For the past two years, monarch numbers have been on the rise. Let’s continue this trend!
One of my many travel dreams has been to visit central Mexico where the monarch butterflies migrate. Seeing their giant orange clusters overhead would be awe-inspiring, and it if I timed the trip around Halloween, it would also give me the opportunity to witness Día De Los Muertos in the many village cemeteries in that same region. It would be such a cultural and environmental treat to bear witness to these things.
So many travel dreams, so little time.
I had all but given up on this particular dream due to global climate change and other environmental disasters. The prevalent news in recent years about monarch butterflies has been that they’re fluttering towards extinction. It is upsetting to contemplate.
As we humans encroach on their habitat, there has been less milkweed for these butterflies to consume. Our overreliance on the weed killer called Roundup is destroying not only milkweed but a whole host of other native species, and it’s migrating into the food chain. (Please, please, PLEASE do not use Roundup! Ever!)
Then, add deforestation, roadside mowing, real estate development, and water diversion, and you present these creatures with some pretty insurmountable hurdles to fly over. And human-caused climate change, with its droughts, fires, and mega storms, has been a disaster for monarch populations as well.
But there is some moderately good news. For the past two years, the monarch numbers have been on the rise. The most recent count was 335,479 monarchs observed in the known overwintering sites in California and Arizona. That’s a stunning increase over the mere 2,000 counted two years ago. The next count was 250,000, which was exciting, but more than 335,000 is miraculous.
Unfortunately, monarch migration is still considered an endangered biological phenomenon. These recent counts, while encouraging, could be a minor blip in the statistics. These numbers can vary drastically from one year to the next. To maintain a stable population, we would need numbers to be in the low millions, preferably for ten years in a row.
There are ways we can help, though.
Do not use Roundup or insecticides. (EVER!!!)
Plant milkweed that is native to your area. Join me in purchasing seeds from Save Our Monarchs. They even provide ways to get free milkweed seeds from them, but if you can afford to pay, it will help their cause.
Only buy FSC certified wood for your construction projects. Illegal logging in Mexico is destroying monarch habitat. Certification by the Forest Stewardship Council ensures that you’re not purchasing wood from these forests.
Educate others about the plight of monarch butterflies.
So, will I be taking the Mexican butterfly journey of my dreams anytime soon? Well… it’s complicated. I’m struggling with the concept.
Part of me thinks that if I ever want to see this migratory miracle, I should go now, because it probably won’t last much longer. (That’s also how I feel about seeing glaciers and islands that are barely above sea level.) It’s discouraging, feeling like you’re racing against a destruction clock to see the beauty of the natural world. But there is something to be said for bearing witness while one can. If that were all there was to it, it would lead me to think that I need to go sooner rather than later.
Tourism is one of the very things that is pushing these butterflies off the cliff. The oyamel forests of central Mexico get 150,000 visitors each year during monarch season. These people pollute. They trample the soil, they cause erosion and forest degradation. And more and more businesses are created to cater to that tourist trade, using up more resources and creating even more pollution. In our own special way, we are loving these butterflies to death.
So maybe I should set aside this dream permanently, for the sake of the butterflies. But then I won’t be able to blog about the experience and educate a wider audience. I don’t know. I’m so conflicted. Where should I draw the line? What do you think?
As long as you’re content, its size should be up to you.
I used to feel sorry for people who had never been more than 50 miles from the place where they were born. They’re missing out on so much! So many sights to see! So many new experiences to have! So many different ways to live. So much to learn. But then, travel is my reason for being.
But over time, and especially in light of my recent autism diagnosis, I’ve changed my perspective quite a bit. Appreciating neurodiversity means understanding that not everyone sees things the way I do. Who am I to dictate the size of anyone else’s world?
I feel that the primary criteria should be that you’re basically content with your life. Of course, we all have good days and bad days, but in general, if you don’t have any current regrets, then your world is the perfect size for you. It’s not reasonable to expect there to be a one size fits all rule for the breadth of everyone’s horizons.
Many would consider my world to be very small. I work by myself on a drawbridge. I come home to my husband and my two dogs. I don’t socialize much. I don’t like big crowds.
When I do see people, I prefer it to be a one on one or two on two type of thing. I’d probably be out there a little more if I had as many friends in the Seattle area as I did in Florida, but it’s hard making friends as an adult. People have lives. Besides, I much prefer a few deep friendships to a lot of shallow ones.
For some reason, it seems to be culturally acceptable here in the Pacific Northwest to cancel plans at the last minute. I find it hurtful and disappointing, but it happens so often that now I am hesitant to initiate anything, and no one else seems willing to take the lead, so there you have it. Socializing is not really important enough for me to put much energy into it. In fact, too much socializing sucks the life force out of me.
But I don’t think of my world as small at all. I’ve been to 22 countries. I’m hoping to fit in 5 or 6 more before my time is through. I communicate with several people who I care about every day, either by phone or by Facebook or by text. That type of contact has value for me, too.
The bulk of my contentment stems from my ability to feed my curious mind. I love learning new things. I love hearing about other cultures, and I find international news fascinating. (On the other hand, I’m woefully lax in keeping up with local news.) I’m currently on an exciting journey of self-discovery, and I’m really looking forward to what I learn in 2023. The day I cease to be able to learn is the day I’m effectively dead.
I am not very good at living for today. I can see why that can be a good idea much of the time, as the past often comes with bitterness or nostalgia, and the future can come with stress and uncertainty, but one’s attitude about mindfulness is just as much of a value judgment as one’s opinion about world size is. Still, I love history and science, and can spend hours delving into the past. I also enjoy contemplating the possibilities of the future. So my world is gigantic in terms of time.
I can also get lost in my imagination. I can live inside a book or a movie, to the point where everything else fades away. It’s my way of traveling when I can’t afford to travel. I may seem expressionless and inactive on the surface, but I assure you, there is always quite a bit going on in my head. My inner life keeps me hopping.
So, if you’re a social butterfly, more power to you, as long as you’re content. But there is no need to measure my world by your yardstick (or vice versa). Yes, it is good for me to push my outer envelope from time to time, and it’s even better to make some compromises to accommodate those in my inner circle, as long as they are willing to reciprocate, but in general, I like the cozy life I’ve made for myself. It feels quite full to me, and it fits.
I can appreciate why people would like me to find contentment in the same ways that they do, since it works for them. I used to apply that same caring pressure to those who have never left their own county. It’s wonderful to have people in my life who want me to be happy, but this new autism diagnosis is teaching me that I don’t need to conform to some unspoken norm. It’s new and exciting to be able to let go of that outer pressure as well as that inner guilt. It’s wonderful to finally realize that it’s okay to just do me.
May your world fill you with contentment, Dear Reader. If it doesn’t, then pare down or expand your horizons, if your circumstances allow for that possibility. It’s never too late to live your best life.
I just hope that you never settle for dissatisfaction, because regardless of your circumstances and your opportunities, your choices will go a long way toward shaping your world and the size thereof. Take what you’ve got and, according to your tastes, make it into something that you see as beautiful.
If only it had not chosen to engage in a premature geobiological consumption event which resulted in such a catastrophic loss of human life.
Longtime readers already know how much I love our national parks. I wish I had the time, money, and stamina to visit every single one of them. I’ve learned a lot about our country with each new park encounter.
While researching parks that I have yet to visit, I happened to stumble upon one called Mystery Flesh Pit National Park. Naturally, discovering that there’s a park I’d never even heard of intrigued me quite a bit. I had to learn more.
This park, sadly, can no longer be visited. Its history is rather tragic. In the early 1970’s, we are told, James Jackson, an oilman, stumbled upon what turned out to be a large geobiological orifice just outside of Gumption, Texas. He decided to explore said orifice, and the subterranean superorganism turned out to be so large that it couldn’t be accurately measured. As is often the case, man’s first instinct is to profit off all discoveries, and the Mystery Flesh Pit was no exception.
Enter the Anodyne Corporation, which, post-catastrophe, was renamed the Permian Basin Recovery & Superorganism Containment Corporation. They saw the opportunity for great riches by mining the site’s organic resources, and while conducting their extraction operations, they enlarged and reinforced the organism, and opened it to tourists in 1976. It became part of our national park system in the early ‘80’s and was a very popular destination, but it had to close because of a horrific tragedy that occurred in 2007.
You can read the very detailed and extremely technical government disaster report here, but if I’m reading it correctly, a freak combination of a great deal of rain which caused an overflow of water inside critical sections of the superorganism, combined with a power failure and the inability of some very poorly maintained pumping equipment to keep up with the water volume, caused a choking action and subsequent vomit response within the superorganism at a time when there were an increased number of visitors within it due to holiday celebrations.
That tragedy resulted in the death of 750 visitors, and an additional 1,800 people were seriously injured. (I can’t imagine what it must be like to have your last conscious moments on earth be consumed with the fact that you’re essentially being digested and/or masticated.) To make matters worse, 18,000 residents of Gumption County were left with some horrific side effects due to the gastric ejecta which flew, well, just about everywhere.
But even worse than the loss of human life is the loss of such a precious natural resource for the American people. While it’s understandable that the federal government wants to avoid future gastric disasters, especially since it’s unknown if this superorganism, when sufficiently agitated, might become ambulatory, the end result is that park lovers like you and me will never again be able to visit this unique location.
If you approach the site of the former park now, you are presented with a tall electric fence and a warning sign that says, among other things, “Stop! This area has been quarantined for YOUR safety!” “Over 582 people have died attempting to commune with the superorganism.” (Which proves this sign is woefully out of date.) And, perhaps most startling, “There is nothing beyond this fence worth dying for.”
But there is a silver lining to this cloud. Mystery Flesh Pit National Park’s legacy is an extremely comprehensive internet archive that is not only educational, but also allows you to delve almost as deep into the ecosystem as you would have if you had been able to enter its big, fleshy maw to go exploring like so many others have done.
If you visit this archive, click on everything you see, because things that don’t necessarily look like links often lead you to yet another page, with yet more links that yield troves of fascinating information. I have, on more than one occasion, lost 3 or 4 hours wandering through this internet maze, learning something new every time. I highly recommend it.
There is entirely too much information to distill in this humble blog post, so, to whet your appetite, I’ll just introduce you to this one topic: The Fauna of the Permian Basin Superorganism. I hope these few fun facts will encourage you to delve into this archive in greater detail. You won’t regret it.
In my opinion, one of the most intriguing creatures that resides within the deeper portions of the superorganism is called a Gasp Owl. They are very elusive, so little is known about them. They congregate in broods and are easily frightened. They are called Gasp Owls because their breathing is quite labored, even in those specimens which seem otherwise healthy. I wonder if they used to keep the campers up at night? I suspect I wouldn’t get much sleep, knowing they were nearby.
Gasp Owls have often been mistaken for the fabled “Marrow Folk” on the rare occasion that they’ve been spotted by tourists.
Campers who overnighted within the deepest regions of the superorganism (surrounded by a mandatory electrical fence, of course) often surfaced with stories of hearing ritual chanting deep below. Sometimes they saw the shadows of creatures that could not be mistaken for any of the park’s many parasitic organisms. Scientists have found no conclusive evidence that Marrow Folk exist, but the chanting voices leave many unanswered questions. I wonder if any recordings of these chants are extant?
This historic national park flyer, which shows many of the parasitic organisms that tourists would often encounter in this unique ecosystem, gives you a small taste of how much we all can learn from this now defunct site. It’s heartbreaking to contemplate the numerous scientific inquiries that will now never reach credible conclusions.
Our nation, and in fact, the world, is diminished by our inability to enter the deepest bowels of this creature and conduct further study. If only it had not chosen to engage in a premature geobiological consumption event which resulted in such a catastrophic loss of human life. Contemplating the discoveries we will now never make is enough to make one weep.
For those of you who are gullible enough not to realize that this park is an extremely detailed and very hilarious work of fiction, here are a few sources that will explain how the whole Mystery Flesh Pit story has taken on a life of its own:
A lot of things are percolating deep down, laying a foundation for change.
Note: I wrote this post about a week before I published it, so my information about the eruption of Mauna Loa will be out of date by the time you read this. Please consult the links I’ll provide below for more timely information.
After seeming to sleep for 38 years, Mauna Loa, the world’s largest volcano, located on the big island of Hawaii, has woken up. I say “seeming to sleep” because it is estimated that it took about 10 years for the magma to reach the upper magma chamber this time around, and that, in turn, lies 2 ½ miles below the crater itself. When you consider that the Hawaii hotspot, from whence the magma could be said to originate, is about 60 miles below the surface, you realize that any eruption is a long time coming. The amount of lava that we’ll see from this eruption is minuscule compared to the magma underground.
Mauna Loa has done a lot of swelling and shrinking over the years as the pressure below ground increased or subsided. That, of course, caused earthquakes. So if this volcano sleeps at all, it does so fitfully.
This current eruption began late in the evening of November 27, 2022 and, to date, the bulk of the lava is flowing toward the north. The lava flow has slowed down quite a bit today, which is a good thing, because it’s currently 1.7 miles away from Daniel K. Inouye Highway, the only major highway that crosses the interior of the big island. Its loss would be devastating. Authorities are now saying that the highway is no longer in danger, but volcanoes should never be underestimated, so we shall see.
The lava has traveled 12 miles, and it’s currently moving at a rate of 7 feet per hour. I don’t mean to make light of this event, but if you have to experience a natural disaster, it’s preferable to find one that’s laid back like this one is, so that you can outrun it. Still, volcanoes in general never cease to remind me how powerless we are over the natural world.
“Slow and steady wins the race”, as they say. This volcano has been erupting on and off for about 700,000 years, and only made it above the water’s surface about 400,000 years ago. It most likely will not become extinct for another 500,000 years. (Perhaps a better proverb would be “Patience is a virtue.”)
I’m particularly fascinated by this eruption because I visited Hawaii for the first time this past May. We drove the length of the Daniel K. Inouye Highway, and we went partway up Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa’s sister volcano. We didn’t ascend as high as we planned to because I started getting really loopy from the altitude and we decided that it was best to turn back. (It took me a few months to blog about it, but you can read that post here.)
We also stayed at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, and that gave us the opportunity to see lava flowing from yet another volcano, Kilauea. As I said in that blog post, it felt as though I was gazing into the Beating Heart of Mother Earth, and I am forever changed by the experience. I have led a truly charmed life.
I’ve always thought of the Hawaiian islands as tiny little dots all alone in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and from that perspective, it’s understandable that when told a volcano is erupting, many tourists panic and change their travel plans. But when you get there and see things to scale, you realize that those fears are really unfounded. If a volcano erupted in the heart of Manhattan, nobody but those who live in Manhattan would say, “Well, I guess we need to cancel our reservations at that delightful bed and breakfast in Connecticut now.”
Yes, volcanos are dangerous. You shouldn’t get too close to a lava flow. And if you have breathing issues, you should keep track of the direction of the volcanic gasses and ash. Common sense dictates that one should avoid flying boulders and the like. And heaven forbid you get anywhere near a pyroclastic flow (but I’m happy to say that Hawaiian volcanoes don’t have that particular feature. It’s all about lava quality).
But as I said, most volcano action happens slowly, and with our modern technology we tend to get advanced warning. So I urge you not to alter your travel plans. I really wish I could go now, to see this spectacular eruption with my own eyes. (There is a live webcam, but it has only worked sporadically. Check it out, if you can, here. I especially enjoy watching it at night, but don’t forget to adjust for time change.)
During our time on the Big Island, we were able to observe Mauna Loa from many angles as it prepared itself for the spectacular transformation that we didn’t know was imminent. (Isn’t hindsight fascinating?) Even at a distance, it is, indeed, formidable, and the size makes it nearly impossible for our tiny minds to comprehend everything that was going on beneath the surface.
That is a perfect metaphor for change, isn’t it? We usually only see the change when it breaks the surface, but we often find out later that a lot of things had been percolating deep down, laying a foundation for change, for quite some time. Change will happen. (In fact, there’s a lot of change headed my way. Not to worry, though. It’s nothing horrible. When it surfaces, I’ll be sure to let you know.)
Change happens to all of us. It happens all around us. It’s part of life. But when next it happens to you, dear reader, here’s hoping that it will be as beautiful and as awe-inspiring as this eruption on Mauna Loa.
They slept on wooden benches that were 15 inches wide.
In my last post, The Ephrata Codex and the First Known Female Composers in America, I discussed an interesting compendium of music from 1746 that is currently housed in the Library of Congress. This music was originally created at the Ephrata Cloister in what is now Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. These Germanic hymns are remarkable in their simplicity, and are very haunting and beautiful if you have a chance to hear them performed. (More details on how to do so can be found in that post.)
Deep within the pages of this beautifully illuminated codex, a scholar named Chris Herbert discovered that several of the compositions were attributed to three of the sisters who led celibate lives as part of the religious commune. These are now considered to be the first known written compositions by women in what is now America.
I wish we knew more about Sisters Hannah, Föben, and Katura. Currently it seems that all we know was that they lived to be about 79, 67 and 79 respectively, at a time when most women would consider themselves lucky to make it into their 40’s. Life in 18th century America tended to be unhygienic, brutish and short.
Think about it. According to this article, today, about 15 American women die in pregnancy or childbirth per 100,000 live births. That’s outrageous and says much about our broken health care system in this country. But in the 1700’s, when it wasn’t uncommon for women to have 8 children, the death rate was more like 1200 women per 100,000 live births. And by the last half of that century, long before reliable birth control, about one in three girls were already pregnant when they walked down the aisle.
Those are some scary statistics. Women must have felt like they had little choice but to play Russian Roulette with their ovaries. Most of them could expect to stare mortality in the eye several times throght the course of their lives. Under those circumstances, joining a celibate commune would be (sorry) a Godsend.
Joining the Ephrata community afforded a woman the opportunity to not have to focus on mere survival as most people did. Not only was the average woman raising a large family, she was preparing meals from scratch, making her own clothing, soap and candles, and fetching water for the laundry she had to do by hand. And if she found herself, by some misfortune, to be left as the only surviving parent, there were scant opportunities for her to make money. The only occupations that were common for white women back then were domestic service, childcare, gardening, and household production in the forms that I described above. (I specify white women because slavery was still very much in effect at the time and that’s another subject entirely. Suffice it to say that the lives of most black women were, at the very least, a thousand times more brutal.)
To make matters worse, that era was also plagued with smallpox, typhoid fever, dysentery, malaria, yellow fever, and measles. Often these maladies were brought on by unsanitary living conditions and made even more deadly by a dearth of formally educated medical professionals, especially outside of the larger cities.
Clearly, most colonial women didn’t have time to consider composing music or producing art of any kind. It wouldn’t even have been on their radar. But the sisters who lived at Ephrata Cloister led different lives, indeed. Celibacy alone afforded those women a longevity that other women merely dreamed of. A longer lifespan meant more years to be musically and artistically creative. It makes me wonder whether all the sisters in this community were genuinely pious. This life sounds like a logical choice if you’re a woman living in that era and you want more out of life.
But that’s not to say that the sister’s lives were easy. They slept on wooden benches that were 15 inches wide, and they used wooden pillows. They slept in two 3 hour shifts per night, and usually ate one small vegetarian meal per day, often consisting of roots, greens, fresh baked bread and water. Witness reports say that the celibate sisters and brothers all looked thin and pale, but they appeared healthy.
The sanitation at the cloister was poor at best, and they were not able to bathe often. The white robes that they wore must have glowed in stark contrast to their dirty state. And yet I imagine those robes were a nightmare to keep clean as well.
When Sisters Hannah, Föben, and Katura and their fellow celibates were not composing, creating art, or praying, the sisters would spin thread, often to be woven into linen by the men at the fulling mill, in order to produce the cloth needed for the robes. They would also copy music and tend gardens. Brothers would run the water-powered saw mill, the grain mill, the paper mill, and the oil mill that extracted natural oils from seeds or oil rich vegetables. The brothers also, of course, built all the structures in the commune.
Their religious philosophies seem to have been rather unique. They believed that God had a male, wrathful side, embodied by Christ, but also a female side that was pure love and wisdom, and was embodied by someone called Sophia. The brothers and sisters were married to one side or the other, and therefore were expected to remain faithful to that spouse. Hence the celibacy.
The community’s collection of books subscribed to a wide range of ideas, including alchemy and astrology. It seems that members of the community were not strictly bound to a rigidly defined creed. Some in the community believed in sacred visions, and that all parts of nature are intimately interconnected. One book on alchemy describes how to generate life from the lifeless. They also read about Gnosticism, Rosicrucianism, the Harmony Society, Hermeticism and Kabbalah.
The community also highly prized a book that opined that although the earth was round, its basic nature was cubic, and at its center lies the holy point of rest, also known as New Jerusalem. They also had a well-illustrated book that described the process of spiritual transformation on the body. Clearly these people were dedicated to seeking out the proper spiritual path for themselves, by any means necessary.
It appears that some members also practiced powwowing, which originated with the Pennsylvania Dutch. It’s a folk magic tradition that includes aspects of folk religion and healing charms. (I was fascinated to learn that the term abracadabra is associated with powwowing.)
In this article about Chris Herbert’s discovery of the female composers in the cloister, he states that “Rules about worship changed frequently at Ephrata. At times devotees shaved their heads, at other times they slept only three hours a night. Treatises were written about what to eat in order to sing properly, and what to eat in general — no meat, no honey.”
The founder and spiritual leader of this community, Johann Conrad Beissel, seems to have been philosophically influenced by Radical Pietists and Mystics. He came to America from Germany in 1720 and was still forming his belief system when he was baptized by the Brethren-Anabaptists in 1724, but he eventually rejected the brethren when he decided that the Sabbath should fall on Saturday rather than Sunday. (Scandalous!)
By 1732 Beissel decided to move deeper into the Pennsylvania forest and become a hermit, stating that he had a distrust of organized churches. He wanted to lead a quiet life of contemplation, but friends who believed in his philosophies followed him and built homes near his. They called this place the Camp of the Solitary. Yet, oddly, many of them lived in shared dwellings.
Then came other followers who chose not to be celibate. They were called householders. They were couples who were farmers and craftsmen. They lived nearby, supported what became the cloister, and worshiped with the brothers and sisters, allowing them to have more time to compose and draw, and hold ceremonies that included the washing of feet.
When Beissel died in 1768, membership really started to decline. The last celibate member died in 1813. At its height, the community consisted of about 80 celibate men and women, and 200 non-celibate householders living on farms nearby. After 1813, the buildings that used to house celibate members were divided into apartments and rented to church members. The last surviving (non-celibate) resident of the cloister, Marie Elizabeth Kachel Bucher, died in 2008 at the age of 98. She apparently moved from the Ephrata area in 1927, but before that she had given tours of the now empty cloister.
Today, the historic Ephrata Cloister is maintained by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, and from the looks of it, they are doing a wonderful job. They certainly have a well-designed website that makes me long to visit the actual place someday. The information on this website has taught me much about Ephrata Cloister despite my distance. I lingered on its pages for hours. It includes a virtual tour, a well-made introductory video that is also played in the visitor center, and some interesting slide presentations (I particularly recommend the one called Hidden Knowledge at Ephrata) and if that ignites your interest, you can even attend a Virtual Ephrata Academy, which includes a dozen very fascinating lecture-length videos on a whole host of subjects related to the cloister in its heyday.
I am grateful that this cloister existed, especially for the sisters. It allowed them to lead fuller, healthier lives, and demonstrates that women of that era were just as creative as women are today. They simply needed the time and space to express themselves. That time and space, given to them in the form of that community, was a precious gift. We are all beneficiaries of that gift, because we can still hear their music, view their art, and walk around their community.
The castle-like homes are interesting. I’ll give them that.
So, I was fiddle-farting around on YouTube, as one does, with no particular destination in mind, when I stumbled across a music video entitled, MEDUZA, Becky Hill, Goodboys – Lose Control (Official Video). I’d never heard of them. (Her?) So I figured, what the heck. Give it a listen. If I didn’t like what I heard, I could always move on to something else.
That, that right there, is how one winds up spending a half day on YouTube. Just sayin’. But I digress…
Anyway, the song isn’t in my preferred genre, but it was a catchy tune. It would make a great ring tone, or something to be danced to at some club when you’re 20. (Do people go to clubs anymore?)
But what really left me glued to my monitor was the video itself. It was filmed in this strange place that looked, in my opinion, like the love child of Cinderella’s Castle and kudzu.
This place is so ugly that it’s beautiful. And it didn’t look computer generated. I had to find out where it was, if it actually exists.
With hardly any sleuthing whatsoever, I discovered that the video had been filmed in a housing development called Burj Al Babas, which is located in Turkey, half way between Istanbul and Ankara, the nation’s capital. That wouldn’t have been my first guess. But wait, it gets even better.
The castle-like homes are interesting. I’ll give them that. They do have turrets, and I’ve always wanted a turret. If I saw one such home, I’d find it delightful albeit quirky. It’s kind of an ill-advised mishmash of styles. Gothic meets Disney meets French Chateau, with a little Turkish, British and American architectural influence thrown in for good measure.
Unfortunately, the builders decided to erect 587 of these, er, unique villas, and they are all lined up like little soldiers on a hillside in the middle of nowhere. Burj Al Babas is now a ghost town, with nothing but stray dogs and cats and curious tourists roaming the streets. I bet it’s creepy at night.
It could have been worse, though. The original plan was to build 732 of them. The desperately hopeful catalog for this development explains that there was to be a central complex full of pools, Turkish baths, saunas, steam rooms, a shopping mall, health and beauty centers, cinemas, restaurants, sports facilities, gardens, a mosque, conference halls, and meeting rooms, as well as a car wash and nursery services free of charge for all residents. There would also be free internet.
I have to say that the images (unfortunately just mock-ups for the catalog) make the interiors look luxurious. A dwelling fit for a sheik. And indeed, the target audience for these homes was to be rich investors from the Middle East who wanted a vacation home in a Mediterranean climate.
And you could have one of these homes for $370,000 to $530,000 depending on location. Not bad. For a time, it looked like the developers would actually pull it off. They did sell 350 of them.
The developer broke ground on the site in 2014. Then, in 2016, there was a failed coup attempt in Turkey, which resulted in a great deal of unrest in that country. But the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was able to quash the coup.
Unfortunately, Erdoğan’s Turkey is rife with corruption, inflation, and military overreach. He himself now has the power to intervene in the country’s legal system. After the coup attempt, there have been purges of state institutions, and there is no tolerance of dissent. More than 50,000 people have been detained, including soldiers, journalists, lawyers, police officers, academics and politicians.
Recently, Erdoğan has attempted to criminalize adultery and introduce “alcohol-free zones.” He stands firm against equal rights for women, and disapproves of birth control and family planning.
Such was the atmosphere in which Burj Al Babas was being built. Needless to say, this was making investors nervous. And when oil prices plunged in 2018, many buyers backed out or stopped making payments.
The developers, who had spent 200 million dollars on the project to date, filed bankruptcy in 2018, and all construction came to an abrupt halt. The company was 27 million dollars in debt. They had tentatively resumed construction of the contracted houses in 2019, and then COVID-19 rushed across the planet in March of that year, leaving economic destruction, among many other things, in its wake.
The developer made one last desperate effort to keep their heads above water. In 2020 they stated that if they could just sell 100 chateaus, they would be out of debt and could start working on the projects currently non-existent infrastructure. Alas, it was not to be.
Burj Al Babas has since been snapped up by an American corporation, and they have yet to say if they’ll turn it into a tourist trap ghost town, complete the construction as originally designed, or soften the design so it looks less kitschy, and demolish the excess, unsold units.
It will be interesting to see what becomes of Burj Al Babas. If the political climate were more like it was when I visited Turkey in 2000, I think I’d make a beeline to this place, if only for the creepy photographs it would yield. Instead, I can only imagine it.
If you’d like to see some drone footage of the entire (un)development, check it out here, on YouTube.
The scene I can’t seem to get out of my head is an endless row of turrets, lit up by a full moon, with a stray dog wandering down the unpaved road out front. The only sound would be the wind kicking up dust in the un-landscaped yards. That would be something to see.
She has been kissed more than any woman in history, yet no one knows who she is.
No one knows her name. Where her body rests now, and where she came from also remain a mystery. Her beauty has inspired artists, poets, musicians, writers, dancers, and even doctors. She has been known to inspire an international, cult-like following. She has been kissed by more people than anyone else in the history of mankind, and yet no one knows anything about her life. All these unknowns simply add to her intrigue.
She has come to be known as L’Inconnue de la Seine, or the unknown woman of the Seine. The oft repeated story about her goes something like this: A girl’s body was found floating on the river Seine in Paris, sometime around the 1880’s, and it was taken to the morgue. Because there was no evidence of foul play, it was assumed she committed suicide. The mortician was so taken with the girl’s beauty that he had a death mask made of her face, as was often the custom at the time. And her visage has been haunting and/or intriguing us ever since.
Unfortunately, there is no evidence that any part of that story is true. Some say that her name was Valerie, and she was a Russian of noble stock who somehow became a prostitute in Paris, and committed suicide, either due to the shame or because someone broke her heart. Again, no evidence of this can be found. Some say she was the daughter of the owner of the factory that first produced and sold these masks, and that the cast was made while she was still alive.
I subscribe to the theory that she was indeed alive when the cast was made, because her features are too perfect. Apparently it was the custom to “improve” death masks back then, but if you look at death mask images, the majority of them are of people who were unquestionably dead. And a drowned woman would not have such fine features. In addition, some people say that you can almost make out the dents that would be caused at the corners of the mouth if someone needed breathing tubes while the plaster set.
The fact is, we don’t even know where or when she was buried, let alone her age or year of death. But one way or another, the mask became a thing. People would purchase replicas to hang on their walls. Art schools would use her face so their students could practice painting and sculpture. Apparently her face was even used at beautician training schools for a time.
And her face is, indeed, beautiful, although her features have become blurry and indistinct throughout the years, as people have taken casts of casts of casts of it, making it but a mere shadow of its former self. But she looks serene. She looks content.
During the 1920’s and 1930’s, she was the center of a cult-like following of people who romanticized female suicide, saying that to die without pain while still beautiful and full of promise was somehow something one should aspire to. I wonder how many people have themselves committed suicide because of this supposed serene expression?
When a woman is rendered anonymous, it’s easy to overlook the fact that she had emotions and aspirations and a history all her own. She had a tragic life if she really did commit suicide, and an even more tragic one if she was murdered. Yet L’Inconnue has become this mythical creature, someone to be idolized and revered.
I think the myths surrounding this girl who died too soon do her a great disservice. I suspect no one ever asked her if it was okay to turn her image into a thing that is widely profited from and used as a teaching tool. I wish we knew something, anything about her that was verifiable. Instead, she becomes whatever we want her to be.
And one of the things we want her to be, apparently, is the face of a resuscitation doll named Annie. The inventor of this CPR dummy was looking for a female face, because he believed most men would be hesitant to “kiss” a male face. He came across a bust of L’Inconnue and was intrigued by it, just as we all seem to be. He decided she would be the perfect face for his teaching tool. If you have ever gotten a CPR certification, chances are that you, too, have kissed this unknown woman. In retrospect I kind of feel guilty about it. She deserved better.
To add to the tragedy, the survival rate from CPR is not as high as Hollywood would have you believe. It’s actually about 16 percent. That’s got to be heartbreaking for all first responders. And it is said that only 3-5 percent of Americans have CPR certification, and even if they do, it’s estimated that most people forget their training within 3 months.
It is also estimated that if you have a heart attack in public, you are much more likely to be helped if you are a white male. If you’re female or a minority, you have a better chance of having people standing by and looking at their shoes. I suspect L’Inconnue would be disgusted by that prospect.
If you’re interested in learning more about L’Inconnue de la Seine, I recommend that you read The drowned muse : casting the unknown woman of the Seine across the tides of modernity, by Anne-Gaëlle Saliot. You can get an intriguing taste of this book here. And Radio Lab did a fascinating podcast about her.
If you are ever in Paris, there is a shop that sells death masks, called Atelier LORENZI, that has been in business since 1871, and has a 19th century plaster cast of her which they have been using ever since. You must make an appointment to visit this establishment. But if you do, you could “own” L’Inconnue de la Seine, and if you hang her on your wall, she could, for the rest of your life, gaze down at you serenely, still keeping her secrets.
Women are rarely consulted in these matters. That’s nothing new. L’Inconnue de la Seine, whether she likes it or not, has become a woman you can take home with you. For the right price, of course.
On this very day in 1593, it was widely reported that a soldier of the Spanish Empire, in the Guardia Civil, was guarding the governor’s palace in Manila, Philippines when he suddenly felt exhausted and dizzy. He closed his eyes for a few seconds, and when he opened them again, he found himself 8,845 miles away, in the Plaza Mayor in Mexico City. His name only popped up in a retelling of the story in 1908 (who knows how they figured it out), but supposedly he was a man named Gil Pérez.
I know. But suspend your disbelief for a minute and imagine what it would be like for someone wearing the wrong uniform to suddenly find himself smack dab in the middle of the capital of the Viceroyalty of New Spain. That had to have been startling. Lucky for him, no one has ever reported that they witnessed him arrive (or disappear for that matter), or he would probably have been attacked on the spot.
Instead, he was taken (supposedly) to the Viceroy, Luis de Velasco, to explain himself. By way of proof, Pérez gave him a bit of news. It seems that the governor-general of the Philippines, Gómez Pérez Dasmariñas, had been assassinated the day before. No one in Mexico City could have known that yet, as news traveled by Spanish Galleon at the time, and was usually many months old upon arrival.
Think of it as the 16th century equivalent of, “If you’re not a catfish, then send me a picture of you holding two fingers up, and also holding today’s newspaper in your other hand.” Unfortunately, that “picture”, in this case, would take about 3 months to arrive. Oddly enough, the Viceroy was satisfied with this explanation.
But then the religious authorities got involved. Unfortunately, this “miracle” occurred right in the midst of the Spanish Inquisition, so these officials were already in a foul mood. They promptly threw him in jail for being a deserter (as if he would have had a choice under these weird circumstances), and for good measure they also declared him a servant of the devil.
Pérez, it is said, preferred being in jail to fighting (I’m quoting this article, so don’t blame me) “the jungle men of the Philippines”, so he was on his best behavior. Over time, the guards found him to be a good Christian, so charges were dropped, and yet he remained in prison, because what can you do with someone who has such magical powers?
Months later, the news of the assassination finally got to Acapulco, and Pérez was ordered back to Mexico City. In an amazing coincidence, some of the people on the boat with him recognized him as a palace guard from Manila, so with all that “evidence” he was set free and went back to his post in the Philippines.
This story has been repeated through the centuries by many writers. The one most recognizable to Americans will be Washington Irving, of Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow fame. The tale has even found a home on YouTube. Check out this cute animation:
And this longer, more serious treatment of the subject from Mexico Unexplained:
I couldn’t let you down, dear reader, so I actually did “research” for this post. And I was immediately able to blow a hole in this myth. It all has to do with Gómez Pérez Dasmariñas, who is a legitimate historical figure who was, in fact, assassinated. The problem is that he was assassinated at sea, and no one in Manila would have known this by the next day. And according to Wikipedia, the assassination took place on 10/25, not 10/23.
But I don’t know where anyone got either of these dates. I’m fairly certain the assassination took place on 10/19. The most reliable source I could find is a very legitimate looking report entitled, GOMEZ PEREZ DAS MARINAS, CAPTAIN GENERAL OF MURCIA IN THE LAST THIRD OF THE XVI CENTURY, by José Raimundo Núñez-Varela and Lendoiro, Official Chronicler of the city of Betanzos and the City Council of Miño. (It’s in Spanish, but Google can translate it for you, if need be.)
The point is, if you’re going to tell a true story, then you should at least get your dates straight. But if our hero can teleport, maybe he can time travel as well. But with such powers, why cool your heels in jail, man?
Regardless, interpretation of this tale has changed with the course of time. These days, rather than speculating about Pérez’ congress with Satan, those who care to theorize seem to rest firmly in the teleportation camp. Pérez would not be the first person to show up in Mexico City with a strange story to tell. (I can attest to that. It’s a long story for another day.)
But a few decades ago, people were less apt to theorize about teleportation and much more likely to believe that he had been abducted by aliens and returned to the wrong location. Pardon me while I scoff.
First of all, have you noticed that claims of alien abduction are all but nonexistent these days, now that we all have cameras on our phones? Second, if aliens have the technology to travel through space, why on earth would they need sadistic probes to see our inner workings? And more importantly for the sake of this story, why would they forget where to dump Pérez once they were done with him?
I mean, come on… let’s be realistic, shall we? Hmph.
Are you wondering what to bring to Thanksgiving dinner? How about my book, Notes on Gratitude? Place your orders now! (Or any other time, since we’re on the subject.) And… thanks!
We all should be able to fly without fear of idiotic violence.
As I write this, I’m awaiting an upcoming continental flight with a certain amount of dread. People are just too cra-cra these days to risk sealing yourself up in a tube with them for hours on end. And all the airlines seem to give less and less of a sh*t about customer service.
I miss flying in the ‘80’s. You had leg room, decent food, and people were polite and civilized and secretly felt rather privileged to be flying. It was like you were in a debate club that was accidentally invited to the United Nations. What luck!
Even better: You didn’t have to bear the insult of encountering TSA. You could count on having empty seats beside you if you wanted to stretch out and take a nap. And you could bring your 12-inch Bowie Knife aboard and nobody would bat an eyelash.
Those were the days. Now, you consider yourself lucky if no one on your flight gets into a fist fight and causes your plane to be diverted to another airport. It’s like the wild wild West once your plane takes off.
The COVID Federal Mask Mandate brought out the worst in people who don’t believe in science. And conspiracy theorists and hyper-conservatives used that mandate as an excuse to act the fool. Violence on airlines skyrocketed.
So when the mask mandate was overturned in April, 2022, I’m sure a lot of flight staff were relieved. At least at first. Because violence did go down. But it didn’t go away. And now they get to be sealed in a tube with a bunch of triumphant anti-vaxxers who are breathing all over them for hours on end. I have to say that Flight Attendants have a dirty job, and deserve our gratitude in the face of so much public douche-baggery.
As long as alcohol is served in airports and on airplanes, there will be a$$holes making the friendly skies a lot less friendly for all of us. And there’s absolutely no excuse for abusive behavior, especially when you’re in a small space with a bunch of other people and there’s no way out.
Imagine just trying to get home to visit grandma, and suddenly you’re thrust into the airline equivalent of a prison riot. YouTube is lousy with videos of such bad behavior. I even saw one where the captain got on the intercom and asked that all strong healthy males come forward to help restrain an out-of-control passenger. So, not only are you involuntarily thrust into a prison riot, but then they throw a prison guard uniform at you for good measure. What fun.
This is why many of the unions that represent airline employees are encouraging the passage of H.R. 7433: Protection from Abusive Passengers Act. According to Govtrack, this act “would add people convicted of assaulting an airline’s crew or staff on a no-fly list. The penalty would only apply on conviction, so it wouldn’t apply to a passenger who was merely reported or investigated alone. Such convicted passengers would also be banned from using either the TSA’s Precheck or U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Global Entry programs.”
Of course, some people are opposed to this, because they say it would equate passengers with terrorists. Well, according to Oxford Languages, the definition of a terrorist is “a person who uses unlawful violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims.”
If the shoe fits, wear it, I say. We all should be able to fly without fear of idiotic violence. No one should have a right to thrust us into a terrifying situation with no way out. And bad behavior is a choice one makes, and therefore consequences should be as expected as they are deserved.
This has got to stop. Even though the politicians, as usual, are useless, it did find one source of comfort by reading that article. “While the number of reported incidents has declined, the number of cases where enforcement action was initiated has gone up. So far in 2022, there have been 468 enforcement cases initiated. In 2021, there were 350.”
Yes! Serves her right! But that doesn’t mean I won’t be saying a Unitarian Universalist prayer in the hopes that I make it through my upcoming airline experience unscathed. And that shouldn’t be necessary. Not for anybody. But humans are not nearly as civilized as we are purported to be.
Please call your congressmember and encourage them to support HR 7433.
One of the things I love most about living in Washington State is that it has such a wide variety of ecosystems. Just a few hours travel from your home in any direction will most certainly take you to a different world entirely. The state boasts prairies, wetlands, estuaries, rainforests, shrubsteppe, marine waters, scablands and grasslands.
On any given day trip you can go from sea level to glaciers, from canyons to mountains, from lowlands to foothills to plateaus. To me it feels like foreign travel without the need for a passport or a frustrating TSA encounter. Sign me up.
This year, on our 4th wedding anniversary, Dear Husband and I decided to go to Switzerland. Unfortunately, we only had a day. So we hopped in the car and headed for Mt. Rainier National Park. You can’t get any more alpine than that without leaving the Pacific Northwest.
As the name suggests, Black Diamond used to be coal mine central. A real mining and railroad type town. Now it’s becoming the fastest growing bedroom community for the Seattle Metropolitan Area, but it’s still charming. You know you’ve arrived when you see the old coal car on the side of the road.
Enumclaw still hosts lots of farms and lots of cows. (Sadly, the cows weren’t wearing those delightful bells around their necks, but you can’t have everything.) It’s on a flat plateau due to a mudflow from Mt. Rainier that happened about 5,700 years ago. The rest of the area is mountainous. So Enumclaw is a perfect place for farming. Their main crop used to be hops, but now it’s dairy. And a trip down Enumclaw’s main street will transport you back in time.
Dear Husband was kind enough to take us on a little side trip to the Enumclaw Public Library, where my book used to be housed. I went there with the anticipation of visiting that old friend (and perhaps sneaking an autograph in while no one was looking), but sadly, the shelf it would have occupied did not produce results. That’s a pity, because it would have been in good company. A second look at the King County Library System’s online catalog revealed that my book is now only in Renton and Burien. I’ve visited the one in Renton multiple times (to pull it slightly out on the shelf to make it more noticeable), but I have yet to visit the one in Burien.
I know. I’m easily entertained.
Right by the library, Enumclaw also has a gigantic statue of two oxen being led by a man, and the oxen are dragging a gigantic log about the size of a trailer.
The caption in front of it says:
THE LOGGING LEGACY
Tough Courageous and Larger Than Life. This monument is dedicated to the people whose courage and hard work built the foundation for our community, creating economic opportunity for our State and region. With this memorial, we seek to honor the over 8000 dead and the 65000 injured logging this plateau and these mountains. Though rarely glorified in their work, these men embodied the physical toughness and mental resolve that has become synonymous with the pioneers of the West. This is our Logging Legacy.
It’s one of the most impressive statues I’ve seen in many a day.
From there, we went to Greenwater, Washington, and stopped at a store called Wapiti Woolies, and had some ice cream. Two thumbs up. And the building itself really reminds you that you are in an alpine region.
Next Stop was the Mt. Rainier Gondola at Crystal Mountain. This is a skiing mecca in the wintertime, but we pretty much had the place to ourselves. And the gondola is so much fun! It takes you up 2,400 feet to the summit, where you have a stunning view of Mt. Rainier, and, when the weather’s right, you can also see another Washington Volcano in the distance: that of Mt. Adams. If you do decide to brave the gondola, bring layers of clothing. It was a good 30 degrees colder up there, and I’m sure it is even worse in the winter. And the wind will try to blow you back down into the valley. The gondola’s steep ascent didn’t bother me, oddly enough. But the descent had me digging my fingernails into Dear Husband’s arm. It was still worth it for the views. What an adventure!
Next we went to Paradise. That’s one of the primary gathering places in Mt. Rainier National Park. Sadly, we got there after the visitor center was closed, but we enjoyed walking around outside, soaking up all things alpine, including some amazing wildflowers. And then we went to Sunrise, on (of course) the eastern side of the mountain. We were almost there for sunset, ironically enough, but we decided that we didn’t want to go down that narrow switchback road at night.
We made it out of the switchbacks before dark, and were treated to this awesome sunset.
When we drove back through Enumclaw, we pulled over in a place with no city lights, opened the sun roof, and gazed at the stars. We even saw two satellites speeding by. Then we went home to our dogs. It was the perfect way to end the day, and an amazing anniversary, indeed. I have no idea how I got so lucky, but I assure you that I’ll never take it for granted.