Archives for category: Around The World

EvergladesFlorida’s most iconic landscape is comprised of a massive watershed that stretches over 100 miles from Lake Okeechobee to the Southern tip of the peninsula. During the wet season, the massive lake discharges excess water creating a massive slow-moving river that flows toward the sea. From this river a subtropical ecosystem of woodlands, marshes, grasslands, and estuaries emerges.

Fakahatchee Strand Preserve

Cypress TreeSetting out from Naples along the Tamiami Trail (Highway 41) we first encounter the Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk. Tucked away in a corner of the preserve, the boardwalk offers an intimate glimpse into nature and history. Here stand the few remaining virgin cypress groves in Florida. They are the remnants of an ancient ecosystem that was mostly eradicated by past logging operations. Today, the cypress trees are protected along with the other plant and animal species that call the preserve “home”.

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Fakahatchee Strand PreserveEverglades City

2013-11-17 13.47.56 copyWe continue onward, approaching Everglades City. This little town in the middle of nowhere evokes memories of “Old Florida” before the days of air conditioning and retirees. The residents still retain memories of the town’s… colorful past. A couple of decades ago, Everglades City supported a thriving drug trade in which almost every local family was involved. Dealers delivered bales of marijuana or “square grouper” by plane and by sea, their covert actions sheltered by the expanse of swamp.Today, Everglades City caters mostly to tourists.

Speedy's Airboat Tours

Big Cypress National Preserve

2013-11-17 15.46.03 copyAs the day wears on, we turn onto an unassuming dusty dirt road. The Loop, as County Road 94 is called, leads to nowhere; it is a relic of big dreams and ruined ambition. Captian Jaudon, head of the Chevelier Company, had invested in land and agreed to fund construction of the Tamiami Trail on the condition that it be rerouted. By doing so he hoped to found “The Next Miami.” However the town never materialized and the company went bankrupt, leaving only a 24 mile long road in the wilderness behind.  

Big Cypress National Preserve

 

The Four Freedoms (1943) by Norman Rockwell

The Four Freedoms (1943) by Norman Rockwell

As you have probably gathered, I love to read and learn; which is why I adored my High School Library and the books it sheltered. Everyday after the final bell had rung I would leap up the stairway ascending two and three steps at a time, eager to dwell once again within the literary worlds. However, on one particular stairway landing I would always pause. Adorning the opposite wall, four posters never failed to steal a moment of my attention. Everyday I would acknowledge Norman Rockwell’s The Four Freedoms.

Having recently reread 1984, I am struck by a thought. In the book, Winston first encounters a poster of Big Brother on the wall opposite a stairway landing. I wonder whether the administrators of my High School were aware of the ironic placement of Rockwell’s works; surely my English teachers whose classrooms resided on that second floor must have been. After all, The Four Freedoms are a splendid example of American propaganda art.

The inspiration for these posters emerged from a speech. Franklin D. Roosevelt on January 6, 1941 addressed an apprehensive Congress on the necessity of war. In it he designated four freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from fear, and freedom from want. These, FDR claimed, were the fundamental liberties of the United States that ought to be defended and, furthermore, applied throughout the world. Norman Rockwell dwelt long on Roosevelt’s words and endeavored to create art that would reflect these values. Believing the words “high-blown” Rockwell sought to “bring them down to Earth” eventually discovering their embodiment in the daily actions of America’s citizens.

Did Rockwell succeed? I don’t really know. Certainly the prints were extremely popular and displayed all throughout the nation. Still, I find them rather eerie. There’s an aura of idealism that envelops his images that just doesn’t ring true. I feel as if I have stumbled into the Uncanny Valley. I never get the sense of discord that I should when contemplating the freedoms. 

Take a look at “Freedom of Worship” All Christian, all white. Just as it should be in a simple, idealistic America. And my mind screams, FAKE, FAKE, FAKE. Would his posters have been so popular if Muslims had been depicted or considering the time period Jews? Freedom of Worship is controversial and there is nothing controversial about Christians praying in the U.S. The same holds true for the rest of the series. The posters construct an image of the U.S. that the majority would like to believe in but doesn’t really exist. Isn’t that the essence of propaganda?

That’s why I tend to agree with critics of Norman Rockwell. Rockwell is less of a fine artist and more of a populist. In my opinion, fine art opens the door to a new world, a world that might not be pleasant at all. It delights in conversation and controversy. Populist art on the other hand would prefer that door sealed shut, to paint over life and all its ugliness and reside in a room full of futile dreams. 

About Norman Rockwell

Born in 1894 in New York City, Norman Rockwell emerged on the art scene as a premier illustrator. His works often appeared on the covers of national magazines especially The Saturday Evening Post which published 321 of Rockwell’s paintings over his lifetime. He gained widespread recognition on the national stage with the publication of his Four Freedoms series. Rockwell became known for his depictions of small-town America and a purveyor of American idealism.

Resources

Norman Rockwell Museum – Norman Rockwell’s Four Freedoms

National Archive – Four Freedoms

America in WWII – Norman Rockwell and the Four Freedoms

The First Thanksgiving by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris

The First Thanksgiving by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris

The Legend

Every November, young children in America are introduced to a colorful, hopeful story. One autumn day in 1621, the pilgrims celebrated a plentiful harvest with members of the Wampanoag tribe. This was a feast of thanksgiving where Englishmen and Native Americans came together as friends, expressing gratitude for the aid freely given during the harsh early years of the colony.

The History

The Wampanoag tribe led by Massasoit had just signed a treaty with the Plimouth colonists. Upon hearing the sound of hunting rifles, 90 members of the tribe anticipating war ventured to the English colony only to stumble upon the pilgrims celebrating their first successful harvest. So, the Wampanoag joined the feasting, but the atmosphere must have been tense because neither group fully trusted the other.

The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth (1914) by Jennie Augusta Brownscombe

The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth (1914) by Jennie Augusta Brownscombe

The Holiday

For the year of 1863, Abraham Lincoln declared a national day of Thanksgiving to emphasize the theme of family and brotherhood amidst the brutal, bitter Civil War. At that time, there was great interest in Plimouth colony, which Lincoln capitalized on. FDR, furthermore, declared the fourth Thursday in November a national holiday that was then formalized by Congress in 1941. In fact, the modern holiday owed much of its origins to politics and public relations.

The Legacy

Even though the actual history of the Thanksgiving holiday has been twisted, many of the sentiments remain valuable. Friendship, family and gratitude have been emphasized in harvest festivals for generations. For many families, following the Puritan tradition, the holiday is devoted to prayer and religious observance. For others, Thanksgiving means travel, food, and shopping. Regardless of beliefs, Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on the bounty of life.  

Resources:

National Geographic – First Thanksgiving

Indian Country Today – The Wampanoag Side

Plimouth Plantation- Thanksgiving History

KellsFol034rChiRhoMonogramCrossing the treacherous sea one stumbles upon an inhospitable rocky island. At the ends of the Earth this lonely isle emerges from the deep. Like the famous ark of Noah this island sheltered a community of writers and artists from the ignorance and violence that engulfed the rest of the medieval world. This island is the mysterious Iona.

In the 6th century a luminary later known as St. Columba arrived on Iona with his followers. On the isle he established a monastery and its influence spread throughout Scotland and the isles. The name, Columba, meant “dove” evoking the white bird of hope that brought tidings of land and life to Noah. It is an auspicious title. For the Holy Spirit of Christianity is also represented as a dove heralding the conception of Christ. The bird of peace symbolized miracles.

The Book of Kells is that miracle. For the Christians of this time writing in and of itself was a miracle. They believed that each letter was a message from heaven and that with each stroke of the quill God was speaking to them. It is an ancient idea; the ancient Greeks would always invoke the Muses at the start of every tale.

Work on the manuscript likely began in the 8th century in that monastic community. Generations of the community’s greatest scribes and illuminators toiled through the years on this task. This collection of the four gospels was so finely written and illustrated that it was deemed the work of angels.

KellsFol292rIncipJohnIronically for a Christian Bible much of the iconography is actually derived from Pagan culture. The combination of Christian ideas and Celtic symbolism is startling. For instance, the snake boss motif abounds throughout the Book of Kells. This leads to the question: Why, in a book glorifying Christ, is the traditional symbol of the Devil so prevalent? The answer lies with the Celtic culture. To them, snakes were not emissaries of deception and evil but rather transmitters of wisdom. In shedding their skins, they signified rebirth and resurrection. The monks of the Iona abbey latched onto the idea of snakes as symbols of resurrection and connected it to the story of Jesus Christ. The Book of Kells illustrates quite literally the adaptation of Celtic art and culture into the Christian tradition.

Another relic of Celtic art is the presence of so many circles, curves, and knots. Every millimeter of space is threaded with these delicate loops. Some of the designs may have been inspired by metalwork as can be seen in the Ardagh Chalice. It is likely that both illustrators and metalworkers utilized similar tools and techniques. This style of art, a fusion of Celtic and Anglo-Saxon motifs, is known as Insular Art which reached its peak in the 7th and 8th centuries.

The Celtic cross is a premier example of this phenomenon. The traditional cross of the Celtics is that of an equidistant cross set amid a circle. The Christians lengthened the cross to resemble their own but retained the circle. In fact some of the earliest stone monuments of this style are situated in Iona and also at the Abbey of Kells where the book would later find its home.

KellsFol032vChristEnthronedThe Book of Kells aside from offering us a glimpse of the fusion of Celtic and Christian traditions also offers a peek into the lives and personalities of those who labored on it. Three to four scribes composed the words. Some were very conservative and solemn, while others wrote with flair and brightly colored inks. The artists and illuminators also provided their own perspective. One, known as the Goldsmith, composed the elaborate folio page. His work is characterized by remarkable detail and coded language and symbolism. Another decided on a more metaphorical approach, depicting the church as the literal body of Christ with the apostles acting as the foundation. Humorous images of animals and humans litter the pages, telling us that the lives of the monks despite their solemn and sparse way of life actually contained an unexpected amount of love and fun.

Unfortunately this way of life came to an end in the 9th century with the advent of Viking attacks. For that reason the Book of Kells was never completed. In 1006 the book was stolen but thankfully recovered with only its elaborate cover missing. Magnificent as that cover must have been, the heart and soul of the creators is found in the actual pages and so has awed and inspired humanity even to today.

Further Information

Trinity College – The Book of Kells

Insular Art

The Book of Kells: Work of Angels?

The Secret of Kells

IMAG0927The joy of Halloween for my family is decorating. Over the years we have built up quite a collection of tombstones, coffins and props. Each year offers up a different feature that captures the attention of the guests. I’ll never forget the first year we set up the tombstones. They consisted of five slabs of plywood painted white with names. As one family came down the street, their children spotted our decorations.

An excited cry burst out from their little boy, “I want to go to that house over there!” He gestured to our display.

His parents were a little hesitant. “Why don’t we go down this street first and come around on the way back?”

The boy was not to be deterred. “No. No!” he cried and raced across the street. My parents and I were on the porch the whole time and laughed as the children ran up. I handed out the candy and waved him off.

IMAG0934(1)One year featured a flock of ravens; another a bloodbath with floating eyeballs. All the older children and teens would pause and poke the floating orbs, horrified fascination clear on their faces.

This year the theme was spiders. We dangled giant, hairy tarantulas from strings. All those tall enough would run into the spiders, startle and jump back. That was their punishment for rushing up and not taking the time to enjoy our decorations.

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We had about 150 visitors, which is pretty good for our neighborhood. Per capita, this city is one of the oldest in the nation and the houses are pretty spread out. That’s why we see a fair amount of cars on the road on Halloween. We were a little worried for our neighborhood cats in fact. Our own were meowing at the door wanting to go out and we feared they would be run over with all the traffic.

Our neighbor who has recently moved in and started decorating asked us how many visitors to expect. Upon hearing the answer he yelps, “Oh #&$%*! I need more candy.” He promptly hops in his car and drives off to the store.

IMAG0923My little brother finally decided to go trick-or-treating for the first time in his life. He’s rather shy with adult strangers and has always shaken his head furiously when asked to participate. Usually he likes to see all the kids in their costumes and hand out candy. Though he did that too later on… introducing himself loudly to the bemusement of those on the doorstep.

Some of the costumes were quite interesting. Two young girls ran up in beautifully embroidered Persian dresses and capes. When asked where they got their costumes, they replied that their mother had sewn it for them. Another group, a teenager with his younger brothers, was poor and they all couldn’t afford costumes from the store so they improvised. The teen dressed up as a terrorist with clothes from his wardrobe. That one was in fact rather scary in spite of its mundane origins.

IMAG0929Our household is determined to provide for every child who comes to our door. In the event of a candy shortage, we would resort to my brother’s gummy treats. One group rang at about 9:15 at night. Three children from the same family who’d gotten a late start. Luckily there was just enough candy to give each child about three pieces and then the bucket was empty. However, no more arrived that night.

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