Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Processional on the First Sunday of Lent

Colored Sawdust used to create mat

In February, as Lent approaches, the Jacaranda trees which are all around Antigua, Guatemala bloom. Their purple petals are royal in color and set the scene for the season. Antigua is known for it's processionals and on each Sunday in Lent, A processional will begin at a church on the edge of town and wind its way toward the site of the old cathedral at the City's Center. I was blessed to be in Antigua for the first such processional for 2018.  In preparation, large colorful designs made of flowers and/or colored sawdust, are placed along the route of the processional. 
Flowers are used for this mat

Those with banners lead the processional 
While the processional is still a ways away, young men with banners began to make their way down the street as the music from the band can be heard long before one sees the musicians.

The largest float with the suffering Jesus
As the processional approaches, priests swing censers filling the air with incense.  Immediately my head began to react to the smell and I realize why I could never be a Catholic, Orthodox or Buddhist priest (there's other reasons, but my allergies is at the top of the list). 

The floats are carried on the shoulders of men who wear purple robes.  Those who carry the float are exchanged each block.  As they slowly move forward, the float seems to rock back and forth. Time seems to appear to slow down as the float waddles down the street carried by local men.
The statue of Jesus carrying the cross provides a visual that goes well with the mournful sounds coming from the band.

The band follows the Jesus float, providing a mournful tune to encourage those who are a witness to the processional to reflect on their sins and on our human role in crucifying the Savior.

Following Jesus is a float of the blessed mother of the Savior, Mary.

I think these were statues of Mary and Joseph.

As soon as the processional passed, men were out with shovels and racks to clean up the streets. The vegetation and sawdust was tossed into a front-end loader who would dump the waste into the back of waiting pickup trucks.

It was over in 30 minutes. Even though my head was clogged, it wouldn't have missed this experience.  It was also beautiful and mysterious.  

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Back from Guatemala

Mt. Fuego puffing away
On Tuesday evening, I returned from an eleven day trip to Guatemala.  I went on a mission team and as no good deeds go unpunished, I came back with one heck of a congested head that has sapped my strength.  Over all, it was a good trip.  We started and ended in Antigua, which is a lovely old city.  But we spent four nights in Jalapa, a town in the southeast of the country, from which we ran clinics in two smaller villages.  When we returned to Antigua, the volcano that overlooks the city had become quite active, or at least it was sending up enough smoke to remind folks of its presence. 

I loved the climate (we were mostly above 4000 feet).  Nights were cool, days were warm.  I also enjoyed the food--lots of vegetables and fruit, good meats, wonderful spices and sauces, and cold beer!  Maybe I'll write more later (but I still have more to write about my summer trip to Scotland).

Chicken in Pepian Sauce

Monday, February 05, 2018

Angle of Repose

I'm staying busy and preparing to head to Guatemala late this week...  So for now, I just have another book review.  I've listened to this book while in the gym during January.  

Angle of Repose  (New York: Doubleday, 1971), 569 pages (Audible narrator Mark Bramhall, 22 hours and seven minutes). 

It’s the summer of 1970 in California. Lyman Ward is a divorced and retired professor. He has lost a leg to disease. He spends his days with the aid of a neighbor, going through is grandmother’s letters and using them to recreate his grandparent’s lives in the American West. Oliver, his grandfather, was a mining engineer. He married Susan, an artist and author from New York. After moving West, she continues her work while regularly writing letters to her friend in the East.  With her life tied to a mining engineer, she moves all over the West and even to Mexico. The two are always hopeful, but nothing ever works out.  Oliver creates a process for making cement, but doesn’t patent it and someone else develops it. He is honest about the mines he works which leads to problems in a society where many use fake reports to make a killing selling shares in worthless mines.  He has a vision for a massive water project in Idaho, but loses his backing before it pays off.  He trusts an attorney to file his papers for land and then learns the attorney has claimed the land for himself.  His honesty and the trust he places in others leads to disappointment and after disappointment.  While having a few good years, he never makes it big while Susan’s work (illustrations for books as well as articles on the West) keeps the family afloat.  In time, a gap begins to break between Susan and Oliver. She is lured away by Oliver’s loyal assistant, Frank.  Although she declines Frank’s offer, the rift between Susan and Oliver widens. After the accidental drowning of a child, Frank’s suicide, and more separation, the two live out their lives accepting their less than happy estate.

As Stegner bounces back and forth from the 19th Century to 1970, parallels between Lyman Ward and his Grandparents become apparent. While this is a novel about the West, it is also a novel about families and relationships. However, the West plays a role as the backdrop for the story. It’s a land of promise that often fails to live up to its hype. The Ward’s traveling from place to place in the hopes of hitting it big remind me of Bo and Elsa in Stegner’s first novel, TheBig Rock Candy Mountain which begins around the turn of the twentieth century, a few decades later than Angle of Repose (1870s-1890s). The families of both novels spend their lives jumping around over the West in an attempt to make it big.  But there is a difference in the two men.  Oliver is very honest, where Bo is often operating outside the law.  They both find more trouble than reward in the American West.
Stegner’s prose is masterful as he captures the landscape of the West.  As he did in Big Rock, he often uses the journey across country to describe the differences between the East and West.  There is something about the wide-open spaces that draws his characters back to their home.  Even though Susan resisted becoming a western woman, by the end of the book, she has been lured into the landscape. It may not always be a place where dreams are fulfilled, but it is a place of hope and promise.

The title has to do with an engineering concept about the angle material (such as tailings from a mine) will stabilize and not continue to roll down a slope.  Stegner is able to apply this term to human relationships and it comes up numerous times within the book.

Stegner won the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction for this novel, even though he did have its critics.  For a work of fiction, he does quote letters from a woman whom he modeled Susan Ward afterwards. These letters are extensively quoted throughout the book and provide opportunities for Lyman Ward (the narrator) to speculate about what was going on in the lives of his grandparents.  I enjoyed this book and do recommend it.  Of course, I have spent much time studying mining camps in the West and especially in Nevada, so this book was, as some say, “right up my alley.”  I listened to the book, but had a hard copy which I did some actual reading over interesting sections.  

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Hero of the Empire

Candice Millard, Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill (New York: Anchor Books, 2017), 382 pages including index, notes and a selective bibliography plus 16 pages of black and white photos and two pages of maps.

As the 19th Century drew to a close, Great Britain was as powerful as ever and a young Winston Churchill was dying (or at least willing to risk death) for fame. His goals were set high.  After serving in the military in India and the Sudan and as a military observer with the Spanish in Cuba during the revolution there just before the Spanish American War, the young Churchill ran for parliament. He lost, but this was first displayed his unusual talents of public speaking. Although he was only in his mid-20s, Churchill felt that his life was rushing away. He was also more than a little disturbed by his beautiful American mother (his father was deceased by this time) flirting with men not much older than him.  So when war broke out in South Africa with the Boers, Churchill took the first ship he could find to head south as a war correspondent. 

At first the war wasn’t going very well for the British. The Boers were fiercely independent and loyal to their homeland and were armed with better weapons than the British. Although the British had finally given up their red coats for khaki, they still fought as they had in the American Revolution, in lines that marched toward the enemy.  The Boers were masters at concealment (which the British felt was cowardly). But concealment was effective against the British discipline.  

Churchill traveled across the country by train and then ship to arrive where the fighting was underway. Once there, he volunteered to go along with risky missions including riding an armored train that would be used to spy upon the Boer’s movements. Of course, the train being limited to tracks, provided little useful information and made itself a sitting duck.  As the train was heading down a hill, the Boers caused it to jump track and then attacked, killing and capturing many of the British soldiers. Among those captured was a war correspondent, Churchill, who had essentially taken over command of the train and helped get it back on track allowing for part of the detachment to escape. The rest were taken to Pretoria where they were held as POWs.

As a POW, Churchill was in danger.  First, the Boers knew that he had been involved in the fighting even though he was a civilian, which was against the rules of war. Those who made it back to the safety of the British lines spoke of his bravery, which reached back to Britain. He was also the son of Lord Churchill, who had spent time in South Africa before his death and seemed to have upset everyone, especially the Boer population. But after a few uncertain days, the Boers allowed Churchill to stay with the officers, who were given a lot of privileges including buying luxuries, such as liquor and cigars, as well as receiving packages. While imprisoned, Churchill developed a wild plan for an escape. The officers would overpower the guards, then free the enlisted men. Together they would capture the Boer capital and end the war. That idea was shot down, but eventually another plan developed where three of them would escape together. 

Of the three, only Churchill was able to make it over the wall and then had to find a way to travel 100s of miles to reach Portuguese East Africa. Stealing away in a train, he headed across the country, which got him out of Pretoria.  He eventually finds his way to an English mine superintendent who, with the help of a merchant who exported wool, managed to slip Churchill out of the country.  

Churchill, once he made his way back to the British forces, is commissioned an officer and continues to fight (but we are only provided a brief summary of his war experiences).  After the war is over, Churchill returns to Britain as a hero and begins his rise in the political ranks. 

This was a book I read for a men’s book club of which I’m a member. I enjoyed it and found it a fast read.  However, there are some gaps. As this is a story about Churchill, Millard never really tells us how Britain’s as able to gain the upper hand in South Africa.  She tells some of Churchill’s military involvement in India and mentions the Sudan, but I found myself wanting to know more. She tells enough to make the point that Churchill (who wasn’t that religious) did feel he had survived because something great was expected from him. I found Churchill a bit annoying, partly because he felt his greatness was foreordained. Had I been those guys trying to escape the POW prison, I would have probably encouraged Churchill to go off along for it appears he couldn’t keep his mouth shut. In the movie, “Darkest Hour” which I watched with my daughter after Christmas, Churchill is recalling for his wife how he was so struck by her beauty that he was speechless. His wife laughs and said in that case she must have been very beautiful because it would have been the only time in his life in which he was speechless.  I also was shocked with how hard Churchill worked at giving speeches.  A close friend remarked that he spent the best years of his life composing impromptu speeches.  He also had a mild speech and struggled to pronounce the letter “s”, but this he overcame.  

I recommend this book to anyone interested in Churchill.  I now need to learn more of the Boer War!  This is the second book I've ready by Candice Millard. In 2006, I reviewed her book on Teddy Roosevelt's South America's Expedition, River of Doubt I like her writing style and will read more!  

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Catching Up

Heading out

Today was a pretty good day.  We raced this afternoon with one of the J24s our club recently acquired and had a good time even without the 12 knots of wind promised by the forecasters (it was probably more like 8). We came in first, well ahead of other boats.  Then I came back to an oyster roost birthday party for a friend. 

Steaming Oysters

Addressing the Haggis 
The past couple of weeks have been both fun and busy.  On Thursday night I was the keynote speaker at a formal “Burn’s Night” dinner for the St. Andrews Society here.  It was a lot of fun and if I could always have my audience lubricated like that before I speak, I could be a comedian.  Although I tried to pepper my talk with humor, I think I had more laughs than jokes.  I found myself having to go easy on the single-malt before the speech, but I still enjoyed the evening as I waxed on about Clarinda (not her real name), one of the women Robert Burns desired (the rest consisted of most of the female population of Scotland in the late 18th Century.

Mia's rehab
And a quick update on Mia.  This rescue dog isn’t cheap. I knew she had to lose some weight (and she has) but she also appears to have a knee problem in her back legs.  She is currently in rehab and seems to love the underwater treadmill.  I mentioned that I would like such a contraption myself and was informed that for a mere $40,000 I could own one. Maybe I’ll put that on next year’s Santa’s list. Or maybe not.

I don’t say much about the Volunteer Fire Department duties anymore, but I’m still there.  I just keep missing out on the good fires (the four major fires we had last year, I was out of town). I just had a few minor issues such as motors burning up on air handlers and smoking up the house, but not serious fires.  However, we continue to train. The other week we burned a doll house. My first thought was that someone’s daughter’s was going to be pissed, but it turns out this was a doll house built for such a training. They were able to simulate flashovers, backdrafts, and show the various types of smoke and the effect of ventilation on the fire’s progression.  All neat stuff.

As for reading, I am almost finished with John McPhee’s Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process.  I am sure I will write a review of it (I have two other reviews that I need to post, too…).

I also have 2 gallons of sauerkraut fermenting…  Life is good! ;'