massachusetts

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Boston was the first place I ever traveled where I looked around and said, “I wonder what it would be like to live here.” The place I was standing at the time was Beacon Street right across from Boston Common, so it would probably be fantastic to live there, but unless this blog becomes more really amazingly profitable I will never be able to afford it.  But a part of me still wonders what it would be like.

My first memory of Boston was getting lost.  In some of our destinations, I can remember the hotel we stayed at, but I can’t remember the hotel from Boston.  It was likely a Holiday Inn or something similar.  It was near dark by then and we ended up in the North End.  The couple who stopped to help us didn’t speak English, but their son (who was probably about eight years old) did, and he translated.  I’m sure we would have found our hotel eventually, but that family made it much easier than it would otherwise have been.

We did the usual tourist things in Boston:  the Faneuil Hall, Boston Common, I think we took a bus tour, or maybe my memory of seeing Harvard University from a vehicle was in our car.  We also went out to Plymouth Rock (even less exciting than it sounds) and I think we visited the Plimoth Plantation living history museum.  We also, of course, visited at least one famous house.  The house I remember visiting was the Alcott house in Concord. Mostly I remember standing outside waiting for our turn (or maybe for them to open) while my mom told me her opinion about Louisa May Alcott’s father (which was not complimentary, she didn’t like his peripatetic nature and the fact that he was too busy philosophizing to take care of the family financially).

I don’t remember if we went to Walden Pond or not.  I would think we would have while we were in Concord, since my mom had a Master’s degree in English.  But maybe not.

Once again, I really wish I had some pictures of this trip. Oh, well.  Maybe this will be my excuse to go back to Boston someday.  “I have to go back to take the pictures that we didn’t take in 1981.”  I think I like that idea.

So, with the aid of Librivox, I knocked out another three articles from this issue during my lunch hour on three consecutive days.  I have since decided that my store is too noisy for me to really hear the articles to make this a worthwhile long-term plan.   I’m going to try to continue to listen to the articles on LibriVox, only in a not-so-noisy environment.  I am off this coming Wednesday, so while Alex is in school, I’m going to try to get some walking done on the Leon Creek Greenway.  If I have sufficient time and energy to do so, I hope to listen to one article on the way out and another on the way back.  On to the articles.

The Classification of Geographic Forms by Genesis, by W.J. McGee (no photographs, since this is 1888)

The Classification of Geographic Forms by Genesis is a stupor-inducing look at the state of geomorphology (the study of how forces affect the forms and structures of geographic features. In addition to lists of forces and their effects, we also get vague references to people (presumably men, since this is 1888) who were apparently well-known in geographic circles back in the 19th Century.  Perhaps Lyell, Powell, Gilbert, Lesley, Richthofen, and Dana are prominent enough that today’s geographers will know the reference just by the surname, but McGee apparently thinks that his Victoria-era target audience should know these people, as we never get any more information than just the surnames and their opinions.  Also, in the case of Richtofen (uncle of the “Red Baron,” from what I can tell), we get the German-language terms he used.

The Great Storm of March 11–14, 1888: A Summary of the Remarks Made by Brigadier-General A. W. Greely, Chief Signal Officer of the Army

The best thing I can say about this article is that at least it’s short. Greely talks about the path of the storm and lists lots of barometer pressure readings.  From what I can tell, this storm, which hit the northeast between New Jersey and Boston. Over 400 people died and it is still one of the worst blizzards in United States history.

This article concludes with the confidence-inspiring sentence, “These remarks are necessarily imperfect, as my official duties have been such as to prevent any careful study or examination of the storm apart from that possible on the current weather maps of the Signal Service.” So that’s exciting.

The Great Storm Off the Atlantic Coast of the United States, March 11th–14th, 1888, by Everett Hayden

This article has more detail on the formation of the storm and the effects when the storm finally hit.  The article actually does have illustrations, perhaps the first ones in the magazine’s history.  Well, charts, at least, but they were in color. The presence of these charts made the LibriVox reading interesting because the references to the charts did me no good.

We’ll be back to 1888 perhaps on January 30, if I can get two more articles done on January 27.  If not, I’ll go on to November 2015 on January 30.  The weekend of January 30 is my weekend off and Alex’s weekend with his dad, so I’ll try to walk-and-listen my way through the second article sometime that weekend.

As I write this, it is around 6:45 (I say “around” because my cat is sleeping in front of the clock on my computer) on July 9, 2015.  When this posts, it will be midnight, Central Daylight Time, on July 16, 2015.  If all goes as planned, my son and I will be asleep in New York City, recovering from our first full day of vacation.  We will definitely have just visited the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island the day before and hopefully will have been to the United Nations as well. We probably will have taken the bus to Battery Park so that we could make it in time for our tour, but I may have convinced my son to walk at least some of the way back.  Let’s see how it all plays out in the end.


The theme for this issue is food. There are other articles, on the Middle East, 3-D printers, and the like, but the first three articles (well, technically, article and two pictorials) are about food, so I am going to group them together.

The Joy of Food Text and photos by various writers.

The Joy of Food is the first pictorial in the article. There are both historical and current pictures of people eating (mostly of them sharing food) from as far back as 1894 and from locations all over the world.

We open with two children in England sharing an apple in a photograph first published in National Geographic in 1916 accompanied by text by Victoria Pope. Following this are images from Afghanistan, Germany, England, and the United States (one from California and one from Washington, DC). The 1894 photograph takes up two pages. It is of picnicgoers in Maine eating watermelon. The next pages feature images from Croatia, Ghana, China, and one of a family saying grace where the location is unknown (but likely is the United States once again). We get another two-page photograph, this one likely to be a modern photo of nuns in Beirut making marzipan. The final five photographs are of 1934 birthday party, an Armenian wedding, food laid out for the dead in Belarus, a fisherman in Alaska, and a boy eating porridge in Denmark.

In addition to the Victoria Pope quote, the text is from Erma Bombeck, M.F.K. Fisher, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

The Communal Table Text by Victoria Pope, Photographs by Carolyn Drake

I think that this is the first article I’ve reviewed that has both text and photographs by women.

The Communal Table is about a meal in Milpa Alta, the poorest borough of Mexico City. Milpa Alta, which is Spanish for “high cornfield,” is the site of around 700 religious festivals a year, culminating in an annual pilgrimage, which begins on January 3, to a holy site in Chalma, 59 miles from Milpa Alta.

This meal, which is held just before Christmas, is called </i>La Rejunta</i> (Spanish for the roundup), is a meal of tamales and atole, which is traditional Mexican chocolate drink. The tamales and atole of La Rejunta given to thank those who made donations to the pilgrimage, and the amounts of each are proportional to the value of the donation.

The Communal Table focuses on the people who make La Rejunta work, particularly on the 2013 majordomos of the event, Virginia Meza Torres and Fermín Lara Jiménez. Pope takes us through the steps of preparation for La Rejunta until the day of the event.

My only issue with this article is that the focus on the people leaves the places shrouded in mystery. The reference to “the ancient place of the holy cave,” and to “a life-size darkened statue of Jesus” led me to the conclusion that the pilgrims still visited the original cave. Instead, the “statue” is a crucifix and the current pilgrimage is to a baroque church that stands in front of the cave. There are references in the text to Milpa Alta being “rural,” but the images are all very crowded looking. In reality, the area is spread out enough that three major hot-air balloon festivals are held in the area every year.

By Their Fridges Ye Shall Know Them, photography by Mark Menjivar

This is a two-page spread featuring several photographs from Menjivar’s “Refrigerators” project. Menjivar takes pictures of the insides of people’s refrigerators and displays them full-sized, so that the viewer gets the feeling that he or she is really looking into someone’s refrigerators. Four images are featured in this spread, including the refrigerators of a football coach and social worker, of a midwife and science teacher, of a street advertiser, and of a bartender.

The bartender, by the way, has a container of mayonnaise from the Central Market Organics line which is local to South Texas (where I live currently). I looked up Menjivar’s CV, and he is in South Texas, as well.

Cross Currents, by Kennedy Warne, photographs by Thomas P. Peschak

Even though this isn’t an official part of the food theme of this issue, this is also an article on food — fishing in particular.

After apartheid ended in South Africa, the government set up a new policy regarding fishing, allowing a certain number of licenses to commercial, recreational, and subsistence fishermen.  The subsistence fishermen group were largely indigenous Africans who fish to provide food for their families.  Subsistence fishermen had previously been shut out of getting licenses, so it was a huge step forward to allow them to have a certain percentage of the available licenses.

The are two problems  with this scheme.  The first problem was that the commercial licenses all went to large operations, leaving the smaller commercial operations (who are described in the article as “artisanal”) without licenses.  The second was that they overestimated the ability of humans to overfish.  As a result, the government ended up rescinding a bunch of licenses and set aside “marine protected areas” where the fish could, theoretically, reproduce undisturbed.

The end result of this, however, was that poaching is now skyrocketing.  Warne spends much of this article talking to the poachers and trying to balance their viewpoints with those of the people who are in favor of keeping, or even expanding, the marine protected areas.

Blessed, Cursed, Claimed:  On Foot Through the Holy Lands: (Out of Eden Walk – Part 3) by Paul Salopek, Photographs by John Stanmeyer

Blessed, Cursed, Claimed is the third installment of Salopek’s series, Out of Eden Walk, where Salopek is walking from Africa’s Rift Valley and across the Middle East, then through Asia, into North America and then down into South America.  Apparently Salopek is taking a fairly liberal interpretation of the term “walk,” since he is doing some of the trip by boat.  Salopek began the walk in 2013, and hopes to complete it in 2020.

In this installment, Salopek walks from Jordan to Jerusalem.  We see archaeological sites, refugees, Bedouins, Jews, Muslims, and Christians, in this part of the walk.

Much of this article focuses on barriers.  not only does Salopek cross a national border, he also crosses through the West Bank, where the two-state solution would have the nation of Palestine be.  We also cross the barrier between the main city of Jerusalem and the community of the Haredi, ultraorthodox Jews who have a strict separation between men and women in their society.  We also visit the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.  The actual site where Helena (mother of Constantine the Great) believed that Jesus was born is now a Greek Orthodox church.  At the height of the tensions between the Greek church and the Catholic Church of St. Catherine next door, the only way that Catholic visitors could see the church was through a peephole in the common door between the two churches.  And, finally, we see the gulf of darkness that separates a Bedouin family that was  Salopek’s host on the shores of the Dead Sea from the nearby luxury resort.

Just Press Print, by Roff Smith, photographs by Robert Clark

I think that this may be the first non-travel-centric article that I’ve written about here, aside from the prefatory material from 1888.  Though there is some geography-related content in the article, the article is mostly about the advances in technology that comes from 3-D printing.  Most of the results of 3-D printing that I have heard of has been plastic and since the results of the 2-D printing industry, in the form of junk mail, has been a big stressor for me, my reaction has usually been “Oh, goody.  Plastic three-dimensional stuff to take up even more space.”

So, this article was good for me to read, since we see some of the useful things that can be made, including a new face for a man who lost much of his face to cancer (warning: if you are squeamish about these types of things, don’t read this article, because there is a beautiful photograph of the man and his prosthetic face) and living tissue, with a view towards perhaps being able to print replacement  organs for people.

The travel hook in the article is a bit about a printed house that the firm DUS is building in Amsterdam.  They expect the house to be finished in around three years.

Wasteland, by Paul Voosen, photographs by Fritz Hoffmann

Wasteland is an article about Superfund sites in the United States.  In 1980, Congress created a program, called Superfund, that was designed to remediate lands that were damaged by toxic waste.  The Superfund program arose after toxic waste was discovered in the Love Canal neighborhood of Niagara Falls, New York.  The original plan was for the companies that caused the waste to be left there to pay some of the cost of remediation and for the government to pick up the rest of the cost, but a number of the companies were unwilling or unable to pay for their share, leaving the government to pay the entire cost.

There are more than 1,700 Superfund sites in the United States, and one statistic given says that one in six people in the United States lives within three miles of a Superfund site.  I have lived, if not within three miles, pretty close to that, of two in my life, one in the Chicago area when I was a child and one in the San Antonio area as an adult.

The article talks about the different types of remediation being done on some of the sites in the United States and also the increasing difficulty the government is having coming up with the money now that the tax that had previously paid for the government’s share, a tax on chemicals and oil, has expired.

Images of other sites profiled in this, article, aside from Love Canal, are Tar Creek in Pitcher, Oklahoma; a landfill in Monterey Park, California;  the Gowanus Canal in New York City; and the Berkeley Pit in Butte, Montana.  There is information on even more sites in the text of the article.

Cowboys on the Edge, by Alexandra Fuller, photographs by Tomás Munita

Cowboys on the Edge is the tale of baguales of Estancia Ana María, in Patagonia in Chile.  In the early 20th century, Estancia Ana María was owned by Arturo Iglesias.  Some of his herd of cattle went feral and natural selection caused them to become wilder and stronger than regular cattle.  Now, rather than vacas, the name for this type of literally savage cattle is baguales, and the men who herd them are bagualeros.

Fuller traveled with the bagualeros as they went to round up as many baguales as they could in the period before the Iglesias family sells the land to a rancher.  The bagualeros hoped to collect as many as 50 baguales, but it was a tougher job than they expected.

I am used to running with a fairly sensitive group online, so I want to put a small content warning on this article. Several of the baguales die on the trip and there is one reference to invading Poland that is kind of tone-deaf to those who are sensitive to Nazism.

Otherwise, this is a quick read written in a pretty informal style.  I did have to wonder about Fuller’s assertion that boat or a 10-day horse ride through fairly deep water are the only ways to get to Estancia Ana María.  I wondered if there are some extreme updrafts preventing one from reaching it by helicopter or if that was an oversight.

(originally posted March 2015)