Friday, June 16, 2017

What Internship Looks Like XXXIX: Reading in the Atrium

Sometimes internship looks like reading a book about food and hunger in 20th-century Germany while sitting in the warm sunshine of a hospital walkway atrium. Later on the agenda: lunch with the Narrative Medicine group and then primary care clinic in the afternoon.

P.s.--Go Penguins, Stanley Cup champions for the second year in a row!

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Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Book Review: Feeding the Nation Left a Sour Taste

In my last blog post, I described an academic study of hunger, food, and cultural racism in twentieth-century South Africa that is so prize-winningly good that it intimidated me as a writer. Let's just say that the next book I picked up engendered just the opposite feelings. For a book with a title like Feeding the Nation: Nutrition and Health in Britain before World War One (2010), I can't believe it wasn't on my radar before this spring. But Yuriko Akiyama's dissertation/first book seemed to promising that I went ahead and purchased it. Her argument is simple: cookery teachers, nurses, and other "educationists" (a British word I had to look up that means "educators") taught nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century Britons both nutrition and hygiene through lessons about food preparation and consumption. 




However, Akiyama conflates teaching with learning. This is pitched as a study of reception, but she offers precious little data about what the trainees thought of their lessons. I don't really fault her for that, because designing a reception study is hard (I know, I've tried); the answer is to frame your work as a discussion of other people's discussions, of what they wanted to convey. Unfortunately, she seems to take many of her primary sources at face value, blithely recounting their letters, speeches, and booklets. This may be one reason why the timeline of events in each chapter is so confusing: because each author rediscovered the importance of food for health in order to justify the importance of their particular program, it seems like the thread of the argument that cookery was recognized as important for the health of individuals and the nation is constantly being dropped and picked up again. She sometimes explains a particular idea as "now/suddenly/finally" being perceived as important once some reform has happened, which neglects the interest that had to exist beforehand to generate the political and social will for that reform. It also doesn't help that she argues for the importance of Florence Nightingale in the development of cookery and hygiene and then mentions at one point that real change required 30 years. In the long duree that's nothing, but in real time three decades an entire generation.

The other difficulty that arises from Akiyama taking her sources at face value is that she adopts their disapproving, reformist tone, especially toward the lower classes. Although she includes such important details as the fact that many poor Britons lived in hovels or tenements without private cooking facilities, she nevertheless makes comments about how uninformed and unhygienic they were. She confuses lack of knowledge with lack of will or ability, when there were manifest structural and institutional hindrances. This is important, because on the one hand she argues that the army taught every man to cook his own rations to ensure that nutrients would not be wasted by an inexperienced (non-British/foreign) cook, and then later she notes that the navy trained professional cooks so that all sailors could benefit from good, hygienic food. Somehow both are supposed to convey the same message about the importance of diet on health, when I suspect the army was mostly concerned about cost cutting. I will concede her one point though, which is that just because hygienic structures and routines have been created doesn't mean that individuals will absorb the lesson (I think of soldiers defecating outside of their tents because it's more convenient than going to the communal latrine).

The best part of the book is that she tried to cover a variety of sites: schools for cookery teachers, elementary schools, hospitals and nursing schools, training for soldiers and sailors. In this way she covers girls and boys, women and men. I wish she had spent more time on the recipes that were taught, rather than talking about the educational institutions, but then I would have written a different book. And maybe I will.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Starving on a Full Stomach: An Intellectual Feast for the Mind

Image result for starving on a full stomach wylieDo you remember that time in medical school when I pledged to read one book a month? Predictably, the streak didn't last very long, although in my defense, I had joined a year-long Bible study, in addition to reading many other, shorter things. Since then I have published the occasional book review, more out of a need to make me sit down and grapple with than because I think most of you want to know about any one of these books. Residency has kept me too busy to do much blogging, but I looked up the other day and realized I had read five books in the last three months, with 2-3 books scheduled for the rest of my current block of time off from clinic for research. I want to share two books with you that had opposite reactions on me.

The first book is Starving on a Full Stomach: Hunger and the Triumph of Cultural Racism in Modern South Africa (2001). It had been on my to-read list since before I presented a paper at a medical humanities conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 2013. Starving on a Full Stomach was Wylie's second book, and it has all the markings of the product of a mature scholar--namely, that it is so well written that it makes me doubt I will ever be able to publish anything half as good. Other scholars agree: it won the Melville J. Herskovits Prize from the African Studies Association in 2002.

Wylie uses arguments about food, hunger, and nutrition in the eastern part of South Africa to track the development of the cultural racism that buttressed the apartheid state for more than 40 years. (It was not biological racism, because scientists had shown that all human bodies were comparable; if Blacks and Whites had different life experiences, then this must be explainable by habits and beliefs = culture.) At first Europeans treated the mostly rural African population with paternalism, using the language of the patriarchal family to justify White rule over Black "children," just as native Chiefs had power over their tribes. However, colonial policies that enriched White miners and farmers at the expense of Black workers--such as artificially low wages, artificially high food prices, and crowded native "reserves"--put more and more impoverished Africans in the position of needing help that the government was unwilling to supply after World War II ended.

She argues that the apartheid state was "modern" in so far as it had scientific backing, such as the nutritionists and social scientists who claimed that Africans could not feed themselves and therefore--implicitly or explicitly--did not deserve political rights. As paternalism gave way to scientism (over-regard for scientific-sounding explanations), the apartheid government formed in 1948 no longer accepted any responsibility for Black health, envisioning separate "homelands," foodways, and "self-sufficient" socio-cultural spheres. One of their favorite hobby horses was that Africans were mismanaging their land and cattle, such they no longer produced enough food to nourish their families. This assertion conveniently ignored the fact that Blacks had been ejected from cities and crowded onto too little land for too many people (and cows). Even most of the politically moderate physicians and researchers examining the question of the nutritional health of native Africans described the problem as one of knowledge instead of one of structures of oppression. Finally, at the bitter end, when these scientistic explanations for Black poverty had lost their luster, the apartheid government justified its continued existence with naked power and brute force.

Things I learned:
  • Thomas Malthus predicted that a growing population would outstrip its food supply, leading to famine and a necessary reduction in the population. What he did not account for was the agricultural revolution that increased food production exponentially. While modern societies no longer suffer widespread famine, some of their members do experience hunger. Hunger in industrial capitalism is a problem of food maldistribution rather than one of insufficient food production.*

  • Europeans typically held a static view of African culture as "a food-sharing entity" and assumed that Africans preferred private gifts of food among each other to higher wages from their White employers. How conveeeeenient, as The Church Lady might say.

  • The word "famine" was thrown about a lot. Africans often thought of "starvation" as a synonym for "poverty," while Whites saw it as a description of Blacks' eternally helpless state. How mind-blowingly aggravating that the government never adopted any of the suggestions Blacks offered for their own betterment.

  • It was possible to be "starving on a full stomach" if the person had moved to town and replaced their milk, grain, and vegetable-heavy rural diet with processed foods and sugar. To want meat but not be able to afford it was another kind of hunger.

Look out for Part II of this series, a review of Feeding the Nation: Nutrition and Health in Britain before World War One (2010) by Yuriko Akiyama.


*I am now in the middle of Modern Hungers: Food and Power in Twentieth-Century Germany by Alice Weinreb; when I get to the last chapter, on obesity, I hope she talks about how an abundance of food encourages over-consumption, which in our health-conscious western culture typically leads to dieting = voluntary hunger.


Editor's Note: If you liked this post, Frau Doktor Doctor has previously reviewed a book about German measles and birth defects; a book of essays by historians of medicine who are also practicing physicians; and a number of audiobooks she listened to while driving around the Eastern United States for residency interviews.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

TSPGH: St. Paul's summer organ series

That's So Pittsburgh: an organ concert on a Sunday afternoon at St. Paul's Cathedral. What's unusual: getting to sit up in the organ loft to watch from 10 feet away. I've seen Dear Husband play the organ from closer, of course, but this was special as the drifting clouds outside changed the brightness of the sunlight streaming in trough the beautiful stained glass windows. Up here, not only do pipes jut overhead, but you can hear the sounds of the mechanical stops, and occasionally a large, deep pipe vibrates under foot.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Scotland: Highland Folk Museum


Our next AirBnB was down in Newtonmore, so after spending the middle of the day on Cairn Gorm Mountain, we stopped at the open-air museum on the edge of town. Entrance is free, but since it costs them 11 pounds per visitor to pay their actor-interpreters and keep up the grounds, we went ahead and donated 10 pounds each, plus 5 pounds for the guide book. The weather mostly held out for us as cool and gray, with only a smattering of light rain toward the end of our three-hour visit.

(A week's rations in Britain during WWII.)



The Highland Folk Museum is a mile-long stretch of land to which a number of old buildings have been brought. On one end is an animal farm, complete with nicer and shabbier farm houses. (See Dear Husband milking Bessie, above.) There's also a vehicle garage from the interwar period and a house that trebles as middle-class parlor, sweet shoppe, and post office. In the middle is a town c. 1930, with a school, a church, a tailor, a clockmaker, etc. The school was the very last place we stopped, shortly before closing time, and when the schoolmaster reprimanded us for being late, at first we thought he was playing his part, but really he wanted us to know that the place was closing! Our AirBnB hostess sometimes plays a schoolmarm there.


Above is the table in the little shepherd's hut; below is the stone paddock for sorting sheep brought in from the pasture for shearing, dipping, or other procedures.


Here's the counter of the little post office.


A short walk through the woods gets you to an eighteenth-century village of wattled dwellings with thatched roofs. The houses, barns, and drying kiln were sturdy structures, but the insides were dark and smokey. I readily understood what a dirty existence it must have been. There were two actors present while we were there, but the man didn't seem interested in conversation, and the woman ran off to intercept a couple who were trying to trespass onto neighboring land.



It was a neat experience. The 20th-century presentations looked pretty familiar to our American eyes, but the 1700s settlement was new and different. I'm glad we went, even though I hadn't been expecting to pay money for it.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Scotland: Loch Ness & Urquhart Castle

On our last day in Scotland, I had planned for us to take a boat tour of Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle. We woke up that morning in Newtonmore, a good hour south of the Jacobite dock, and thanks to road construction and "Sunday drivers" (there's the phrase again!), we quite nearly missed the boat. Skidding into the gravel parking lot with mere minutes to spare, Dear Husband ran to the booth to pick up our tickets, while I grabbed a few things from the car. Between us we had two jackets, one hat, and one scarf, and it was half as much as we needed out on the blustery lake. Scottish weather had finally caught up with us, and we were not ready.


Nevertheless, we braved the wind and cold for the hour-long journey out to Urquhart Castle, a tourist trap if ever there was one.


First things first: no, we did not see the Loch Ness monster. Mostly we watched the water and steep hillsides, with gorse bushes, trees, a golf course, and sheep, while a very entertaining young Scotsman rolled his "r"s and chattered on the PA system about the loch (it's not a lake, it's a loch). Loch Ness is the UK's second largest lake by surface area and second deepest (to 754'), but it contains the largest volume of fresh water--more than the rest of the lakes in England and Wales combined. Below 100 feet, the water is a constant 44 degrees F; above that the temperature fluctuates but never gets cold enough to freeze over.




The tour company is named for the Jacobite Rebellion in the late 1600s, the failed attempt to put a Catholic monarch back on the English throne, after King James II was driven into exile in 1688. Clans living in the Scottish Highlands were some of his and his son "Bonny Prince Charlie"'s most ardent supporters.

Urquhart Castle is a ruin of Scottish wars for independence from England. Picts may have occupied the area in the late 500s. St. Columba, who converted the Scots to Christianity, is said to have talked down a loch monster who was trying to eat a servant about that time. The first medieval stone castle was built in the 1200s. Strategically situated on a promontory, it changed hands many times and was finally dynamited in 1692 by retreating Crown forces. We joined the throngs (3/4 German tourists?!?) in visiting the various "rooms" and waited our turn to climb the narrow winding staircase up Grant Tower (it wasn't all that great). A chapel existed for a few decades before the space was converted to weapons storage (go figure). Having seen everything, we bought sandwiches from the visitor center and spent a little bit of time looking at the exhibits before catching the last possible showing of the short documentary that ended with the screen being raised and the curtains opened to reveal the castle down the hill. They also have a working trebuchet on the grounds; no word on when they hold demonstrations.



On the way back it had begun to sprinkle. The boat was less crowded, so we sensibly decided to ride in the enclosed cabin. I wanted to try a spiked hot chocolate from the snack bar, but the cost was too dear, so I settled on a pair of Nessie stuffed animals as Christmas presents. Alas, neither of us remember to pee before we disembarked, so we spent ten minutes looking for a restroom before heading 3 hours to the airport and consequently didn't think to snap a photo of our vessel, so here's one from their website of the "Warrior" in all her glory, with the Highlands behind her.




If you want to read more about our trip to Scotland, check out this post about hiking Cairn Gorm Mountain, this one about death and dying in Victorian times, or the one about going to church with Queen E.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Scotland: Cairn Gorm Mountain

On Monday of our Scotland trip we drove into Cairngorms National Park so we could take the funicular railway partway up Cairn Gorm Mountain and then take a guided hike the rest of the way to the top. That's us on the summit! (Click for short videos set to inspirational music; the funicular one is pretty cool for any transportation buffs.) In the winter and spring there's skiing, and during the rest of the year hiking. They try to keep the foot traffic low by requiring hikers either to walk the entire distance from the parking lot or else pay for the funicular and guide. For our first time we chose the tour.


Cairn Gorm comes from the Gaelic An Càrn Gorm, for Blue or Green Hill. It is the sixth highest mountain in the United Kingdom. It has given its name to a mountain range that used to be called Am Monadh Ruadh (the Red Hills), for the red feldspar and/or glow of the setting sun.

Here we go, heading for the clouds. I don't think you can see the clear mountain stream in this shot, but water bubbles up from the rock and runs down, where it is caught, purified, and used in the visitor centers.




The Cairngorm Mountain Railway replaced the older chair lifts in 2001. It's easily accessible from the parking lot and takes you 5 minutes up the slope from the lower visitor center to the higher one, with an exhibit, gift shop, restaurant, and the UK's highest post box. The exhibit covers geology, biology, history, and mountain-climbing technology. You can just see the higher visitor center, above the clouds, with some chair lifts visible. During the ski season, the mountain is often covered by several feet of snow.

Before we started the hike, Dear Husband and I felt inadequate in our preparations. Everyone else was wearing hiking boots and waterproof pants, with backpacks, and hiking poles. I just had my little day bag. DH did run back to the car to grab his extra jacket before we started up the mountain, but it proved to be unnecessary. The sun shone so much, in fact, that I got sunburned and wished we had a backpack to hold all the extra layers of clothes that we weren't wearing!

Our guide told us about snow rescues, the rocks, and the flora and fauna. There are apparently more species of lichen on the mountain than all the other kinds of plants put together!

Here is the origin of one of the streams. Our guide drank from it, but all I could think of was my medical school microbiology professor telling us about the parasite Giardia lamblia that lives in "clear mountain streams." I abstained.

Shortly thereafter we had the neat experience of seeing a small family of dotterels, a bird on the endangered species list. With my camera zoom I was able to capture a few photographs. After that little break, we continued up the path. Unfortunately, the reportedly gorgeous vista into the valley on other side of the mountain was shrouded in mist, which proceeded to crest the summit, which is why the photo above looks so cloudy. We then joined our little group in descending the stone path back to the visitor center. It was quite the experience. I'll leave you with a poem by Rafael Campo and a view toward a lake as we came back down below the cloud cover. This might have been my favorite experience of the trip.


Dotterel on land.
Dotterel on water.
"The View from Here," by Rafael Campo

The view from here is breathtaking; the air
Is stratospheric, absolutely clear.
It's nearly operatic, what I hear
When sunlight strikes the headlands, hillsides bared
By drought across the bay. I wonder what
It's like, to be so timelessly extant,
To have been formed by processes one can't
Imagine--shakings of the earth, the weight
Of polar icecaps, lava boiling in the sea--
The faintest outlines of creation, here.
The wind begins to rearrange my hair,
Reminds me of my presence. Willfully,
I write this down, trying to record
The truth. "The view from here is breathtaking."
I pause, and hold my breath until I sing
This opus, made entirely of words.


Sunday, May 28, 2017

Balmoral, Hon!


We could have been Sunday drivers, yeah [click for previous blog post], but we were on a bit of a tight schedule. According to My Amazing In-Laws’ Scotland guidebook, Sunday service at Craithie Kirk started at 11am. Given my cautious driving, however, we didn’t pull into the parking lot until ten minutes after the hour. Happily, the stated time on the posted blue sign was 11:30AM. We had time to scarf a granola bar each and run to the public toilets before walking up the tree-lined drive. At the end were two crowds of people. “The sheep and the goats?” asked DH. There were also police officers, one of whom directed us to queue on the left and warned me that my purse would be searched. “Do you suppose it’s because the Queen is here?” he asked me. I thought not—what would be the odds? I figured it was because of the bombing at  Manchester that places of worship were taking extra precautions.

When the allotted time came our bags were checked, and we filed into the church. It is not ornate but does have some plain if beautiful wooden ceiling panels, a fancy carved wooden rood at the altar, and a stone bust of a young Queen Victoria in a lighted niche. The service was nice, and the preacher good, although we were not impressed by either the organ or the organist. At the end of worship, while we were all standing, the minister came to the front of the chancel and announced, “God save the Queen!” And they all sang the anthem. I had seen it listed in the bulletin and figured it was in recognition of the massacre. It was a very moving display of national patriotism against the background of Scottish discontent about Brexit. Then there was a flurry of motion ahead on the right, in the cross arm of church. I briefly glimpsed a little figure in a bright red dress with a big hat. “Oh shoot!” I exclaimed. She was there after all! By the time we had filed out of church again, two official-looking SUVs with tinted windows were driving away.

DH had noticed some “open on bank holiday Monday” signs while out and about in Aberdeen, but we weren’t sure which Monday they meant. The UK observes Remembrance Day on November 11 not the last Monday in May as in the US. However, it turns out that the UK does have a “May Holiday” the last Monday of May. Thankfully none of our planned excursions was closed—which would be odd, because many Scots were traveling for the three-day weekend, including Her Majesty. That explained the queuing and the searching. Unfortunately, because of the precautions, I did not feel comfortable taking any pictures at the church, even with my camera (cell phones had to be off for worship). 


At this point we were ready for some lunch. Next on the agenda: walk over the River Dee (above) to Balmoral Castle. How kind of the Queen to invite us over after the service! We picked up our audio tour, ate large lunches at the café, and then proceeded to tour the estate. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert had rented and then purchase the estate in the late 1840s. (The previous owner, a British diplomat to Vienna, had choked on a fish bone and expired.) Albert in particular had taken the lead on designing a newer, larger castle with a better view of the valley. Actually, Albert seems to have taken the lead in everything the couple did, which is why his death in 1861 was so devastating for Victoria. She spent large amounts of time there as a widow, and it is where her (in)famous servant John Brown entered her service. (I wrote a whole separate post on death and Victorian mourning, which you can read here.)



One of several large wooden Corgi dogs, DH and an
example of "Balmoral tweed," and some bagpiping kit.

Balmoral is a “working estate” whose income comes not just from tourism but also deer culling. Victoria bought a strand of trees to save it from being cut for timber, but the woods around are continually maintained, so they may make some money from selling trees that have to be removed. There is also cattle herding and a tenant farmer. The garden produces most of what the kitchen needs for when the Royal Family comes for summer holiday in August. They strive to be organic and sustainable--for instance, not using (non-renewable) peat for fertilizer. The gardeners have to contend with a short growing season, but it does help that the summer days are extra long.


Because the castle is inhabited, only one room is open to the public, the ballroom, which actually isn’t all that large. There’s an exhibit there about royal residences. We made the excellent decision to walk back to the car park by way of the River Dee, with its rapids roaring off to our left as we strolled. Loathe to give up the fresh air and sunshine, which had warmed up after a chilly spot in the early afternoon, we took a quick spin along the other bank of the river, before getting back in the car and heading north. We stopped for dinner in Tomintoul (pronounced “tom-in-towel”), the highest town in Scotland. Unfortunately, the Clock House Restaurant was all booked up for the holiday weekend, and the Richmond Hotel restaurant across the street was closed for a private function. So we settled on the hotel bar, which was not smoky, served us hot food all the same, and let me enjoy a glass of whiskey while we waited. Then we continued on to our AirBnB, no thanks to the flipping GPS system, and finally settled in for a quiet Sunday evening.


Flowers in the greenhouse.


The intrepid explorers before the the sunken garden.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Scotland: Sunday Driving

In order to see more of Scotland, Dear Husband and I rented a car. I had driven on the left before when in South Africa, but it was DH’s first time. Knowing us, a predictable comedy of errors ensured from which, thankfully, we and the car survived more or less intact. The first bit of fun was just finding the car rental place, which according to its website was located within walking distance from the airport, or they would send someone to pick you up. We considered getting off the double-decker bus one stop early and trying to find it ourselves but didn't. At the airport, we asked for help in finding a courtesy phone to call the company, and the volunteer mentioned he thought they had moved to the airport, but I stuck to my online instructions. However, the phone number posted online and on the pillar didn’t work, so I called the hotel—the car company had in fact moved its office to the airport. So we just walked up the ramp. There we discovered that the little automatic I had reserved had been returned the night before damaged. Our options were to wait half an hour for a similar car to be cleaned or to pay an extra 150 pounds for a fully protected new little BMW. I didn’t want to wait, and DH wanted the insurance coverage, so we opted for the beemer with the integrated GPS. 

Sweet, right? Except first we had to figure out how to work the toggle/dial navigation system. (Thankfully it was not stuck on trying to direct us to Seattle.) Then we had to ask how to actually, you know, start the car. It was one of those new-fangled fob and button deals. Next we had to figure out where we were going. Street signs seem to be at a premium in Scotland, such that they are typically small and posted sparingly, but after a few wrong turns, we managed to get on the path indicated by our polite, female voiced guide...which led us right to a pile of dirt that might or might not eventually become an entrance ramp onto the A96. Thankfully I still had Google maps up on my phone to get us to the airport, so DH used that to find me the correct turns onto the highway.


Alas, the reprieve was short lived, for no sooner had we gotten on then She directed us to get off again onto a little road. You might ask why we believed her this time, and DH did ask, but I had typed out general directions into our itinerary, and they seemed to match, so we continued along the long and winding road. The GPS was otherwise helpful—maybe too helpful with her repeated cheerful instruction to “Please leave the roundabout at the second exit to continue to follow” the highway we were on—until we actually needed her to help us find our AirBnB houses. To our consternation, She was 0 for 2. This meant numerous wrong turns while we circled around until we finally happened upon them, both times thankfully well before dark.

DH and I each found that driving on the left was not as difficult as the curvy, narrow, rural Scottish roads. Whenever one of us made a turn, we would sing a little ditty to remember where to put the car: “Left, left, left, LEFT, left,” intoned DH. “To left, to the left,” I sang with Beyonce ("Irreplaceable"). It was some of the most careful and defensive driving either of us have ever done, although we each jumped or bumped the curb once or twice. Thank goodness for the full warranty, as we managed to damage one of the rear tires.


But wait, it gets worse. After we had finished touring Balmoral Castle [blog post coming soon], we took one of the B roads north through Cairngorm National Park. This one was, no joke, a one-lane road, sometimes with stone walls on either side. Occasionally there would be a “passing spot” like the one above for one vehicle to crowd into while (an) other(s) passed by—even a motorhome! With all the turns and vegetation, the sightlines were terrible, so it was only with great luck that DH managed to squeeze us by. The one time I was happy to be “stuck” behind a logging truck on one of those little roads was because I knew that it was wide enough that no other vehicle could pass it and surprise me coming around a bend. As it happens, driving on the highway, in towns, and in cities was no easier. Highway frustrations included construction, farm equipment, and slow drivers (see below). Town obstacles included cars parked in the driving lane, a mail truck, and a garbage truck. City obstacles included buses, traffic lights every 50 yards, and endless roundabouts. You know how they say putting together furniture is a good test of the strength of a relationship? I think that driving in a foreign country is another.

Whoever was driving had to pay very close attention to the road, but whoever wasn’t driving got to enjoy the gorgeous views of rolling Scottish countryside, with trees and moss in every shade of green; cattle, sheep, and occasionally horses grazing in green fields that swept up into hills; and mountains that were patchworks of rock, sedge, and the brilliant gold of gorse bushes, all dappled with sunlight and shadows. We were extraordinarily lucky with the weather on our trip, which only added to the beauty.



If you made it this far, you might enjoy the "Sunday Driver" song by the Scottish folk group The Corries [click for YouTube video of them singing it as what looks like a house concert].

Well I've been a Sunday driver noo for many's a happy year
And I've never had my Morris Minor oot o' second gear
I can drive at fifty miles an hour on motorway or track
With me wife up front beside me and her mother in the back

There was me and my daddy and my daddy's mammy
And her sister's Granny and four of her chums
And Auntie Jean

In a crowd of fifty trippers you can always pick me oot
By my "Don't blame me, I voted Tory" sticker on the boot
Wi' my bunch of heather stickin' in ma radiator grille
And me stick-on transfer bullet holes and licence for tae kill

There was me and my daddy and my daddy's mammy
And her sister's Granny and four of her chums
And Auntie Peg

I've a hundred plastic pennants for to tell you where I've been
And my steering wheel is clad in simulated leopard-skin
Up front fae the drivin' mirror hangs a plastic skeleton
And in the back a dog wi' eyes that flicker off and on!

There was me and my daddy and my daddy's mammy
And her sister's Granny and four of her chums
And Auntie May

I always drive as though my foot was restin' on the brake
And I weave aboot the road just so's ye cannae overtake
I can get ye sae frustrated that ye'll finish up in tears
And the sound of blarin' motor horns is music to my ears!
There was me and my daddy and my daddy's mammy
And her sister's Granny and four of her chums
And Auntie Liz

Now if ye wonder how these weekly trips I can afford
It's because I'm on a stipend from the Scottish Tourist Board
You're supposed tae enjoy the scenery, the finest of its kind
And that is why I have a convoy followin' behind!

There was me and my daddy and my daddy's mammy
And her sister's Granny and four of her chums
And Auntie Rose

There's just no way of escaping me, no matter how ye seek
For the simple fact that I'm a traffic warden through the week
I'm boostin' my efficiency, and here's my master plan
I'm savin' up my pennies for to buy a Caravan

There was me and my daddy and my daddy's mammy
And her sister's Granny and four of her chums
And Auntie Gertrude

There was me and my daddy and my daddy's mammy
And her sister's Granny and four of her chums
"Yer gaun too fast!"

Friday, May 26, 2017

Aberdeen: Death and Mourning


The Maritime Museum in Aberdeen, Scotland, is hosting a series of five exhibitions while the Art Museum is temporarily closed. The current one is called "Kiss of Death: Death and Mourning in the Victorian Era." It is anchored by the fanciful bonnet by Jo Gordon (left), the feathers of which simultaneously hide the wearer's face in her grief and project it outward into the public sphere. It cunningly captures the materialistic and highly ritualistic [ideal of] Victorian mourning. The whole concept is named, of course, for Queen Victoria's prolonged mourning for her husband of 21 years, Prince Albert, who was inconsiderate enough to die of typhoid fever (or was it Crohn's Disease?) less than two weeks before Christmas 1861.

(This is an excellent article on the historical importance of Albert's death.)

Of course the mourners had to wear black--shiny black for "full" or "deep" mourning, dull black later on, and shades of purple and even white in "half" mourning. One whole case contained black jewelry at various price points, from jet (actually hardened coal) and onyx through black glass, enamel, and bog wood on down to vulcanite (a hardened rubber). There were two other contemporary art pieces in the exhibition; one of them was a time-lapse video of a performance artist wearing a black crepe dress and weeping while a hidden hose soaked her with water. This made the dye run from the fabric onto the white floor. By the end of the mournful tune playing over the images, the top of the dress was gray and the puddle an inky black at her feet. If a woman cried (or sweated) while wearing crepe, this symbol of public mourning would mark her skin, so she was reminded of it in private as well.


The other contemporary art piece is the one to the right--a curved mirror with pink, tan, and black blobs representing the ectoplasm that might haunt a seance. It reminded me of the review I did of Heather Wolffram's 2009 book, The Stepchildren of Science: Psychical Research and Parapsychology in Germany, c. 1870-1939 for the Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences. They also had examples of "ghost photography" on display, as well as funeral announcements.




How fitting that while we were in this exhibition, the museum called for a minute of silence to remember the 22 victims of the bombing in Manchester.


Death was all around us in Aberdeen. There's a big bronze sarcophagus commemorating a bishop connected with the University standing on its grounds. We wandered among the tombstones in one old church yard on our way back from the beach on Thursday. Dear Husband walked through another on Friday after attending a choir concert at St. Machar's. Many of them are made of granite, as that stone was mined for building in nearby quarries and gives Aberdeen its nickname of "The Granite City." I snapped the picture to the left while on our way to catch the bus to the airport Sunday morning: we couldn't figure out if that was a granite mushroom that had sprouted among the other memorials or some kind of decorative finial that had fallen off. I'll close with a more somber example: the story told by the headstone below right.




Under the Christian insignia "IHS" (IHSOUS, Greek for "Jesus" in Latin letters), it is dedicated
"To the Memory of Elizabeth Deborah, Wife of John Paton of Grandholm, and youngest Daughter of Thomas Burnett Advocate: died 24th Feb.y 1860, aged 37 years. And of their Child, Elizabeth Bertha, died 11th June 1861, aged 16 months. Also the above John Paton, of Grandholm, who died August the 27th 1879, aged 61 years. His Widow Katherine Margaret died 26th Feb.y 1919, aged 87 years."
The font for the wife and daughter are of the same size, so they must have been done at the same time. Perhaps Elizabeth Deborah was buried with a simple stone, and then when Elizabeth Bertha died too, John decided to purchase a larger one. Because his father in law is mentioned, Thomas B. A. must have contributed some money. Little E. B. was just 16 months old when she died in June, perhaps of polio, measles, scarlet fever, typhoid, or even small pox. Her mother E. D. must have died in childbirth, although at 37 it was unlikely her first. Maybe she caught "puerperal fever" from the midwife's dirty hands, or maybe at an "advanced maternal age" she developed high blood pressure and eclampsia. Smaller type records the dead of John at the relatively young age of 61. Fourteen years his junior, his second wife outlived him by forty years. She must have raised the older children well, as I imagine one of them took care to add her name and dates to this record of their family. Gone, but not forgotten.

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 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. Another 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 at one of Aberdeen's premier Indian restaurants, Nazma Tandoori. We ended the day by visiting the Botanical Gardens (click for separate blog post).