Fire Cloud...
An irregular marking on the exterior of Native American pottery: usually resulting from burning fuel coming in direct contact with the vessel during firing

Thursday, 31 July 2008

Not the Battle Hymn of the Republic

Providence, Rhode Island

John Brown's body lies a-mold'ring in the grave
John Brown's body lies a-mold'ring in the grave
His soul goes marching on
Glory, Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory, Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory, Glory! Hallelujah!
His soul is marching on....

One of my personal heros is the abolitionist, John Brown. John believed that slavery was wrong. John thought that the American pacifist abolitionist movement of his time lacked the conviction of action. He demonstrated the sincerity of his beliefs in 1856 by murdering five pro-slavery men in the Pottawatomie Massacre. His raid on the Harper's Ferry Arsenal in Virginia in 1859 to foment a slave rebellion is often credited with igniting the American Civil War. The Harper's Ferry rebellion was meant to arm the slaves. Robert E. Lee was called upon to quash this rebellion, led, as it was by outside agitators.

So when we saw a chance to visit the John Brown House in Providence today, I became confused about the opulence of the Georgian mansion, but plunked down the admission fee. "Is this THE John Brown, or some other John Brown" I ask the guide. The guide explains that this John Brown is a very fat robber barron Providence Yankee slaver who once owned half of Rhode Island and established the nearby Brown University. My guide doesn't mention it, but this John Brown was the first person convicted under the Federal Slave Trade Act of 1794.

This John Brown got rich on the three-corner trade: sugar and molasses from the West Indies to New England, Rum from Providence to Africa and slaves from Africa to the West Indies. On one especially unprofitable trip over 100 of his cargo perished from disease and starvation and the 30 survivors brought a poor price due to ill health.

John had a piggery to eat the dregs from his rum distillery. Apolitical, he drew "first blood" in the American revolutionary war. In 1792, he hired mercenaries to burn one of King George's revenue cutters. The cutter had the effrontery to attempt to collect taxes on one of his ships that was bringing in molasses.

So, we wandered around Providence and then found a really nice place for lunch. Brown University is a lovely "ivy league" school in Providence.

Cape Cod

Cape Cod, Massachusetts

Cape Cod has about 80 miles of "National Seashore". It is undeveloped white sand beach and sand dunes. It cost $15 for a vehicle pass, unless you are old like us and then it's free.

The trip over to Cape Cod involves a lot of traffic in the summer. We saw one traffic jam of stopped cars backed up for 15 miles trying to leave the peninsula.

We drove out to the Provincetown at the end of the Cape. The small seashore town is jammed with cars and pedestrians in mid-summer.

The only thing uncrowded in Provincetown is the barber shop. I get a haircut and we have lunch and do a little shopping.

The beaches are lovely and the water is clear and cool. It all reminds me of "Jaws" which was filmed on one of the nearby beaches in a summer setting.

The pungent odor drifting out of a local shop tells me that the local police are not much into drug law enforcement.

Obama has been over in Europe discussing chlorinated chicken in Berlin with crowds of 200,000. Europe bans our chicken because we disinfect the carcasses in a chlorine bath. This running for President stuff is more complicated than I first thought....I've always been a fond of the concept of nuclear irradiation of foodstuffs to kill germs like salmonella. I think they might they go for that in Europe. Wrap them in plastic and nuke 'em. That should result in a shelf life of 100 years or more. I know how to say nuclear without sounding like a Texas hick. This is also a neat solution for what to do with high-level radioactive waste....a glowing chicken in every pot.

There are a number of motor homes parked right on the beach at the Cape Cod National Seashore.... but for the traffic, we'd be tempted to drive here and camp for several days. Maybe next time, in a different season.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Boston: Non- Rhoticity

Boston, Massachusetts

The traditional Boston accent is non-rhotic; in other words, the phoneme [r] does not appear at the end of a syllable or immediately before a consonant, as in some types of British English. Thus, there is no [r] in words like park [pahk], car [kah], and Harvard [hahvəd].

The train into Boston takes us about 55 minutes. On both the departure and return we get onboard 30 seconds before the train leaves the station. We also purchased a pair of tickets on a Boston sight-seeing trolley, but the first 45 minutes all the trolleys are full so we decide to walk.

Yeah, the train left the station, it had two lights on behind,
Well, the blue light was my baby and the red light was my mind.

We hoof it to the town center. While we are staring at a map, a nice lady stops and gives us a tip on a local basement restaurant. I have chicken farfella. Mrs. Phred has gazpacho soup with a big blob of goat cheese and bread sidedish.

We wander though the Boston Commons, past the State House, up to Beacon Hill, back though the Commons, to the theatre district and then into Chinatown.

We decide to walk some more and do the harbor, the aquarium and the market. All told we walk five hours, maybe ten miles. My heel hurts the whole time. Strangely, this morning it hurts less than it has since we were in Colorado, two months back. Maybe I’m onto something?

We want to see Harvard. I received a letter of acceptance there in 1962. My father was a house-painter and didn’t see how he could swing the cost. My life would have been completely different. No Air force or Viet Nam. No Mrs. Phred. No son or grandchildren. Maybe I would be running for President now? Maybe not.

I’ve got a walking plan that includes Harvard and ten museums. The plan only requires a mile of walking.

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Maine: Lake Sebago

Lake Sebago State Park, Maine

A few days ago we went to see The Dark Knight. I was impressed by the performance of the actor who played The Joker. I asked Mrs. Phred yesterday who the actor was, expecting great things in the future. She tells me that he died of an overdose before the movie was released.

That got me thinking about my old roommate, Jim Morrison and other people born in 1943: me, Janis Joplin, Keith Richards, Joni Mitchell and Mick Jagger to name a few. Some have managed to handle life fairly well, others failed along the way. I think Keith Richards possibly had the best quote of that generation: “I've never had a problem with drugs. I've had problems with the police.”

Joni Mitchell had a sweet thought: “All I really, really want our love to do is to bring out the best in me and in you too.”
We spent a relaxing day here on the beach. We dragged our lawn chairs down to the sand, under a shady elm, and watched the kids and families play and swim. We read for about six hours in the shade.

A little boy asked me if I had a boat or a jet ski. I told him no, but that I had a bicycle. He stared at me dubiously and told me that I was too old to ride a bicycle. This is a popular family park in the summer, full of tents, hammocks and children.

Today we head south 200 miles to find a base camp between Boston and Cape Cod. The water should get warmer as we move south.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Maine: Isleboro Island

Islesboro Island, Maine

There was a time when American parents exercised very little imagination in naming their children. No one called their kids "Dwezel" or "Moon Unit". Robert, Thomas and Richard were popular names for boys. For some reason these all becames Bobs, Dicks and Toms. Once I sat at a table drinking beer with six other Bobs...just a random happening.

The Bob next door has a nice RV...the guy on the other side is also a Bob...somehow he RVs around with a motorized wheelchair....

In the morning we take our bikes on the ferry to Ilseboro Island. The people next to use have bright, spiffy spandex bicycle suits and well-maintained bikes with skinny wheels...we sense they're going to be better at this than us.

John Travolta has a big vacation home somewhere on the island. Our front carrier basket engages the front brakes on either bike. It takes awhile to sort that out. The roads are all uphill and downhill. Neither of our gearshifts work anymore. I turn the bikes over and try to figure out how to get them into low fingers are filthy with old grease and dirt....the only thing we have to clean with is the map of the island....eventually I get both bikes into low gear...lunch is good...downhill is better...

In the evening we go to see Belfast. It's an arty little town on the Maine Coast.

They have a little movie theatre. It's an old one built in the thirties...definitely not a modern Cineplex...they're playing "Dark Knight" tonight at 6:40 and then an "action movie" made in Maine at 9:00 PM....we might do a double feature....Mrs. Phred wants to go out to dinner with Bob...and Bob...I've always wanted a black leather jacket with a chicken on the back....

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Maine: Camden

Camden Hills State Park, Maine

I'd give this park my maximum rating of four stars. It offers a great view of Camden harbor on the coast from the top of Battle Mountain, a choice of wooded or open campsites, water, electricity and very fast WIFI.

We found a very big sporting goods store and finally purchased a bicycle rack for the Toyota. We contemplated a 50 pound canoe and canoe rack, but the idea of driving the Toyota everywhere with a big green canoe lashed to the roof and paddles and life jackets in the back seat seemed a little unwieldy. The Toyota already has become burdened with a trunk full of camping supplies and the back seat is now devoted to the satellite dish and an overflow of books and rain gear.

When you go to the top of Battle Mountain you see coastal islands, small harbors and fjords that stretch forever. We had lunch in Camden perched on a balcony over a waterfall. It was the perfect spot for a clandestine meeting, plotting coups and foiling listening devices. Camden is full of bookstores, restaurants and sailing vessels for the tourists to ride. I bought a pile of paperbacks including a new Tim Dorsey called "The Big Bamboo". This is the sixth book in a series about a zany Florida psycho-killer named Serge. Serge observes that the main product of Florida is not oranges or tourism: it's weirdness (hanging chads, Elian, butterfly ballots, Catherine Harris). He's annoyed that California has pulled ahead by electing the terminator as Governor and decides to fly to L.A. to even the score.

Mrs. Phred took me and the bike to the top of the mountain and I sailed two miles down to our campsite, riding the brakes just enough to keep from flying off into the woods on the curves. I like riding downhill.

Camden is a picturesque little harbor town where Peyton Place was filmed. Unless you're over 60, you probably don't remember the sensation the book caused when it was published. We lived on Haya Street in Tampa. The city covered the street with fresh oyster shells every six months. We liked to run behind the insect control trucks when they fogged mosquitoes in the evening. Our next door neighbors, Myrtle and Bill, were ex-carnie people. They had a daughter my age (the girl next door) that I was very taken with at the time. Myrtle had a copy of the book and I read it when they were both away at work...Myrtle eventually became a respected polygraph operator.

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Maine: Acadia NP

Acadia National Park, Maine

"A loaf of bread," the Walrus said,
"Is what we chiefly need:
Pepper and vinegar besides
Are very good indeed--
Now if you're ready, Lobsters dear,
We can begin to feed."

The island of Mount Desert on the east coast of Maine is 40% National Park and 60% privately owned. The largest town is Bar Harbor, but the island is ringed with small harbor towns.

They have something called lobster pounds here on the Maine coast. These are collections of live lobsters kept in salt water enclosures at a restaurant. When you order a lobster, an unlucky crustacean gets popped into a boiling pot and ends up bright red on your plate a few minutes later. Lobsters are big here in Maine. A few of the little island ports actually specialize in catching them in traps to transfer to pounds.

The island is about 20 or 30 miles in diameter with many long "sounds" and "ponds" the size of big lakes. There are many miles of biking and hiking trails.

Yesterday we stumbled upon an very unlikely Flamingo Festival. I liked the Santa Di Mingo entry in the Flamingo Art Gallery....A flamingo dressed in a santa suit.

We're heading south this morning on the last leg of our jouney. One more stop on the Maine coast and then camping for a while south of Boston. We want to see Cape Cod, Matha's Vineyard and train in to Boston a couple of times to see the museums. One of the churches we passed today is having a "Bean Suppah" tonight...they talk that way here...Ayup!
"I weep for you," the Walrus said:
"I deeply sympathize."
With sobs and tears he sorted out
Those of the largest size,
Holding his pocket-handkerchief
Before his streaming eyes.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

First in the Nation

Dixville Notch, New Hampshire

We've been camping for three nights in the White Mountains. It's cool in the mornings and evenings. You can understand why people like to vacation here in the summer. When the leaves change color in the fall it's a spectacular place.

There's a place here called Dixville Notch. During every election the 20 or so registered voters gather at midnight and cast their votes. By a few minutes after midnight the polls close and the results are announced around the nation as election news.

The results are always heavily tilted. This is the most "red" of all states. You see results like "Reagan 17...Carter 3". We drive up to the notch expecting a quaint little town. We are surprised to find a very posh resort with pools, clay tennis courts and a fabulous golf course.

The doorman invites us to go take pictures of the "ballot room" in the hotel and suggests lunch up on the mountain at the golf club. Many famous people show up here on election day. My own guy, Ralph Nader, has been here. Both Bush I and Bush II visited the room on election day.

We spent a day driving the road up to the top of Mt. Washington. The road is eight miles with an average grade of 12%. You have to use 1st gear all the time both ways. They recorded a wind up there of 231 MPH in 1934. People like to set records on the road. One guy was the first to push a wheelbarrow with 100 pounds of sugar up to the top (he was also the first to walk up backwards). Another was the first to ride a water buffalo to the top...lot's of firsts. I snap a few shots of the old cogwheel coal powered steam train. We rode it two years ago. When it pulls in about 60 old men make a dash for the three urinals, so you want to be finished with your business before the train arrives...

Lunch in the golf club is very good...we have a sandwich and leek and potato soup, white wine and finish by sharing a mixed berry pie with a "dollop" of vanilla ice cream. This morning we move on to the Coast of Maine.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Beyond Salmon

Vergennes, Vermont

We're parked on a lovely Vermont Island in the middle of Lake Champlain. Our old friend, Judy, suggests going to the French Heritage Festival in the little town of Vergennes. I look at the activities list and see a firehouse breakfast.

The breakfast is French toast, bacon, sausage, coffee and orange juice. They have fresh strawberries, blueberries and maple syrup for the French toast. I look at some of the trophies and firehouse mementos and firefighter Mike Collette comes over to talk and explain the history of the town fire department.

Mike has been a volunteer firefighter since 1961. Mike tells me that the houses and businesses were originally required to keep two leather buckets and a ladder on hand. All structures were inspected for fire hazards on a monthly basis and $2 fines were levied for failure to correct defects. He found an old fire pump in a corner of the firehouse. It was built in 1853. Mike took it home and rebuilt it with new leather gaskets. It will spray water 100 feet with two men on the pump handle. You fill it with water from leather buckets.

It's a beautiful little Vermont town. The town square park is filled with people dressed up as French dandies, soldiers and Algonquin Indians. They also have antique cars, tractors, blacksmiths and tarot card readers. They are weaving animal hair, making lace and showing how the French lived here 200 to 400 years ago.

I read a book laying in the grass of the park for most of the day and listen to French singers and the first person accounts of old French explorers. They fire off "matchlock" muskets periodically and produce huge clouds of smoke. I talk to an old French Marine from the revolutionary war. He tells me that he is an ensign and one of 2,200 French Marines who fought on the rebel side in Yorktown. He says that there were more French there than rebels. He asserts that without French financing, I would still be a British citizen.

The town hall of Vergennes doubles as an opera hall. They have a series of French singers and cloggers that perform throughout the day and evening. All the business have posted signs in French on their windows. The signs say things like "Bon Jour (hello)".

I find the library and buy a pile of surplus books. It's an impressive structure with a huge glass dome. They have lectures during the day. One was "They walked with Champlain". The second floor is full of antiques and Indian artifacts. The town has a waterfall and is full of lovely old homes. I could live here.

The breaded and pan-fried walleye fillets were delicious. The customs people wanted to know if the heads had been removed when we came back over the border. Webster came out with some new words this year. One of those was pescatarian. Those are the people who eat fish but not other meat. I found a new website, Beyond Salmon, that talks about bluefin tuna and other cool fish. Most bluefin has been shipped off to Japan in the past, but it's starting to show up in American markets because of higher oil and shipping prices. Apparently bluefin has a much higher fat content and is less red than the inferior tuna that we normally get to eat.