Thursday, November 29, 2012

Alexandria buggy rides

Alexandria, Egypt is a coastal city on the Mediterranean. Home of the new library and the Corniche.  I have been there three times, and each time it seems worse off than before.  It is possibly a good place for a day tour, but you do not need to go back.

Since the Arab Spring the tourists have become scarce and the street sellers more desperate.  The guys that run the buggy tours have become unbelievably rude.  They will not take no for an answer and will follow you along the street pestering you, and finally you have to scream in their face NO! or LA!

Two women told me their story,

"We were not going to take a buggy ride, but they pestered us so much, we relented.   We settled on a price of $15 for an hour.  So we drove around the town, and everything was fine until we got back to the port entrance.  The price had then risen to $50 and an extra $30 for his helper.

We settled on $50.  And we walked away.  Then I realized I had left my handbag in the back of the buggy.  I found a port official, and he walk with us to the buggy driver who was still there.  My handbag was still in the back, and the driver held onto it, asking for a further $10 for a 'finder's fee.'"

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A small world in 1600

In the Tower of London is a series of state-of-the-art suits of armor, and one in particular stands out.  A Japanese suit of armor that was presented to King James 1st by Tokugawa Hidetada in 1613; not the boring European steel plate kind of armor, but a fancy lacquered leather and steel suit

A few years later in 1620 in North America, the Pilgrims landed in Plymouth, Massachusetts, and established a settlement.  And they met a local Indian, Tisquantum, who is said to have greeted them in English.  Not only could he speak his own language, but English and Spanish too. Here they were, in the middle of nowhere, in this "unsettled" land with a multilingual local.

And the story gets better.  Tisquantum had been kidnapped in 1614 by Thomas Hunt working for his majesty's navy looking for slaves.  Hunt tried to sell Tisquantum and other slaves in Spain for 20 GBP each.  Some local friars bought some of slaves including Tisquantum and taught them Christianity.   He then manged to get to England, and worked for a ship builder.  He sailed to Newfoundland in 1617 in an expedition, probably as an interpreter, and returned to England in 1618.  And in 1619 sailed again, finally to his home, only to find everybody in his tribe had died perhaps with smallpox.  

The following year, 1620 he met the Pilgrims, already educated in Europe.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Yasser Arafat formally of Ramallah

Tomorrow the body of Yasser Arafat will be exhumed, to see if he was murdered by Polonium 210.  Swiss researches had found traces of Polonium in his clothes; Al Jazeeera reports Arafat's gym bag, untouched for eight years, is secured in an evidence locker in France. Po-210 is the same substance that killed Alexander Litvinenko in November 2006.  Arafat died quickly and mysteriously two years earlier in November 2004.

The story seems damming, the Po-210 isotope is rare, very poisonous, and a  half-life of only 138 days; from "By mass, polonium-210 is around 250,000 times more toxic than hydrogen cyanide"

The Russians are suspected in killing Litvinenko, and have the means to make the Po-210, and even used it in the 70s as a heat source in their Lunar rovers.  But who killed Arafat?   The Israeli's?  They have the ability to make it, and perhaps the motive.  Did the Russian's do a copycat murder?

It could have been a perfect crime, such poisoning is hard to trace.  In the case of Litvinenko's death the investigation is said to have had a lucky break.  But now medical authorities know to look for Po-201 poisoning in such circumstances.

Life is stranger than fiction.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A better museum

In the Paris Louvre museum is the new Islamic wing, opened this year in September.  The space has a wonderful curvy ceiling, with natural light from the courtyard, on two stories, and is laid out in a traditional way.

It contains the artifacts that have survived through history displayed in cabinets, group together, in isolation of their original use or location.

To my sensibilities, what would be so much better, is to construct a room, or area, to represent a moment in space and time.  Most of the contents would be of today, perhaps in muted color or grey, but would show the historical vases, carpets, etc. in context of how they were used. We have a wealth of research into past cultures, and the display would represent this knowledge, and can be refined as more knowledge and artifacts are discovered.

This would take more space and money to display a few objects, but it would allow a museum to have a interesting, and evolving display, with few objects.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Live Oaks and Dead Folks

Held every year, the Columbus, Texas Library hosts a nighttime cemetery tour where actors stand by their tombstone and tell you their story and how they came to an sticky end, usually involving the local bar, corruption, and gunfire.
Shaner Neiser as ghost of  Matti
Pinchback Burford 1856-1929

Bill Mosely as ghost of
Charles Seymour 1863-1909

The tombstone of Ike Towell (1849-1934) is of interest, and his story, some of which may be true is as follows.  He was sheriff of Columbus and late in life, after having a stroke, he had a tombstone erected, went to see his friends one last time, and committed suicide with "ether."  His death certificate is said to say "He died of chloroform applied by Towell."

From his memorial, from

"My religion consists of doing right and loving justice. I affirm that all men should tell the truth and pay their debts. I do not believe in any God, devil, ghost or savior and I have opposed tobacco, whiskey, gambling, lying and stealing practically all my life. If any one of the clergy ever calls my name after death I insist that he speak the truth about me, a thing I have never known a preacher to do about a dead disbeliever. The clergy have never been able to bribe me with the promise of a beautiful home in a fictitious heaven nor bluff me by their everlasting punishment in a hell of fire and brimstone."

Monday, November 19, 2012

Incident at Rodin Musee in Paris

It was a cold, raw day, and waiting outside the ladies room was a professional photographer, in black with all the gear.  Waiting, and waiting.

Inside the ladies room was his gay assistant fixing the model's skimpy dress, under her dress fluffing it up.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Hand Prints in Port Fuad, Egypt

Yes, this is real blood.

But probably from a sheep or cow.  And a sign of good luck, but not for the animal.  At a time of a festival, such as Eid, or when opening a new business, an animal is slaughtered for food and the blood used to make the hand prints.

Has their been any double-blind experiments to see if this is effective?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Shrine of the Báb in Haifa

Gardens from below
The city of Haifa, Israel rises straight up from the Mediterranean and bisecting the town are the gardens of the shrine of Báb, laid out in the 1990s to surround the mausoleum.  A world heritage site.  These are perhaps the most pristine well manicured gardens I have ever seen.  No wilting plants, no gravel out of place, no weeds.  The shrine itself inside is simple and houses the remains of Bab brought from Iran in 1909.


Gardeners taking a break

Gardens from above

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Musee de Montmartre

The Musee of Montmartre is on 12/14 Rue Cortot, Paris, one of the backstreets of  Montmartre. A gem of a museum.  The current exhibit covers the period of 1880-1910, a wild, bawdy, and innovative period of the Black Cat cabaret. The displays are over multiple floors of the 17th century building.

To me the most amazing painting is a huge oil painting, 2m by 3.8m, by Adolpe Willette. You really need to see the real thing.  It has a great feeling of movement, and includes a girl riding a black cat, a stagecoach, a string of girls in the sky, a skull as the moon, a Windmill, the Moulin Rouge, and a guy with a gun.

And behind the museum is a vineyard, on a north facing slope in the middle of the city of Paris.