcely any room was left for chairs or tables. Little alcoves of books, locked display cases, shelves near the ceiling, and old paperback turning racks were everywhere.


Even when you looked out the windows, bookshelves had filled your yard with mazelike structures. 

FINALLY: you find the checkout counter. You aren't dreaming after all.


You're really at Bart's Books of Ojai: "The World's Greatest Outdoor Bookstore." The core of the bookstore is really an old house, and twisting alcoves of books (mainly used books) have taken over the whole yard. Quite a dreamlike experience, I found!

For more about our short visit to Ojai see:

The Witch of Endor Ate Here

Thursday, June 14, 2012

In my neighborhood

Yesterday evening I took a walk through my very hilly neighborhood here in Santa Barbara. Most of the houses have extremely beautiful gardens, often making use of steep slopes. A few houses have grassy lawns; most use plants that are well-adapted to the dry climate here. To me, many plants seem exotic: jacaranda trees, hibiscus hedges, jasmine, bottle-brush trees, and even overgrown geraniums that have grown woody thanks to years of growth without freezing.




 For more photos click on any of these to see my Flickr set.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

In the Park

I thought this tree would surely be full of kids using its nearly horizontal branches to climb and hide:


What the little sign says:  no-climbing2

Crows seem to love it, though. Several were perched there sometime after I took the photo. They were having a loud cawing conversation, like all the crows around here. One was eating a dead mouse.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Memento Mori

I was walking along the beach when I noticed a gull pecking at what I took for one of the numerous piles of kelp that the tide was washing in. Actually, it was a dead seal -- dramatically dead! Its head was reduced nearly to a skull. In ancient or medieval times, I've learned, this would seem to be an omen or a reminder of mortality, but in fact, the day was beautiful and the sun was bright (after a misty morning). Children and families were everywhere, enjoying the day. I just don't have that medieval mindset. It's not a reminder of anything, just part of the interesting California beach scenery.


Wednesday, June 06, 2012

What did Magellan and his sailors eat?

"Real bread" was the first food that the 18 survivors of Magellan's circumnavigation of the world ate upon returning home. Their fleet's one remaining ship had finally landed at the mouth of the Gualquivir in Spain. For three years, they had been at sea, having left the Guadalquivir with five ships and 265 men. After spending months out of sight of land, taking sides in a failed mutiny, witnessing the death of their leader Magellan and many other comrades, and exploring new territories in South America and the Pacific, their privations were over and they kissed the earth as they landed.

"For years they had not fingered the soft, aromatic crumb; for years they had not known the flavours of the wine, the meat and the fruit of their homeland," wrote Stefan Zweig at the end of his account of Magellan's voyage. Zweig's Magellan is an imaginative and dramatically written account of this, the first voyage around the world. He published it in 1938, but like many of his works, it's been reissued recently.

Zweig depicted Magellan as a taciturn hero, who acted boldly but never without forethought, except perhaps in the instance of the one fatal mistake that led to his death. Zweig was as admiring of and interested in Magellan's long and careful preparation for the voyage into the unknown as he is in the voyage itself.  He detailed first the patient preparation of food, ships, and supplies, then the alternation of plenty and famine as the five, then four, eventually only one ship, the Victoria, (shown below in an image from Wikimedia, from a 1590 map) circled the globe.

Just decades after Columbus's discovery, when ocean voyages were extremely long, basic ship's provisions mainly consisted of biscuit (a long-lasting hard bread that was the mainstay of all ocean trips until modern times). Magellan's ships also carried beans, lentils, oil, salt pork, cheese, dried fish, and other staples. A few cows would provide milk for the start of the voyage; along with a few pigs, there could be fresh meat -- though not for long.  In both the text and in an appendix, Zweig lists the amounts and the cost of all these provisions, illustrating Magellan's careful record-keeping and planning.

Wine was to be served with two meals a day during the voyage: Magellan laid in hundreds of casks and bottles. Obviously he also provided what he hoped would be adequate supplies of drinking water -- though the ships' reservoirs often became foul and the water after long days at sea became nearly undrinkable.

Magellan wanted his men to eat well. To the staple supplies he added intriguing extras: sugar, vinegar, garlic, onions, raisins, figs, almonds, honey, currants, capers, salt, rice, mustard, quince paste, and flour. What were the cooks' recipes to be made from these tasty additions to ordinary ships' provisions? I'm sure no one made any record of such a thing.

Preparing to sail around the world -- which had never been done before -- Magellan knew that his would be the longest voyage ever planned. He expected few opportunities for re-supplying his five ships. In fact, he believed the strait between the Atlantic and the Pacific to be far closer to the equator than the Strait of Magellan, which he discovered. And he found the Pacific Ocean to be much vaster than expected as well.

Consequently, the enormous food supplies were inadequate. As the five ships finished the voyage down the coast of South America, a mutiny and the desertion of one of the ships helped to deplete the supplies. Magellan's underlings, when they traitorously took over one of the ships, opened the stores to the crew to buy their loyalty. By that time, perhaps the most luxurious foods like figs, raisins, currants, and almonds had already been used up -- rations had already been cut significantly.

After coming through the newly discovered strait, the remaining ships had an agonizingly long reach across the Pacific. The crews experienced first hunger, then scurvy and other forms of malnutrition, and finally (in many cases) death by starvation. The biscuit, unpalatable when fresh, crumbled and turned to dust; however, it was the only nutrition available. The sailors eked it out with sawdust and with the meat of the ship's rats, which became a delicacy. They soaked, boiled, and ate some of the rigging as well.

In contrast, when the starving remnant reached the Philippines, the welcoming king of Cebu Island offered them feasts of sweet tropical fruit and other delicacies. Bananas, palm wine, coconuts, exotic vegetables, and roasted fish with fresh ginger --good food and fresh water brought them back to life. As they visited various islands, including the Spice Islands that had always been their goal, they learned to enjoy these treats. Though Magellan was already dead, they claimed the islands for the king of Spain as they had meant to do.

While making their way back to Europe, the voyagers suffered again. By this time, 1520, the route from the Spice Islands through the Indian Ocean and around Africa was well known. Politics, however, made the excruciatingly long trip from the Spice Islands back to Spain even more frustratingly hunger-ridden than the Pacific crossing. Magellan, a Portuguese by origin, had been rejected by his own king, and thus was sailing for Spain. All the ports were Portuguese, and his ships and men were labeled pirates in Portuguese territory -- a price was on every head.

Thus, the survivors had to hurry across the seas without going into port except once, on a ruse. By the time the last 18 sailors once more tasted the bread and wine of their homeland, they had been starving for months since their days of feasting. Moreover, they were starving within a ship loaded with exotic and unimaginably valuable spices that could do no more for their hunger than the ocean did for their thirst, according to Zweig's narrative.

Obviously, most of Magellan is about non-food issues -- though the motive Zweig cited on the very first page, and which persisted throughout the voyage, was to create a proprietary Spanish trade route to the Spice Islands to obtain rare spices for European use. I've concentrated on the issues of eating and starving that were the undercurrent throughout.


I'm writing beside a very calm Pacific Ocean beach, thinking of the naked terror that other parts of these waters must have delivered to Magellan and his crew. Cormorants roost in the trees and tiny sailboats dash around the harbor. So different!

Two very interesting things in Magellan that are not related to food are:
  • Magellan had a Philippino slave who traveled with the ships and was intended to be an interpreter. When the ship landed in his land of origin, he thus became the very first man ever to circle the globe. (He also was caught up in the nasty aftermath of Magellan's death at the hands of a rival to the Philippine king who welcomed the voyagers, and thus remained in his own country when the ships left.)
  • Upon their first stop at a port on the African coast, when they were almost back to Spain, the surviving sailors discovered the paradox that their carefully maintained ship logs recorded the day of the week as Wednesday, but the local date was Thursday. Being the first men to make a full trip around the world, they discovered that you need an international dateline (to explain it with an anachronism). Zweig says this was incredible to the people of that era: "as exciting to the humanists of the sixteenth century as has been the theory of relativity to those of our own generation."

I enjoyed Zweig's book and its rather retro style of writing historic narrative. My only reservation is that he sometimes overuses Homeric similes.

Shoes with toes


Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Paul Krugman Blues (We Have Them)

In beautiful sunny Santa Barbara (no June Gloom today) we still read the New York Times and all Paul Krugman has to say about the declining world economy and awful prospect of Republicans winning everywhere, doing what they want to us. From Krugman's blog: a guy who sings the Krugman Blues.