Category Archives: Culture and History

American History

The latest book I read was The Heart of Everything That Is: The Untold Story of Red Cloud, An American Legend. I highly recommend this book. Not solely about Red Cloud, it reveals a lot about the history of the American West that most people probably don’t know, and mentions a number of other American legends, such as Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, and Jim Bridger among others. It is factual and relatively unbiased. Slanted a bit in favor of Native Americans, as you probably expect, but not the usual “noble savages vs. evil Europeans” story. Atrocities, or what we today would call terrorism, were committed by both sides and is not glossed over. (Warning for the squeamish)

A lot of what we think we know about history is wrong or only partly true. I think too many of us get our knowledge of history from movies and TV dramas. The American Indians, the Sioux at least, which is who this book is mainly about, were both more politically sophisticated and more savage than most people believe. Ultimately, they were defeated not by the superior numbers and weapons of European Americans but by the loss of the buffalo, upon which they depended for food, clothing, and shelter.

A quote from the book:

Memory is like riding a trail at night with a lighted torch. The torch casts its light only so far, and beyond that is darkness. – Ancient Lakota saying

The Native American Spock

Leonard Nimoy as a very Spock-like Native American in a 1966 episode of Gunsmoke. Now I really want to see the entire episode.

I found that at Newspaper Rock. The same post, a Native American perspective on Nimoy and his most famous character, contains several longish quotes from other blog posts and articles. Excellent and not to be missed.

Leonard Nimoy

I should write something about Leonard Nimoy, a long, eloquent tribute. But I really don’t have that much to say. Or maybe I just can’t say it all at once. Maybe it will come in little bits over the next few weeks or months. Star Trek premiered when I was 8 years old so I am old enough, just barely, to remember a world without Star Trek and old enough to remember when it was just another popular TV show but it’s not easy to remember. It seems like Star Trek and its characters have always existed and they have a kind of reality beyond mere fiction.

Right from the start I loved the character, Spock, and I wanted to be like him – not totally unemotional but dignified like Spock. The best thing about Star Trek is the interaction between characters but if I had to pick just one favorite from the original series it would be Spock. And if I had to pick a favorite from all the different Star Trek series? Honestly, I guess I would have to call it a tie between Spock and Picard and I love that the two of them got to meet each other.

But Leonard Nimoy was more than just Spock. A character I enjoyed as much as I did Spock, or maybe even a little bit more, was William Bell in Fringe. He was only in a few episodes but he was an enigmatic and hugely important character. For a whole season or more they talked about the mysterious William Bell and when he finally appeared, what a thrill to see that it was Leonard Nimoy! This and other later appearances were especially sweet because I could see how shockingly old he was and I thought, “He might not be with us much longer,” but at the same time I had hope that we would get to see him acting in something just a few more times.

Please go watch this video (embedding disabled)

I Might Be Vintage but I’m Not Antique

I know this isn’t an official definition but I have a strong feeling that anything made in my lifetime cannot be an antique and anything made since I have been an adult cannot be vintage and that last is a bit of an emotional compromise because I really feel that anything made since I was about 10 cannot be vintage. A couple of days ago I joined an antique sewing machines group on Facebook. (Oooo, big surprise, right?) It appears that some members were recently up in arms because someone had posted a picture of a sewing machine from the 1980s. The 1980’s? Really? Well, you can bet that if I had been there I would have been in the group wielding torches and pitchforks.

It occurs to me that everyone has the same definition: “made before I was born, antique; made when I was a kid, vintage.” So, if you’re in your 20s that means that there are a lot more antiques in your world that there are in mine. But what are the real, official definitions of these terms? I found this article on the Difference Between Vintage and Antique on eBay, which seems like a reasonably authoritative source since it’s a site where people are buying and selling things. According to the article, antique is anything valuable or collectable that is over 100 years old. Vintage is anything valuable or collectable that is over 50 years old. There is some flexibility in the definitions, especially for vintage. But, the bottom line is, everyone really needs to stop calling stuff made in the 1980s “vintage.” And it’s certainly, most definitely, NOT antique.

More About W&G Sewing Machines

Yes, I am still obsessing over the Willcox & Gibbs sewing machines. But it could be worse; I could be bitching and moaning about the weather. (and I probably will later)

I want one of these. Want, want, want, with a powerful, powerful want! But it’s not going to happen, at least not a treadle model because I simply have nowhere to put it. Even if someone gave me one I would have to refuse it. (and then I would cry for the rest of my life)

Seriously though, this is a really fascinating machine. The way it works is very different from other machines. This lady talks rather slowly, especially at the beginning of the video but be patient. This is well worth watching.

I Was Wrong

UPDATED

I had an “I love it when I’m wrong!” moment today. (Also an “I love the Internet!” moment) If you watch Mythbusters you probably recall Adam Savage declaring, with child-like glee, “I love it when I’m wrong!” when an experiment yields a result that is contrary to what he was expecting. Well, generally, I dislike being wrong as much as most people but there are some moments when the thrill of discovery completely outweighs the disappointment or embarrassment at having been wrong.

A little over a year ago I posted a photo of a rusty old sewing machine that I had assumed was a hand crank model. Well, today someone posted a picture of the same model machine, complete and in much better condition, on Facebook. It was electric! And, having a company name, I was able to Google it and find this fantastic page about this machine and the company that made it – Willcox & Gibbs.

It is really a very interesting machine. It uses only a single thread instead of a spool and bobbin like most machines and I would so love to play with one. It’s a long article but well worth reading. It’s not only about the machine itself but even more about the company.

UPDATE: The earlier Willcox & Gibbs machines were hand crank so I could still be wrong, or rather, I could have been right in the first place. I found another page about Willcox & Gibbs sewing machines with more about the machines themselves and more pictures. There’s also a link to a video.

Fiction and Truth

Many years ago I read The Wine of Violence by James Morrow. (I actually think I still have that book somewhere.) At the time it was the weirdest book I had ever read and I appreciated it for its weirdness even though, in general, I would have to say it was “not really my cup of tea.” Some years later I read The Continent of Lies. Again, weird but far from being one of my favorites.

A couple of days ago I finished reading Morrow’s novella, City of Truth. It is set in Veritas, a city (or perhaps a country?) in which no one is able to tell a lie and even metaphors are considered abhorrent. Every child is required, at about age 10, to undergo a horrific “treatment” that renders them permanently incapable of telling a lie. This makes for a very bleak society in which there is almost no art and everyone speaks the blunt, unvarnished truth, without even so much as a figure of speech. But there is a subversive group of people who have somehow learned to overcome their conditioning and are able to tell lies and create and enjoy art. One man is convinced by a member of this group that “lies” (specifically the psychological effect of a positive attitude) could save his terminally ill son.

The “What if everyone had to tell the truth?” question has been done to death in all kinds of fiction, but this somehow feels different, maybe because the story is, overall, very bleak. Morrow likes to explore questions of psychology and morality but he doesn’t come to any firm conclusions. Is it better to always tell the truth? Is it better to be able to lie and to at least conceal or soften some truths? If asked the first question without the second most people would probably agree that it is better to tell the truth, without thinking about the implications of complete truth. But the real world in which everyone is able to lie, usually undetected, has many problems. Obviously a balance would be best. Truth need not mean that we can’t have art and that we can’t be kind.

These questions seem to me, rather silly. Most of us know the difference between a truly bad lie and a merely kind or courteous lie. In between these are “lies of convenience” (I was stuck in traffic. The check is in the mail.) that we know are wrong but that somehow don’t seem so bad. There are, of course, people who push the limits, people who tell lies in order to sell us stuff, to sway us to their cause, or to get elected. We must expose and punish liars but this leads to finger pointing, witch hunts, and better, more careful liars. What more can anyone say? We are an imperfect species. Trying to get rid of our imperfections is like killing bacteria. The strongest bacteria survive and multiply but we can’t stop trying or the bacteria will wipe us out.

English History

It has always bothered me that I know very little of the early history of England. In U.S. public schools all we get is maybe a paragraph briefly explaining what feudalism was and a mention of the Battle of Hastings without saying why it was important. Never mind; just remember that it happened in 1066. That’s all you need to know. So, when The Norman Conquest: The Battle of Hastings and the Fall of Anglo-Saxon England by Marc Morris showed up in the Kindle monthly specials list I pounced on it like a kitten on a catnip-filled toy mouse.

The book covers nearly the entire 11th century and I was surprised at how much detail is actually known about this period in English history. Apparently just about everyone who could write (and that wasn’t very many people at that time) was writing a book or chronicle or something about what was happening in the world right then. Of course these writers were as likely to be biased and revisionist as political writers today but Morris compares sources – where they agree and where they disagree – and comes up with a pretty good picture of events and life in 11th century England.

I can see how a lot of people might find this period in history extremely tedious – the battles, the brother and cousin murders, the land grabs, and so on – but in this book it is well told and filled with dry humor. For example:

If we had to sum this new society up in a single word, we might describe it as feudal – but only if we were prepared for an outbreak of fainting fits among medieval historians.

I consider this book a great find and there are a couple more books by the same author that I intend to read.

Road Trip, 1919

I’m not especially fond of travelogues (except for those written by Bill Bryson) and I have no interest in reading about motorcycles, but when Number One Son (a.k.a. “Hippie”) recommended Across America by Motor-cycle by C. K. Shepherd I thought it might be interesting because this trip across America took place in the year 1919. It was definitely worth reading.

First of all, I must say this book will give you a new appreciation of paved roads, even poorly maintained ones. A great deal of the book consists of complaining about the state of the roads but there are also, motorcycle repairs, encounters with friendly and helpful small town people, and wonderful descriptions of scenery. My favorite part was the description of Arizona’s Petrified Forest. I’ve seen pictures of the place before but reading about it gave me even more of a feeling of what it’s like.

The most amusing part, to me, was the author’s confusion upon finding that the Arkansas River had no water in it. We in Tulsa and the surrounding area are quite familiar with the varying water levels of the Arkansas.

I downloaded the Kindle version with images. There are only a few small photos but I was glad for the chance to see them.

Christmastime, Lazy Blogging, Christmas Music, etc.

I get the feeling that hardly anyone is reading this anymore. That’s okay. I understand. It’s Christmastime and you’re all busy, as you should be. I am too and I’m not so inclined to put much effort into this for the next week or two. That doesn’t mean I’m going to completely disappear but you might not get anything but Christmas music and maybe an occasional brief comment that could almost fit on Twitter. Well, anyway…

I heard this on the radio yesterday. (a different recording) The Huron Carol was written ca. 1642 by a Jesuit Missionary living with the Huron tribe in Canada. He changed some parts of the Christmas story to make it more accessible to the Huron tribes people. (click link for lyrics)

Christmas Music Time!

Oops. It’s past mid-week and I didn’t do the “Mid-Week Music Break” thing. So I was thinking… since it’s December, I need to do a weekly Christmas music thing. (Some more ambitious people are doing a daily Christmas music thing.) So then I thought I should get my annual tearful lament out of the way first. But this year will be different because I discovered something. (Yay Google!)

The version of a song that you grow up with will always be right even if it is an obscure, oddball recording that no one has ever heard of and the “wrong” version is the standard that everyone is familiar with. This has always been the situation with me and the Christmas song, O Holy Night. (Originally a French carol) I grew up with a recording by an ensemble called the Longines Symphonette that had slightly different lyrics from the standard English translation that we always hear and it drives me nuts every time I hear the wrong (i.e. standard) version of it.

Every year I search in vain. But this year, finally, I found it! It’s just the middle part of a medley (starting at about 1:28) but these are the right lyrics.

Aside from having the right words… well, I can’t really complain about this choir and soloist. They actually are good, but I can’t help thinking how lovely it would have been if Nat King Cole had known the correct lyrics. [sigh]

edited for clarity

Reading

I actually have two books that I want to talk about. I’m going to start with the one I finished two or three weeks ago (?) and never got around to saying anything about. The other book, the one I just finished, I want to think more about exactly what I want to say, and I have other things I need to do today, so I’ll probably (I hope) get around to that one later today or maybe tomorrow.

Into Africa: The Epic Adventures of Stanley and Livingstone by Martin Dugard is an exciting account of the famous explorers’ adventures and ordeals in Africa. Stanley and Livingstone are two names I have heard most of my life, and of course I have heard the famous line, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” many times, but I had only a very vague idea of who they were. Something about explorations in Africa.

Into Africa reads like an adventure novel but it is completely factual, based on the journals of David Livingstone and Henry Morton Stanley, which author Martin Dugard quotes frequently throughout the book. I think it is difficult for a person of our century to imagine the popularity of explorers during the 19th century. It is tempting to compare them to rock stars or, perhaps more appropriately, Neil Armstrong.

The “Holy Grail” of the day was finding the source of the Nile. Dr. Livingstone was one of a number of Europeans who set out to find the source. He failed to return from Africa when expected and was reported to have been killed by natives but many people believed that he was still alive and the public demanded that an expedition be sent to find him. Among others who went to Africa to search for the missing explorer was British-American journalist Henry M. Stanley who was sent by the New York Herald, hoping to “scoop” rival newspapers.

I wish I had more in detail to say about this book but, like I said, it was a few weeks ago that I finished it and my mind is not really on it anymore. I can say that I very much enjoyed it and I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in history and/or epic adventure.

related

Today Is Not Columbus Day

Yesterday was Columbus Day – the traditional day that is. When I was a kid Columbus day was really just like any other day, just like it is now. We still had to go to school if it was on a weekday but we got to do something different like color a picture of three wooden ships or maybe watch a film. It was used as a teaching opportunity but most of the stuff we were taught back then was wrong.

Now Columbus Day is just a Monday off for government employees and a day when I have to remember that I don’t need to go get the mail. For the perpetually offended it is another excuse to take offense and to post holier-than-thou rants on the Internet. And it is a somewhat problematic day. Columbus didn’t even know that he discovered anything – he was even wrong about the size of the Earth – and his voyage and landfall led to a lot of bad history as well as the good that those of my generation were taught in school.

Personally, I wouldn’t mind if Columbus Day just went away. Oh, I would be a little sad but I would get over it in about five minutes. The worst thing about getting rid of Columbus Day would be having to listen to the uproar from those traditionalists who are more vocal and political than I am. But seriously, when you think of all the great people in history who do not have their own special day, is Columbus really any more deserving of his own day? There is no Benjamin Franklin Day or Thomas Jefferson Day. There is no Ferdinand Magellan day, no Nikola Tesla Day or Thomas Edison Day, no George Washington Carver Day, no Neil Armstrong Day. The list of explorers, inventors and statesmen for whom there is no special day could go on and on. There are not enough days in the year.

So why Columbus? Well, he was significant for what his accomplishment ultimately led to even if he had no idea. The Vikings discovered America long before Columbus but they only stayed for a while and then left the continent as they had found it. After Columbus, Europeans just kept coming and coming and coming. For good or ill, the voyages of Columbus were the beginning of something that changed the world as nothing else ever has. So maybe that does deserve a day. Maybe it should even be a much bigger day. But this has been talked to death already. Maybe a better question would be, “Do government employees really deserve a day off that most other people don’t get?”

Eureka Springs: Quigley’s Castle

Quigley's Castle, Eureka Springs, AR

I took more pictures of Quigley’s Castle than of any other place we went in Eureka Springs but I have been worrying over whether or not I should post any pictures of the inside. Since there is only one picture of the interior on the Quigley’s Castle website it seems, somehow, impolite for me to post a bunch of photos. (One of the other places we went was Pivot Rock and the woman in the gift shop there objected to me taking pictures of the antiques she had in there and I thought, “They let me take all the pictures I wanted at Quigley’s Castle and you don’t want me to take a few pictures in your petty little store? Get over yourself!”) Anyway, I looked on Flickr and there are already quite a few pics of Quigley’s Castle so maybe it won’t hurt if I post just one or two?

Quigley’s Castle is billed as “the Ozark’s Strangest Dwelling”. It is very unique but, to be honest, it didn’t seem at all “strange” to me. Inside the exterior walls there is a four foot wide, two story tall space that is open to the ground for plants to grow and there are bougainvillaeas that have been growing there for nearly 70 years as well as some other plants. In some ways the home seems fairly typical of a nice rural home of the early half of the 20th century but it does have some unique features of decor, the most spectacular of which are the plant space and the butterfly wall. (someone else’s photo) The walls and ceilings are all wood planks. We didn’t see a bit of plaster anywhere in the house.

Bedroom in Quigley's Castle, Eureka Springs, AR

Mrs. Quigley loved to collect rocks, which is something I would have already been doing all my life if I had any idea where to go to collect interesting rocks. (When I was a kid I had a “rock collection” that I kept in a three-pound coffee can. Most of them were very small, no bigger than a grape.) And in addition to the rocks, and the plants, (which, honestly, would all be dead or very sickly looking if I lived there) and the butterfly wall, there is something immensely appealing to me about the house – the furnishings and decor and just everything. So I feel like I totally understand Mrs. Quigley. It’s like we were sisters in another life.

The garden is full of rock sculptures like these and there are several bottle trees, (someone else’s photo again) which I think are kinda tacky but also sort of clever and charming.

At Quigley's Castle, Eureka Springs, AR

Eureka Springs: the Food

One of the great and unique things about Eureka Springs is that there are almost no chain restaurants. We saw a Pizza Hut, a Subway, and a McDonald’s and that was it. We have a bad habit of eating in the same places everywhere we go and I love that Eureka Springs’ lack of these places forced us to eat in one-of-a-kind restaurants.

We arrived in time for lunch on Friday and ate at a place called The Roadhouse. It was a nice little place with standard American food. I ordered a hamburger, even though I keep saying I need to give up hamburgers, and felt overstuffed for the rest of the day. But it was very good.

That evening driving around in an old residential area we found a charming little restaurant with a sign outside that just said “Fresh”. Not seeing any other sign to indicate what it was called we took that to be the name of the place. I had a salad made of locally grown spinach with cranberries, pecans, and orange poppy seed dressing. It was wonderful. My husband also had some kind of salad. Our mistake was in deciding to indulge in dessert. They had a green tea cheesecake which I couldn’t resist ordering. You know what they say about curiosity? Well, it didn’t kill me, and it actually wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t very dessert-like, barely sweet at all. In fact, the salad was sweeter than the dessert. This place was more expensive than we are used to so that, in combination with the less than exciting desserts, left us with kind of a bad feeling about the place although I think the fact that they use locally grown greens in their salads probably justifies their prices. I would eat there again, order the same salad and a different desert but I probably won’t ever get the chance.

And by the way, I wish I had taken a picture of the giant metal flowers on the corner outside this restaurant. They look nice from a distance, or if you’re not really paying attention, but as we were getting into the car to leave (We were parked on the end right next to them.) I thought, “Those look a little creepy up close. I sort of feel like I’m in an episode of Twilight Zone.

Saturday morning we ate at The Family Pancake House. A pretty standard pancake house – pancakes, waffles, eggs, hashbrowns, etc. We both had what they called “Indian Pancakes”, made with corn meal. They were very good. The inside of the place was decorated with a lot of vintage transportation stuff.

We saw several Mexican restaurants while driving around so we decided we wanted to eat at one of those for lunch Saturday. We picked the wrong one. It was called La Familia. It wasn’t really my first choice of the Mexican restaurants we saw but it was the first one we came to and it was easy to get into. There was another one I was more interested in that was up on the side of a hill and it wasn’t immediately clear how to get to it. The instant I stepped through the door of La Familia I had a bad feeling about it but I told myself, “Don’t be a snob; some seedy looking places actually have pretty good food.” It didn’t. It was the most bland and tasteless “Mexican” food I’ve ever eaten. They did have hot sauces on the table but one expects Mexican food (or any food) to have some seasoning already. The food at this place was about as tasty as the paper napkins.

That evening, after some discussion, we decided on The Catfish Cabin. The exterior, a “log cabin” with a wrap around porch, suggested a nicer place than it actually was on the inside but it wasn’t too bad. It had an atmosphere of cheapness but they had gone to some effort to give it a fishing shack look. We both ordered the chicken strip dinner, mine with sweet potato fries and my husband’s with regular fries. The menu said that all dinners came with choice of fries, plus hush puppies, coleslaw, beans, and green tomato relish. They brought us each a plate with three tiny chicken strips, fries and hush puppies and placed individual serving size bowls of coleslaw, beans, and green tomato relish between us. Since they were single serving size bowls I naturally expected that this was for just one of us and they would soon bring the rest of our order but no, that was it. Single serving size bowls to share between us. As it turned out though, the fries and hush puppies were enough to make up for the undersized chicken strips and side dishes. The sweet potato fries were the best I’ve ever had. Usually sweet potato fries are rather limp but these had the same crispness as regular fries. The hush puppies were wonderful, perfect. Lots of onion, just the way I like them.

There were two other restaurants (besides that Mexican place on the hill that I mentioned earlier) that I really wanted to go to but didn’t this time. I am hoping that there will be a next time, before too many years go by, so I will get to eat at those places.

Sunday morning we decided to indulge in one of our favorite vices: IHOP. There is no IHOP in Eureka Springs but there’s one in Rogers Arkansas, which was on the way home. We had sort of a weird encounter on the way in. Just as we were coming up to the door there was a young man leaving the IHOP, pissed off, muttering something about “ten minute wait, no coffee, no water.” A ten minute wait to be seated at an IHOP on a Sunday morning is nothing. We have waited for half an hour or more so we went on in, and were surprised to find no one waiting. We were seated immediately and had coffee and water within two minutes. I was really sorry I couldn’t hunt the guy down and ask him, “Just what exactly is your problem?” All I can think of is that he ignored the sign that clearly says, “Please wait to be seated” and just walked in and sat down and so, of course, did not get served.

Eureka Springs, AR

We spent about a day and a half in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. It’s a cute little town, famous for its hills and its Victorian homes. There are a lot of interesting little shops and a few attractions. I took over 100 pictures but now I’m thinking of things I wish I had taken pictures of but didn’t.

My favorite things were Quigley’s Castle and just walking around downtown.

We looked in a number of the shops downtown but didn’t buy anything. Now I’m regretting not buying one of the beautiful Eureka Springs mugs for my collection but at the time I didn’t want to carry it around all day and besides, the last thing I need is another mug. Not that I have all that many. As collections go mine is very small but I have no place to put another mug. But now I really want it. I’m still not sure though, if I would rather have the one with the cardinal or the one with butterflies.

I will be posting more pictures this week and writing more about what we saw in Eureka Springs.