Hole in the Clouds

March 2016

Tomatoes for the Troops

Mar 1, 2016

In January 1943, Australian truck gardener and food packager Edgell & Sons Ltd opened a new cannery in Cowra, New South Wales, for the war effort; by January 1944, these women and other employees working in shifts around the clock had shipped off one million cans of tomatoes and other vegetables.

The cannery at Cowra stayed in operation till 2013, by which time Edgell had shifted over mostly to frozen foods, and every other cannery in Australia had already closed down. Birdseye now owns the company, though Edgell survives as a brand for the Australian market.

food   work   World War II   Australia   industry   factory   women   New South Wales   Cowra   1943   (Image credit: Office of War Information via Shorpy)  

City Sunset

Mar 2, 2016

Nothing stays the same. Day goes to night. Some weather's coming in. And off in the distance there's that harbinger of something big in the works–23 stories big, we're told. In a few months, the view out this window should be kinda different. Watch this space.

sunset   window   crane   roofscape   (Image credit: Fuji T)  

At the Supreme Court

Mar 3, 2016

Clearly, if you want a job doing news in front of a TV camera, you have to have that glow, along with blonde hair that stays perfectly in place even in the winds of March.

These women were reporting on Wednesday's Supreme Court arguments in a Texas case severely curtailing access to abortion. In front of the Court building, they were surrounded by demonstrators, an estimated fifteen hundred championing reproductive rights and another few dozen with bullhorns screaming about God and whores.

Below are a couple of scenes of the demonstration, including some notable handwritten protest signs: "Not every ejaculation needs a name," and our personal favorite, "Why are we still talking about this?"

Washington, DC   demonstration   abortion   media   reproductive rights   (Image credits: Fuji T)  

Top of the House

Mar 7, 2016

In 1930, when Allen Frederick Larsen of Muscatine, Iowa, was four years old, he sat for his portrait up on the rooftop, his bare feet dangling over the overhang. His own father took this photo, we're told, along with many others showing young Allen in precarious poses–often on rooftops, sometimes on railroad bridges. "It's a wonder he grew up to meet Mom," notes his daughter. "Grandfather took a lot of pictures."

house   portrait   1930   child   roofscape   Allen Frederick Larsen   (Image credit:Larsen via Shorpy)  

Big Birds, Little Birds

Mar 8, 2016

Americans know the birds of John James Audubon from prints of his work bound into books, notably Birds of America (1838). The prints were based on watercolors painted by Audubon over a ten-year period beginning in 1827; for some reason, all the paintings are owned by the New-York Historical Society, which rarely displays any of them.

We were able to see some of the watercolors, however, during a recent exhibition celebrating the sesquicentennial of their purchase by the Historical Society, and the great blue heron above caught our eye. It seemed awfully blue; the great blue herons we have seen in real life are all much more grayish; the color reference in their name always struck us as more of a wish than an observation. Audubon, of course, was a world-class observer.

Well, we looked this stuff up on the internets, and the internets all insist that, gosh, the mistake was ours, not Audubon's. The bird above is a little blue heron, painted in Louisiana and native to coastal marshes there and elsewhere around the Gulf of Mexico.

Audubon's great blue heron, below, is properly gray in color, and very, very cool.

art   engravings   great blue heron   John James Audubon   little blue heron   watercolors  

Springtime's Greatest Hits #1: The Badlands

Mar 10, 2016

Here in Philadelphia, the sun is smiling on us this week; it feels like spring, and it will look like spring very soon. We'll know it when we see it. Even in South Dakota's appropriately named Badlands, where life is tough and the weather is bad pretty much all seasons of the year, faint green hints of spring can be discerned in the landscape–not in March, however; the photo above was taken in mid-May 2014.

landscape   spring   South Dakota   Badlands   (Image credit: Little Fuji)  

Springtime's Greatest Hits #2: Vermont

Mar 11, 2016

On the afternoon of March 7, 2009,  the ice went out on the White River in South Royalton, Vermont. For hours, the river roared and groaned, as its thick cover of winter ice was ground to bits by rampaging ice chunks from miles upstream. By the next morning, the river ran free, except along the banks, where rocks and logs had snagged some of the frozen slabs and beached them on dry land. Over the next few weeks, the jumble of beached ice melted very slowly, and then it was really spring.

winter   ice   Vermont   spring   White River   South Royalton   breakup  

Springtime's Greatest Hits #3: New York City

Mar 12, 2016

Mandrake, a plant of biblical, medieval, literary, medical, and comic book significance, blooms in April in New York City, in the garden of the Cloisters at the northern tip of Manhattan.

Mandrake flowers, shown here as buds just beginning to open, are pretty little bell-shaped blossoms, but they are traditionally of little interest. The leaves are heavy and heart-shaped and can grow huge over the course of a summer, but they too are mostly overlooked. With mandrake, a plant native to the Mediterranean region, it's all about the root.

Mandrake root is long and thick and often split into two legs, sometimes arguably resembling the human form. It's also powerfully sleep-inducing when ground and soaked; it was used as an anesthetic in antiquity and into the Middle Ages. In the bible, and perhaps also in the poetry of John Donne, extract of mandrake root cured infertility. In folklore all over Europe, a human-shaped mandrake root in your pocket offered protection even if the church was not on your side; Joan of Arc was charged with "habitually" carrying root of mandrake.

Mandrake was said to spring up in ground drenched with blood or semen from a man being hanged. If you pulled the plant up out of the ground, as Shakespeare warned us, its man-root would scream, and you could die from hearing the scream. There was a report as late as the ninteenth century of a British gardener falling down the stairs and dying after accidentally pulling up a volunteer mandrake.

(In Harry Potter, of course, young witches and wizards wore protection.)

In 1934, "Mandrake the Magician" emerged as the world's first modern costumed superhero, in a newpaper comic strip that ran continuously until 2013. The hero Mandrake's ability to instantly hypnotize bad guys may have been, pardon the expression, rooted in the medicinal tradition of the mandrake plant.

Manhattan   garden   flowers   New York City   plants   Harry Potter   mythology   The Cloisters   mandrake   Ron Weasley  

Footwear #2: Tied

Mar 14, 2016

Even in organized tournaments, an ultimate frisbee game generally features no referee or scorekeeper. Teams call fouls on themselves and keep track of the score using a spare frisbee and a jumble of shoes; after each goal, a shoe is moved to one side or the other of the frisbee, depending on which team made the score. When this picture was taken early in a game at the 26th annual Potlatch tournament over the July 4th weekend in Redmond, Washington, the score was tied, one up.

Despite what seems obvious from this picture, ultimate frisbee players don't usually compete barefoot. Out on the field, they wear soccer cleats or running shoes.

And if the goal scoring should happen to outpace the number of available scorekeeping shoes, one shoe can be turned sideways to stand in for five vertical shoes, much as tick marks are slashed sideways in bundles of five.

The Potlatch is among the largest tournaments in the ultimate frisbee world, with teams coming to compete from as far away as Korea, Alaska, and the east coast of North America. In the game being scored above, the Garden Gnomes of Olympia, Washington, eventually fell to a team from San Francisco; the Gnomes have changed their name to O'School and signed up to try again at the 2016 Potlatch.

sports   summer   ultimate frisbee   shoes   grass   score   Olympia, Washington  

Little white dots

Mar 17, 2016

Southwest of Tuscaloosa, near the small town of Moundville, Alabama, the meandering Black Warrior River twists and turns through mostly forested countryside. In this rendering based on satellite imagery, there are little white dots scattered everywhere in the trees and the fields; each dot is at the end of a little spur of road.

These are drilling pads for methane wells.

Methane is the gas that sickens canaries in coal mines. It's what all too frequently makes underground mines explode; wherever there's coal, there's methane. Commercial extraction of coalbed methane, to be sold as natural gas, began in the early 1980s, and the Warrior basin of Alabama was scene of the world's first methane boom; to maximize production quickly, wells were drilled every few hundred feet throughout the region.

After a very few years, the boom went bust. Most wells now sit idle, and many have been orphaned, leaving the cleanup and decommissioning expenses to the taxpayers.

But you can still see the little white dots on the landscape, even from space.

Alabama   methane   Black Warrior River   coalbed   drilling rigs   meanders   Moundville  

Who Shot First?

Mar 18, 2016

Sunday marks the 101st anniversary of the Gallipoli Campaign of World War I, when Allied forces tried and failed to gain control of the Dardanelles Straits connecting the Aegean and Mediterranean with the Sea of Marmara and the gateway to Asia, in what was then the Ottoman Empire. But honestly, we're not sure why Sunday is the official anniversary, since the nightmarish campaign actually began in January 1915 and dragged on for eight horrific months.

These bullets and many other similar specimens are on display in Turkey's Gallipoli historic museum. Pictures like this one show up on the internet from time to time as the spectacular consequence of "a mid-air collision." Although the two bullets did, of course, collide, the collision was apparently not in mid-air; no rifling marks are visible on the lighter-colored bullet, which we are told indicates that it was never fired. Perhaps it was in an ammunition clip or even a storage crate when it was struck by the darker-colored bullet.

More than 100,000 combatants died in the campaign, which involved Allied soldiers and sailors from England and France and many French and English colonies, including Newfoundland, New Zealand, India, and Senegal. The Ottoman forces that beat them back were led by Mustafa Ataturk, who went on to found the Republic of Turkey.

Ottoman Empire   World War I   Ataturk   Gallipoli   Dardanelles   mythbuster   bullets   (Image credit: Turkish Gallipoli historical museum)  

Home Sweet Home

Mar 28, 2016

This sketch from an 1878 Philadelphia city directory shows the factory and storage yard of Williams Marble & Slate Manufacturing Company. It's the building we live in these days; a long time ago, perhaps in the 1920s, the factory was converted to residential use and divided into twelve apartments. The stable and storage sheds were torn down and the land sold to a rowhouse developer. The industrial presence in our part of town near the Schuylkill River has slipped into an industrial past.

Williams was once a thriving stone works, specializing in slate mantelpieces and stovetops. In 1876, it exhibited its products at the Centennial Columbian Exhibition, America's first World Fair. The slate and marble were quarried in the mountains of northeast Pennsylvania and floated downs the Schuylkill on barges to Philly's emerging heavy-industry area along the river–basically, the young city's backyard. Wharves and workyards hereabouts handled coal, building stone, and brick-clay from off the barges, and Irish immigrants poured into the neighborhood to work on the docks and in the factories.

All the factories are gone now. The brickyard is a park and community garden.

We live on the second floor, in the corner with the big chimney.

Philadelphia   Schuylkill River   factory   Fitler Square   Williams Marble & Slate   1876  

The Baroque Garage

Mar 30, 2016

As part of a recent downtown revitalization project, the city of Skopje, capital of the Balkan Republic of Macedonia sponsored an international design competition for a new multi-story parking garage. The call for submissions specified that the garage should hold 315 parking spaces and must be designed in a "baroque, classic, neo-classic, romantic, and neo-romantic style."

Clearly, the Skopje city fathers were looking for something fancy, but apparently there was also a political agenda. That long list of architectural styles they were interested in all point to a Western, Christian, bourgeois European history for Skopje–which never really existed. Also, the list is notable for its omissions: no hint of the oriental and Islamic traditions with which Macedonia was associated for many centuries, and of course also no hint of the country's recent Communist past. In other words, the government wanted a politically correct parking garage.

Winning architect Milan Mijalkovic, of the Viennese firm PPAG,  went neo-baroque in his design. He started with a snapshot taken by a young girl, Andrea Popelka, showing a bit of the baroque architecture typical of streetscapes in Vienna. The image was repeated, distorted, and abstracted to wrap around the garage in a multi-layered facade. Where there were windows in the streetscape, there are openings in the facade to allow light into the parking levels.

Parking garages have a history of their own in Skopje. After a devastating earthquake in 1965, Japanese architect s were invited in to help plan for recovery. They noticed that the city had few cars and little infrastructure for dealing with automotive traffic, and they suggested that this might be the city's opportunity to plan for the traffic that surely would someday fill the streets. They built numerous garages around Skopje's apartment towers. But it took several more decades for the cars to come to Skopje, and in the meantime, the garages were repurposed to store vegetables for the city's markets.

architecture   parking   Milan Mijalkovic   Skopje   Macedonia   Vienna