Saturday, July 13, 2024

In Ann Arbor, Thinking about Paris

On the Water

Enjoying a beautiful morning after two rainy days.

Len kayaked on Argo Pond in the Huron River.

I watched a group of young children tubing on the Argo cascades.
The water in the cascades was too high for kayaks.

A flock of geese swam out from the reeds from time to time as I enjoyed the view.

Reading This Week

Another book in the Leaphorn and Chee series by Tony Hillerman: The Dark Wind (1982). Policeman Jim Chee faces down a group of ruthless drug smugglers who are using the huge Navajo and Hopi reservation lands to conceal their activities. Chee is fantastically adept at tracking humans in the desert and mountain environment — far better than the federal police who don’t have the needed skills to find large vehicles that have been concealed in the uninhabited canyons away from the roads. He’s also very brave and nearly gets killed more than once, but always outsmarts his attackers and lives to star in another book. (In fact, he has outlived his creator: Tony Hillerman died in 2008, and his daughter Anne Hillerman has published nine sequels.)

As he investigates, Chee often has to evade other people — both drug smugglers and other policemen, as well as looking for hidden and buried objects. I was fascinated by the way he watched birds and used their behavior to deduce who and what was nearby. For example, he didn’t want to be surprised while getting back to his truck after looking for signs of hidden activity:
“He spent a quarter of an hour sitting in the shelter of the rocks there, watching for any sign of movement. All he saw was a burrowing owl returning from its nocturnal hunt to its hole in the bank across from him. The owl scouted the truck and the area around it. If it saw anything dangerous, it showed no sign of it until it saw Chee. Then it shied violently away. That was enough for Jim Chee. He got up and walked to the truck.” (p. 119)

Another example:

“A flock of red-winged blackbirds had been foraging along the arroyo. They moved from one growth of Russian olive toward another, veered suddenly, and settled in another growth, farther up the arroyo. … A dove flew down the gully. It banked abruptly away from the same growth of olives. … The only thing that would arouse such caution in birds would be a human. Someone was watching him.” (p. 63)

As always, I paid attention to the occasional mentions of food that Chee eats as he carefully searches the wild areas for signs left by the criminals. One day, he starts very early and eats breakfast outdoors: “hot coffee from his stainless-steel thermos and two sandwiches of bologna and thin, hard Hopi piki bread. As he chewed he reviewed.” Another day, he brings a pack of ice and  “a can of corned beef and a box of crackers.” Once, he has a meal of Hopi stew in a restaurant, which he thinks is not bad — though as he is a Navajo, this isn’t what he’s used to. (Quotes p. 56 and 110)

I read the Tony Hillerman series years ago, and I’m very much enjoying my return to these books. They are among the most interesting police procedurals I know of, because of the extremely careful depiction of the lives and beliefs of the two protagonists Leaphorn and Chee.

Reviewed this week: books by Kenn Kaufman and Stefanos Geroulanos.

An Old Favorite for Dinner

Beef, mushroom, and scallion stir-fry served with sesame-flavor cucumbers.

Paris in July: Thinking about the Eiffel Tower

Viewed from Belleville in 2013

From across the river, 2013

Up close in 2016.

From Montmartre, 2018.

Viewed by Remy the Rat in Ratatouille, 2007.

Fireworks for July 14, 1888, launched from the partially built Eiffel Tower.

July 13, 1989. Bicentennial of the Revolution. We were there — but not this close.
(Photo from National Geographic.)

Blog post © 2024 mae sander.
Original photos © 2013-2024.

Friday, July 12, 2024

“The Birds That Audubon Missed”


This is a book about two men: John James Audubon (1785-1851) and the author, Kenn Kaufman (b. 1954). Both of them are known as naturalists, skilled observers of birds, and illustrators who painted birds. You have surely heard of Audubon and his remarkable accomplishment: The Birds of America. If you are a bird watcher or a bird lover, you have also surely heard of Kenn Kaufman’s accomplishment; that is, his expertly illustrated field guides to North American birds. Audubon, as you also probably know, created and published 435 life-sized and detailed images showing all the species of North American birds he could find in his extensive explorations during the early 19th century, including as well a number of species given to him by other birders in areas that he did not explore. 

One focus of Kaufman’s book — as the title says — is Audubon and birds, specifically the birds that were neither rare nor hard to find, but that somehow Audubon didn’t in fact notice or document. The second focus of the book is Kaufman himself. As he relates Audubon’s life story as a naturalist and an artist, he also relates his own story, beginning in his childhood when he was fascinated with birds, and continuing when he was a teenager as he hitchhiked around the USA attempting to see as many species of birds as he was able to find. 

Obviously, to cover the topic of birds that are missing from Audubon’s work, Kaufman had to explain how Audubon did find over 400 species of birds, and how he did so without any of the equipment available to modern birders. No binoculars. No telescopes. No photographic equipment. Only a gun. Yes, every bird in the book was illustrated from one or more dead birds of the species in question; in fact, Audubon devised a unique way to suspend a specimen bird on the large-format watercolor paper he used, to trace an outline of the bird, and to use the bird to create a highly realistic image including every feather and detail of the markings, the feet, etc. 

The original goal of Kaufman’s project was to understand how Audubon had managed to locate the species he found, to understand the conditions for his missing some species that might have seemed obvious, and then for himself, Kaufman, to create Audubon-style images of these missing birds. Needless to say, working in the twenty-first century Kaufman didn’t have or want the option of shooting the birds, but he worked out ways to use high-quality photographs and direct observations made with modern optical equipment. Combining Audubon’s life story and intellectual accomplishments with his own, Kaufman creates a really interesting book. And beyond Audubon himself, Kaufman includes a larger history of the development of ornithology prior to and during Audubon’s life. The accomplishments of many other scientists, naturalists and bird-illustrators of that era and their relationship to Audubon are a key part of the content of the book.

Quite a few problematic facts about Audubon have been emphasized in recent years. He had a propensity to claim credit that should have gone to many others, and in a few cases to actually take specimens that belonged to others. Most important: another fact of Audubon’s life has proved very disturbing to those who read his biography: namely, he was a slave owner without any sympathy for his fellow humans who were enslaved. Kaufman’s thinking about Audubon and slavery is harsh. In particular, Kaufman was appalled by the historic fact that Audubon once sold two enslaved men in New Orleans after bringing them from his farm in Kentucky on a failed effort to repossess a stolen steamboat. He writes:

“But I can’t move on. This is too much. No matter how I pretend the Audubons would have been benevolent enslavers (a contradiction in itself), no matter how much John James glossed over reality by referring to enslaved people as ‘servants,’ there is no excusing or condoning this history. He enslaved as many as nine individuals at a time during his family’s years in Kentucky, and a few during later periods, and never expressed the slightest regret about the practice. Those men whom he sold off for a few dollars in New Orleans — they were human beings, with just as much intrinsic worth as the man whoso cavalierly sold them…. Bought and sold, taken away forever from their loved ones and the places they knew…It was monstrous.” (p. 130)

Kaufman does not apologize for Audubon’s failings, or explain them away as a standard of morality in a different time — in fact, slavery had many critics already in the early nineteenth century. Kaufman’s way of viewing this:

“We know Audubon committed scientific fraud, plagiarizing some points and inventing others; why would he suddenly start caring about accuracy? This view strikes me as one-sided. The man's lapses into dishonesty are undeniable, but he also put forth extraordinary effort in seeking knowledge. Can we give him credit for the good work he did, while acknowledging all that was wrong?

“Today we seem to look at historical characters as through a high-contrast lens, blowing out every shade of gray, reducing everything to black or white. We treat some individuals as icons of greatness, holding them up as heroes for years-and then find out more about them, and scorn them as villains. We don't seem able to recognize middle ground. In truth, many who do great work also do some terrible damage. I'd rather see a version of history that acknowledges these individuals for who they were and what they did, without either celebrating or vilifying them.” (p. 300)

Kenn Kaufman: “Thick-Billed Longspurs.” A missing bird painted in the style of Audubon.

In My Home Town: Audubon’s Book

The first book acquired for the University of Michigan library, in 1838, was Audubon’s Birds of America.
One page of the book is always on display: at the moment, it’s this picture of an avocet.

Blog post © 2024 mae sander

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

“The Invention of Prehistory”


Stefanos Geroulanos, in The Invention of Prehistory, has written a book about the history of an idea: the idea of prehistory. From his introduction:

“Like some religious stories, modern claims about prehistory can offer a soothing picture. Consider a primeval hominid on the savannah. It has just descended from trees and stood up. It might mate or craft tools, it might feel for others, hunt, paint on rocks, even build a sort of home. That creature speaks to us. It quenches our thirst for self-knowledge. Entire sciences have been built to tell us how ‘we’ came to be. Careers have been made, curricula drawn up, knowledge pushed forward, policies rewritten. Thinking about human origins has been one of the most generative intellectual endeavors in modern history.  

“It has also been one of the most ruinous. The Euromodern search for origins began in and then contributed to a long, brutal history of conquest and empire. It has been drunk on hierarchy. It is rooted in illusions—often murderous ones. It has served ferocious power. Its beautiful ideas have justified force against those deemed weak, different, ugly. It has rationalized colonial domination and eugenics. It has contributed to the destruction of Indigenous peoples. The sinister dimension of prehistory is easily disavowed and forgotten—after all, the archaeologists who dig up old bones and the biologists who study hominid genes are seldom the vectors of violence. But prehistory is, at its core, a device for creating meaning—for celebrating those who practice a particular idea of humanity and for demonizing those who don’t.” (p. 6) 

The intellectual history of the study of prehistory in Geroulanos’s telling is very interesting, involved, and full of famous names, which he mentions fast and furiously. Here are just a few of them as I highlighted them while reading the book: John Ruskin, T.H. Huxley, Napoleon, Charles Darwin, Marx & Engles, Pablo Picasso, H.Rider Haggard, Sigmund Freud, the far-Right Action Française journalist Léon Daudet, Walter Benjamin, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Alfred Döblin, Ruth Benedict, Claude Levi-Strauss, Gunnar and Alva Myrdal, William Blake, Nietzsche,  Virginia Woolf, Thor Heyerdahl, Jacques-Yves Cousteau, David Attenborough, W.E.B. Dubois, Marshall McLuhan, Jacques Derrida, Zora Neale Hurston, Steven Pinker, Jared Diamond, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Italo Calvino, … and others too.

The author describes the contribution and the influence of each of these thinkers and many others. He includes many quite fascinating illustrations (such as the one shown, a depiction of early man from a work dated 1838). He describes how political systems during the last several hundred years, including monarchy, fascism, democracy, and more have employed ideas about the origins of humanity to advance their agendas. 

It’s a very complicated and fast moving book: also bewildering and overwhelming because he has so much to say. Summarizing the book is in my view impossible, so I am now giving up any more effort to talk about it.

Review by mae sander © 2024

Monday, July 08, 2024

The Tour de France Goes On. Also Elections.

National Elections in France

Final Vote Sunday, July 7

Post-election crowds at Place de la République, Paris, July 7.
First the political news from Paris: the election result on Sunday, July 7, was unexpected. The left-wing coalition won the most votes, while the near-fascist party obtained the fewest votes. A very dangerous result was thus avoided, though many unknowns remain as to how the winners will govern.

Continuing post-election celebration at Place de la République.


Riders in Sunday’s stage of the Tour de France, 2024.
I used to watch this major French sport, but I haven’t been interested in recent years. 
However, I’m participating in the blog event “Paris in July” and thought someone should mention the Tour!
Obviously, I’m not there but I found the photos online.

Jonas Vingegaard downs some water after winning Tuesday’s stage 16 time trial (Getty)
Increasingly hot summers are challenging the cyclists more each year.

Souvenir water bottles. Drinking enough water is obviously a necessity.

Thirsty Riders 2015-2023

All cycling photos are shamelessly copied from news articles on the web. The two Place de la République photos are from CNN. This blog post is shared with Paris in July and with the weekly celebration of drinks at Elizabeth’s blog. 

Sunday, July 07, 2024

Outdoor Art in Ann Arbor and Paris

 Embracing our Differences

An Outdoor Mural Exhibit at Gallup Park from May to October, 2024

“Embracing Our Differences Michigan exhibit is an annual, juried outdoor installation featuring billboard-sized images created by local, national and international artists reflecting their interpretations of the theme ‘Enriching Our Lives Through Diversity’” (source)

One Paris Mural

On our brief Paris visit in May: I saw only one outdoor mural. 

Photos © 2024 mae sander
Shared with Sami’s Monday Murals and Paris in July.

Saturday, July 06, 2024

The First Week in July

Fun on the Fourth of July

For Deb’s Sunday Salon (link), here are some of the things I’ve done this week,  beginning of course with our July 4th celebration. Nine of us gathered in our back yard to have a barbecue. Here are just a few photos of the great foods we enjoyed.

Ready for guests.

Kabobs: mushrooms, sausage and peppers, ready to grill.

Grilling! We also made chicken and onion kabobs.

Nat made a Nantucket Blueberry pie: same as he ate as a child when his family had a summer place in Nantucket.
His mother knew all the good berry bushes. Nat knows where to pick great wild blueberries here in Michigan.

Jason made two kinds of ice cream: cherry and blackberry. We also had a box of strawberry ice cream.

After dinner: fireworks in the park.

What I’ve Been Reading

Listening Woman by Tony Hillerman (1925-2008)

Listening Woman was published in 1978, the third of Hillerman's twenty-five books about Navajo tribal policemen Joe Leaphorn and (in the later books) Jim Chee. Hillerman was recognized for his knowledgable presentation of Navajo individuals and their culture. To solve a murder and several other open cases, Leaphorn must use enormous reasoning skill, knowledge of the hostile mountain and desert terrain, and understanding of Navajo traditions and beliefs. He also has to use his grasp of how to deal with the FBI agents who are assigned to the cases he is solving. As he hides in a cave while rescuing a number of hostages from some very murderous criminals, he risks his life over and over and deploys incredible cunning and bravery. Not to mention 33 hours without food. It's a great book! 
Two other books I read and reviewed this week.

Afternoon Coffee

At Argus Farm Stop: windows depict the local eggs, produce, milk that are sold here.


In the Garden

Blog post © 2024 mae sander