Monday, October 16, 2017

The Owl and the Pussycat

The Magellanic Horned Owl was one of the birds we were really excited to see. Several years ago, a major forest
fire reduced the habitat where this bird can live, so they are less abundant than they once were.
Our excellent bird guide patiently looked through the area where they often spend the day, and found this one.
This morning's delight: this young puma -- a huge cat that's the local top predator. Pumas weigh around 200 pounds. 
A little after we spotted the cub, its mother and her other cub showed up. On the hillside below, we could
see a recently-killed guanaco that they were probably about to feed on.
Yesterday we watched this male puma several miles from where we saw the family. He appeared to be injured,
as we saw him there again several hours later, and they don't usually sit still. He was no longer at the spot today,
and we hope he was not in trouble. Our guides reported the sighting to the rangers. Outside the park, ranchers
sometimes shoot the pumas despite protections they are supposed to have.
We have seen much more ! Flamingos are just starting to arrive here after their spring migration.
The local version of the meadowlark has a red breast. In North America,
the breast is yellow.
It's been a beautiful day, with some rain but quite a bit of sunshine. We started the morning with this rainbow outside the
dining room during breakfast.

The Rhea

The Rhea is a huge ostrich- or emu-like bird that lives here in Patagonia. Today, more hiking in the spectacular mountain landscapes. Tomorrow we (and the 15 people we've been with so far) join the National Geographic Explorer, a ship with around 160 passengers, and continue our voyage onboard towards Cape Horn.

We expect to have no internet while onboard, but hope for an occasional flash of communications.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Birds in Patagonia: We hope more to come!

Andean Condor
Austral Parakeets, local species -- these were very wet as it was raining! We were wet too.

Magellanic Woodpecker
Magellanic Horned Owl

The Guanaco

The guanaco is a relative of the alpaca, the llama, and the vicuna, and a distant relative of the camel.
Large packs of guanacos and also solitary ones live all over the high pampas and mountain sides here
in the extreme south of Patagonia, Chile, at Torres del Paines National Park.

Pumas attack guanacos, and then the condors, foxes, and other
scavengers feed on the carcasses. Our guide points to one.

We've also enjoyed some birding -- like this local gull from
yesterday on the shore of Last Hope Sound.

An Upland Goose -- these are everywhere, in pairs.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Friday, October 13, 2017

Santiago to Puerto Natales, Chile

"Above the swimming snow
a long black question." 
-- a poem by Pablo Neruda on the black-necked swans, local native birds.

Near our hotel in Puerto Natales in Patagonia, Chile, we saw these, as well as a number of other birds.
Beginning at 4:15 AM this morning, we flew from Santiago to Puento Arenas, from which we could see the Strait of Magellan. From the airport we boarded a large coach bus: another 2 or 3 hours to Puerto Natales. It's amazing how far we have gone!

On the way we kept our eyes peeled for interesting wildlife -- and for domestic sheep, llamas, cows, and horses. The road goes by the large pampas, open space with yellowish grass. We saw several rheas, numerous upland geese, and a few large cara-caras (a bird of prey). The bus was too fast, and its windows too dirty, to allow photography from within it.

We then checked into our hotel, which is built into the walls of a former industrial plant where the sheep were once slaughtered and processed for export. Between the reception desk and the guest rooms one walks through a huge generator bank that once produced power, heat, and cooling. It was a model of 19th and then 20th century technology, no longer needed.

Our room:
Our View 
It's very beautiful.
Again we saw the Andes from the plane:


Thursday, October 12, 2017

Atlanta to Santiago chile

Venus is the little light dot as the sun rose

The Andes.
No telling when we'll be in internet communication and when we won't. This is the first day of our 2-week trip to Santiago (just today) and to Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

"Porco Rosso" by Miyazaki

Hayao Miazaki is one of my favorite film makers. I love his fantasies and his art work. I love "Spirited Away." I love "My Neighbor the Totoro," and more. Yesterday we watched "Porco Rosso" about a flying ace who has been cursed and therefore looks like a pig. His vocation is fighting pirates. The scenes with aerial dogfights and other aerial adventures are marvelous. The plot is improbably and wonderful.

Miyazaki loves to show food scenes -- in this movie, the hero eats several meals with various people. Above, my favorite, is a spaghetti dinner cooked & served by a number of women at the aircraft factory where his plane is being renovated (including a new engine with the brand name "Ghibli" which happens to be the name of Miyazaki's film studio.) Fio, the granddaughter of the factory owner, who happens to be a very talented engineer and pilot, serves the spaghetti to her grandfather and Porco.

At a seaside restaurant with Fio. Porco is a very sophisticated and talented pig, but has a sort of Humphrey-Bogart-character
attitude towards only being for himself, no ideals. Very different from the pigs that appear in "Spirited Away."
Jina, the woman that all the flying aces love. She also has a restaurant and
bar and sings in French.
Maybe I have never written about this classic filmmaker before. I don't know how that happened!

Thursday, October 05, 2017

A Fall Morning

My 1986 copy of Ishiguro's book. I'm glad he
won the Nobel this morning!

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

"Against the Grain" : A Contrary Book

Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States by James C. Scott (published 2017) is difficult for a reader like me, a lay reader without a lot of formal training in history. The book is presented as viewing prehistory in a new way -- reinterpreting the story of how humans took over the earth, how humankind eventually developed agriculture and cities and political classes, and how inhabitants of emerging settled cities might not have been all that happy with "civilization." Scott's purpose is to rework the classic narrative of "progress, of civilization and public order, and of increasing health and leisure." (p. 1).

There's some paradigm-shifty content of course, but what the book really does is to show a reader like me new things about the non-elite city dwellers (where elites usually get the most attention), and above all about people that history sometimes terms "barbarians." These "barbarians" were the people outside the cities and their territories, people who didn't rule the land; didn't till the fields and produce the grain for the storehouses that supported civilization; and didn't build the monuments. Some outsiders were raiders that lived on caravans trading goods between civilized cities. Some were nomads who gathered forest foods and hunted, or did mixed agriculture not field crops. At times, these were enemies of the cities' rulers -- kings, priests, nobility. Scott mainly describes the history of Mesopotamia, but includes examples from many other emergent civilizations such as Greece, China, and the Americas.

We remember the cities and their rulers because their stone constructions and written history to glorify their efforts survived, Scott observes. Life in early cities posed lots of difficulties, not always acknowledged. "An epidemic, one imagines, was capable of devastating a city in a matter of weeks. A shortage of fuelwood or the gradual siltation of canals and rivers resulting from deforestation was more a matter of gradual economic suffocation -- quite as lethal but far less spectacular." (p. 195). But life outside the cities was active and vital though it left far fewer traces. People outside, cultivating land or hunting and gathering, could have a kind of counter-civilization, more freedom than the subjects in the cities, and sometimes fewer diseases of civilization.

Scott's description of the many downsides of early city life is interesting and detailed, and very revealing to a reader like me. He shows that many of the non-city people nearby frequently had escaped from cities, where forced labor and slavery kept larger populations alive and supported a relatively idle upper class. Mining and smelting metals, quarrying huge stones, and constructing pyramids, temples, palaces, and tombs demanded low-wage or slave labor: there's no other explanation for people accepting these horrific tasks. The written records don't directly admit the rulers' troubles, but the archaeological record combines with hints in the archives to suggest their problems.

When they went to war with other cities, the early despots usually took loot and slaves -- though not usually new territory. They had enough trouble governing the land they already owned, controlling their subjects, and keeping the local "barbarians" from stealing their wealth and retreating into the wild areas where they lived. The captured people, along with local slaves or workers, contributed to the huge building projects. Captured women became breeders of new slaves or in some cases of new subjects: early societies were sometimes open to changing of one's class. And walls around settled areas functioned not only to keep out the "barbarians" but to prevent slaves or unwilling workers from running away to a freer life. Slowly, successful outsiders could became partners with the city rulers in quite a number of ways, such as taking a share of the wealth in exchange for ceasing their raiding activities.

Before Scott gets to the invention of cities, he details a history of agriculture and how it led to life in settlements. There are quite a few surprises in this account: for example, his very detailed case for the necessity of grain-growing agriculture -- rice, wheat, barley, maize -- in enabling cities to form. I won't try to summarize this. Scott undermines quite a few of the accepted "facts" that usually appear in accounts of the prehistoric transition from nomadic hunting and gathering to sedentary life. He considers both later written history (by scribes in early cities) and recent discoveries in archaeology, especially the timing: settled agriculture in some form existed for centuries or millennia before cities appeared.

Several "golden ages" of new civilizations ended in interim "dark ages" when cities fell into ruins. Scott makes us question the usual interpretation that this was a loss for humanity: the people who had labored to build the cities became more free and perhaps happier and even healthier when the darkness descended. Maybe it wasn't so dark to them, but only to later elite writers and propagandists favoring giant building projects and ambitious rulers -- the workers "may well have avoided labor and grain taxes, escaped an epidemic, traded an oppressive serfdom for greater freedom and physical mobility, and perhaps avoided death in combat. The abandonment of the state may, in such cases, be experienced as an emancipation." (p. 211).

Before the discussion of settled agriculture and cities, the heart of the book, Scott begins by describing how early humans and pre-humans changed their environment -- and changed the whole earth -- by using fire to clear forests, to chase and entrap large game animals, and to affect edible plants before humans could be said to cultivate them. He concentrates on domestication of animals and in what he also calls "domestication" of subjects and slaves. This is a long story, and includes much human activity besides fire. As the New Yorker review of Against the Grain puts it: "Fire is the difference between eating lunch and being lunch." (Review: "The Case Against Civilization: Did our hunter-gatherer ancestors have it better?" by John Lanchester, New Yorker, September 18, 2017)

I won't try to duplicate Scott's interesting argument about how very early humans and pre-humans employed fire and changed the earth for hundreds of thousands of years. Scott suggests that earlier accounts don't appreciate how very long was the era when cultivation of crops and domestication of animals were a predominant way of life, but cities and higher organization didn't yet emerge. Early chapters of the book give details and sources for all this.

For me, the value of Against the Grain is not in what it may or may not challenge about conventional accounts of the history of human civilization and its opposites, but the details of how the inhabitants of early cities and the outsiders who lived differently interacted for many millennia. To see what's new and what's conventional in Scott's account, you really have to read it carefully.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Using Durkee's Sauce: A Follow-up

Making potato salad with Durkee's Famous Sauce, to which I wrote an
ode this morning. You can see the spoonful of sauce ready to stir into the mix.
Ready for dinner -- it was tasty! Fingerling potatoes, parsely, celery, egg, mayo, and SAUCE.

A kind of an ode to Durkee's Famous Sauce

O Durkee's!
Once the love of millions... on salads, eggs, and turkeys,
Between the mayo and the hot sauce,
On every grocer's shelves.

O Durkee's!
You may have been on Mary Lincoln's table in the white house,
At cook-outs and at our house,
But now missing from our markets:
No one wants you any more?

O Durkee's!
Creamy, mustardy, and tangy,
Our little jar, hand-carried from St. Louis
Where Durkee's still appeals.

Durkee's Famous Sauce was invented in New York in 1857 by
Eugene R. Durkee, and advertised by ads like this in the 1880s and 90s.
I found several old ads by randomly searching with google.

Twentieth Century Ads for Durkee's

Durkee's sauce isn't so famous any more. However, we've been enjoying our one jar that Carol brought us from St.Louis, which seems to be the main place where this historic condiment is still well-loved. Maybe Abraham Lincoln liked it on his boiled meat, maybe people used it as a basting sauce for BBQ chicken, maybe lots of people eat it the day after Thanksgiving on sandwiches of leftover turkey, stuffing, and cranberries. Our jar isn't going to last until Thanksgiving, but maybe I'll manage to try it in deviled eggs.