Friday, May 26, 2017

Aberdeen: On the Water

Aberdeen lies on Scotland's northeastern coast. From its large free Maritime Museum, Dear Husband and I learned that it was a trading post in the Middle Ages, then became a fishing center, later added shipbuilding, and--since the discovery of oil and gas in the North Sea in 1964--has hosted those energy industries. We happen to have approached the museum from its rear entrance, which is hidden down an alley (below). The displays are an amalgam of traditional maritime objects (parts of ships, models of ships, paintings of ships, photographs of ships, hand-colored photographs of ships, documents about ships, things that used to be on ships) and more contemporary exhibits about the North Sea and the fishing and drilling industries. We piloted a little submersible, watched a 3D video about working on an oil rig, and marveled at the variety of objects pulled out of the mud of what used to be the harbor's edge during an archaeological dig in the 1970s: coins, the sole of a shoe, most of a barrel, a little golden brooch, crockery.

Congrats, you found the museum! One of the first things we saw was this exhibit on the strange and powerful environment of the deep see, the weight of which compressed these styrofoam heads. Below is a model boat constructed in 1829. It was gifted to a church. There were a number of these, but my favorites were probably the half models made for display. We also learned that plain half models were used when designing actual ship, with geographic methods of scaling up the hull once the client had approved it. One thing I learned is that clipper ships were so fast because of their elongated bows' ability to cut through the water; as a side benefit, cargo stored in that compartment fell outside the taxed space of the hull and so was duty free.

The museum does a good job including the perspectives of both women and men. While men built ships and trawled, women finished the models, mended the nets, and gutted the fish. The men went to war, and the women took their places in the factories. On one floor was a diorama of a fishing family's home. On another floor was an interactive dollhouse whose appliances could be powered by turning cranks to power wave or tidal turbines. We were both intrigued by the short cartoon film nearby from Greenpeace about the necessity of abandoning oil for renewable sources of energy.

I know you won't believe this, but I was silly twice in one day. While at the museum, in the shipbuilder's office, I "explained" to DH the features of the steamship I was designing. Then, after lunch, another museum, and a false start, we walked to the beach so we could wade in the North Sea. The water was, unsurprisingly, very cold. It had been an unseasonably warm day, but by late afternoon, the warmth was rising, and a cooler wind blew in. We wanted to walk on the sand all the way to the end, but the tide was too high. So we put our shoes and socks back on and walked along the esplanade. We looped around and back into town just in time to eat dinner with a friend and colleague. We ended the day by visiting the Botanical Gardens.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Aberdeen: In the Garden

One evening Dear Husband and I walked down to the David Welch Winter Gardens at Duthie Park. Lady Elizabeth Duthie donated the 44 acres of Duthie Park to the city of Aberdeen in 1880 in honor of her uncle and brother, and William McKelvie designed a public green space with lakes, a gazebo, and (in 1899) greenhouses. The space has undergone a number of renovations, including new greenhouses in 1969, new lakes in 2013, and a new restaurant being worked on now.

These gorgeous blooms welcomed us to the hot houses. Unfortunately, being a public property, it does suffer some from neglect; the water features all need to be cleaned of algae. Poor goldfish.

Inside the square of the glasshouses is a garden of plants from "Aberdeens" around the world. The white benches crammed throughout the greenhouses all have labels from donors. One bears the following poem:

Sadly missed

A Rose-bud by my early walk,
Adown a corn-enclosed bawk,
Sae gently bent its thorny stalk,
All on a dewy morning.
Ere twice the shades o' dawn are fled,
In a' its crimson glory spread,
And drooping rich the dewy head,
It scents the early morning.

There was also some statuary and other art scattered about. Below left is "Liberty." Below right is "Warrior Ant," but from this angle DH thought it looked more like two people embracing.

The various rooms include the Temperate House, Corridor of Perfumes, Fern House, Victorian Corridor, Japanese Garden, Tropical House and Arid House, which have the third largest collections of giant cacti and bromeliads in Britain. The junior gardeners also had a little display on venus fly traps.

The scavenged stained-glass window of Aphrodite above hangs in the Temperate House over the sunken area where weddings happen. There are also the most lovely Birds of Paradise. The permanent signs promised a couple different, showy Australian species that we couldn't locate. Perhaps they are not in season, or else have been replaced by easier and cheaper plants.

The winter gardens are named for their long-time caretaker, David Welch, under whose leadership they won several awards. We had a lovely sit in his courtyard with a gentle water feature.

Unfortunately, after that we had just enough time to see the cacti and walk out through the hot house before the buildings closed for the night. We made a lap around the larger park, including a short detour through a "1920s rock garden" before heading back to home base. The sun set two hours later.


Watching over the whole park is this statue of Hygeia, the patroness of health, erected in Lady Duthie's honor. The photo doesn't even begin to do justice to how beautiful the blue sky was.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Copenhagen: the Medical Museion

I am giving a paper at the Gut Feeling: Digestive Health in Nineteenth-Century Culture conference at the University of Aberdeen this weekend. My rotation schedule left me with some flexibility in my travel time, so I invited Dear Husband to come with me for a working vacation. We finally made it to Europe, since last June's choir tour had to be cancelled. (DH estimates that at this time last year he was tossing his cookies, poor thing.)

It took close to 24 hours to get from our home on the eastern side of Pittsburgh to an AirBnB in the southern part of Aberdeen, Scotland. We survived a 1.5-hour drive to the airport through three slow-downs in rush-hour traffic; the farce that is sleeping in an economy seat on a trans-Atlantic flight; and lines in four different airports. The first best part of the trip was being awoken by the smell of freshly baked rolls as part of Scandinavian Airlines Continental breakfast. (Seriously, I would fly SAS again just for that.) The second best part was escaping the Copenhagen Lufthavn for a few hours to take in fresh air, warm sunshine, and the Medical Museion (details below). Copenhagen itself was a wonderful combination of old and new architecture, the newest still being a dirty hole in the ground. The third best part of this trip was sitting together on our bed in Aberdeen, with a window open toward the canal; yes, we were hooking up to the internet for the first time in a day, but we had arrived and were happy.

I first discovered the Medical Museion in 2010, when I kicked off my dissertation research year by attending a conference there about science in museums. It really is a hidden gem down Bredgade Street, as they combine good history, good science, and  good museology. We were greeted in the entranceway by Femme Vitale (above), a dress made out of the 27,774 pills that a middle-aged woman with Metabolic Syndrome would swallow over 10 years. But the big draw was "The Body Collected: The Raw Material of Medical Science from Cadaver to DNA." The exhibit considers how scientists have collected bodies and body parts in the name of knowledge and research for the last 300 years. It begins with fetuses in glass jars, like Martha and Marie, conjoined twins born in 1848 who lived 10 days. Their parents abandoned them, so after they died, their bodies were dissected. Here you can see their skeletons, organs, and preserved skin.

The exhibit next considered wet and dry pathology specimens of everything from a leprous jaw to a tubercular spine to the larynx of a man who was stabbed to death in his apartment.

Then the pieces of the body got smaller: microtomed slices of tissue on glass slides, then cells grown in culture, and finally bits of DNA. The 3D objects were supplemented by a few patient stories printed (in Danish and English) on small boards, some computer simulations, and occasional short video recordings. I was fascinated by the one that follows hospital blood samples to the lab--that's what's inside the "black box" that is ordering tests on my patients! Here's me at the exhibit entrance and DH using a magnifying glass to look at histological specimens.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Worshipping with our Friends

This morning we visited the Pittsburgh Friends Meeting. It was in part a social visit, as we are friends with a couple who are members there, and in part an anthropological excursion, as we were curious about how Quakers worship. It also marked the last stop of our Sunday morning "church shopping," as Dear Husband gets ready to assume the permanent position of organist at Third Presbyterian Church.

Quakers use an unstructured form of Sunday morning worship. Before the meeting, DR and I gathered in the parlor for an informal hymn sing. I picked "Down by the Riverside." Then we moved to the meeting room and sat in waiting expectation for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. For probably 45 minutes, we prayed and meditated. Toward the end, two Friends shared thoughts about their spiritual and psychological struggles. Finally there were introductions, announcements, and lunch. We also wrote an anti-war letter to our senator as part of a letter-writing campaign.

The body-scholar part of me couldn't help but catalog the things I noticed when you gather two dozen bodies together in one room:

They breathe,
clear their throats,
have borborygmi,
shift in their seats,
cross their arms,
scratch an itch,
re-cross their legs,
stare out the window (bored?),

It was the most quiet I have had in my life for a long time, and afterward there was food, conversation, and social justice. What's not to like? We're glad we didn't let the Pittsburgh Marathon tying up the streets deter us from the leaving the house.

Monday, May 1, 2017

That's So Pittsburgh: Pierogies

Dear Husband and I recently went to a pierogi-making party at the home of a pediatrics intern. He grew up here in Pittsburgh and learned to make the tasty dumplings from his German mother, who learned how to make them after marrying his Polish father. Here's the basic idea: use a stand mixer to make dough from flour, sour cream, and eggs. Meanwhile, make cheesy mashed potatoes (there's no such thing as too much cheese). Roll out the dough and use a glass to cut circles. Stretch up the dough pockets. Put a little ball of potato mixture in and pinch the edges closed. Boil, then fry in oil. Top with chopped onions cooked in butter and enjoy!

Pro tip: the best time to make pierogies is just before Lent, so you can eat them on Fridays instead of meat. Pierogies can also be found running around PNC Park between innings at a Pirates game and at a Lenten Fish Fry.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

A Stitch in Time

Presenting His and Hers rocking chairs with ottomans. The one on the right we bought used from another student when we purchased our house back in graduate school. The cushions had an old blue-and-white covering, which I took off and replaced with these spiffy green-and-brown stripes. However, I didn't leave enough give in the seat cushion, and it split in the front. This weekend I purchased some brown "suede" and sewed on a pleated accent to cover the rips. On the left, we bought a used "baby" recliner off Craigslist. We are not moving this year because Dear Husband hasn't found a job yet, and we don't want to end up in one part of the city if he finds work in a different part. Because we will most likely wait out residency in this townhouse, I decided we needed two chairs upstairs. Now we can sit next to each other and work on our respective laptops while rocking! [Picture cut off at the top so you don't have to see all our junk.]

Monday, April 17, 2017

Happy Earth Day/Week: Reducing Our Landfill Waste

Like it? We bought it off a scrappy looking moisture farmer on Tatooine. Think we'll use it as a compost bin. Our neighbor down the block gardens and composts and offered us some earth worms once it gets going.

See also: Gardening on a Hill.