Posted by Ellen

This photo is ten years old now. Since then our five boys have rarely shown up in the same time zone, much less the same picture frame--this is an important document in family history.

The original negative is gone; there may be some high-resolution prints around somewhere, but I'm not sure where. What I've got on my computer is a scratched, speckled, and stained scan comprising just a handful of pixels.

This gussied-up version is only arguably better than the straight scan. Whatever: from left, in order of age, that's John, Ted, Joe, Allen, and Hank.

Posted by Ellen

For another entry in our occasional series on post-Soviet public art, consider this monument, erected in 2007 in Moscow, thonoring the Nobel-prize-winning author Mikhail Sholokhov.

There must be something about the situation of this monument that makes it difficult to photograph the whole thing at once. I've settled here for a picture that shows barely more than half of it--missing off to the right is most of a stone pedestal supporting a rowboat carrying a bronze statue of Sholokhov himself. That's the bow of the boat and the curve of Sholokhov's back at the right edge of the photo. He is just sitting in the boat, not rowing.

The boat and the swimming horses are not directly from any of his novels, I'm told. Note that there are two groups of horses, both apparently trying to swim upstream but veering off in slightly different directions. One group is reddish in color, the other whitish. This has all been described as a metaphor for the Russian Revolution, in which Sholokhov fought as a 13-year-old boy on the side of the reds. His most famous novel, And Quiet Flows the Don, looks at life among the Cossacks of his native Rostov-on-Don region of Russia in the years leading up to World War I and the Russian Civil War and revolution. If the river is representing time or history, it is surely significant that Sholokhov is facing bacward in the boat.

The monument is the work of a committee: artist Alexander Rukavishnikor, architect Igor Voskresensky, and sculptors Iulian and Philip Rukavishnikov.

Sholokhov is something of a Soviet success story. Although the revolution ended his formal schooling at the age of 13 and he suppored himself in the early 1920s as a stevedore, he decided to become a writer and took advantage of writers' seminars offered for workers.. His mother, a Ukrainian, was illiterate until late in life, when she decided to learn to write letters to her son.

Perhaps the greatest feud of Soviet literary history involved Sholokhov and Aleksandr Solzhenitzsyn, who despised one another. Sholokhov wrote a scathing review of Solzhenitzsyn's work, and Solzhenitzsyn accused Sholokhov of plagiarism. Many Moscow residents dislike the monument intensely--Sholokhov had nothing to do with Moscow, they say, and should not be memorialized in the city--certainly not on the street named Gogol Boulevard, The underlying issue seems to be that he's a Soviet author, and these latter days are a problematic time for monuments to Soviet authors.

Posted by Ellen

This rock formation, known formally as the Richat Structure and widely as the Eye of Africa, sits at the southern edge of the Sahara desert in Mauritania. It's a favorite of the astronauts looking down on us, and also a favorite of students of Landsat satellite imagery. It's not a meteor crater or a volcano, but a sedimentary rock formation, layer upon layer of tough, resistant sandstone, brought into sharp relief by softer mudrock that is eroding away. The reason for its perfectly round shape is . . . not well understood.

This image incorporates infrared energy as well as light from the visible spectrum, so the colors are not natural. But twhen the sun is shining on the Sahara Desert as the astronauts sail above it, they do see the Eye of Africa as blueish.

Posted by Ellen

Our Mongol Rally teams--"just call us Mongoleers"--have been making good progress on the drive from England to Mongolia, except for the guy who got threatened with arrest at the Ukrainian border and decided to retreat to Prague.

Those who took the northern route through Russia are now deep into Siberia, approaching Irkutsk or partying there. Except for those who had car trouble or who had to detour around Belarus, which closed its border this year to Mongoleers, without notice, they've been making good time.

The teams taking a more direct route, through Kazakhstan, report pleasant people--not even a little like Borat--but extreme heat and frequent police stops. The police want USD, it seems--U.S. dollars. We're told that 20 USD is the going rate per car per stop, but fast talkers can sometimes make 20 USD cover a whole convoy of Mongoleers.

Those attempting a more southerly route, through Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Uzbekhistan, and other countries unknown to Americans report astonishing sights, including a marble city ("slippery when wet"). They like the people and the food but say the roads are narrow and winding and confusing and slow.

The southern route through Iran proved open this year, contrary to predictions, and Mongoleers there report excellent highways and no problems.

Where are our folks? Well the boys from Detroit are pretty much worthless--as of a couple days ago, they were still in Germany. They had a lot of friends to visit along the route.

Captain Subprime and his Spanish buddies? They're spending the night at the Uzbekh border, waiting for the guards to show up in the morning and let them into the country.

And Yippo, our Dutch couple? They have crossed Iran without incident and are now in Turkmenistan, eating lunch.
 

Posted by Ellen

Last Saturday was the fourth annual Scott Fisher memorial soccer game, in which the Deering varsity soccer team plays Team Alumni as a fundraiser for the Vera Foundation, an organization devoted to teen suicide prevention. Scott Fisher was a Deering soccer player and honor student who died by suicide a few months after his graduation in 2005.

Players all wore wristbands with the number 8, Scott's number.

If Hank and Allen participate in this game again next year, they will both be playing on the alumni side. But this time they played against each other--Allen as an alumnus, Hank as a current Deering Ram. In this picture, that's Allen in white at the far left, and Hank in purple at the right. I failed to capture them both in action in a single frame, but at least here they are walking on the field at the same time. The game actually drew a good crowd; this view shows the visiting-side bleachers in the background, which were of course empty.

Usually, the alumni dominate these games. They are grown men, averaging at least 30 pounds heavier than the ever-hopeful teenage boys who challenge them. Also, there are dozens more alumni than there are current players, plenty of fresh legs. The young Rams do have a few advantages, however: they are in peak physical condition, their ball handling isn't rusty, and, unlike most of the alumni, they were wearing shin guards.

Alumni won the 2009 game, 4-1. That's not the score that matters domestically, however; what counts here at home is how the brothers scored against each other. This was a fine year in that regard; they tied, nil-nil.