Category Archives: Historical Guides
By clicking on the image below, you can watch a ~9-minute video of a series of short video clips from the 1920’s of Hawaii, interspersed with silent-film era title cards. Not only is it an interesting time-capsule glimpse of a simpler time on the islands, but it’s also an insight into what the rest of America knew about the islands, the foods and customs. Back before you could find certain fruits and vegetables in the grocery stores year round, many people didn’t know what some were, such as papaya. My Swiss mother-in-law remembers when bananas came to Switzerland, and were exotic and expensive; in her house they were only bought for her brother, who was very sick at the time, as a source of energy; that was during World War 2. Once, she confessed stealing a bit of money from her brother’s piggy bank to buy herself a banana.
Back then the world in general also knew very little about strange customs such as “surf riding” (surfing), and the footage of surfers is utterly tame compared to the monster wave-riding considered “for surfers” today! Volcanic activity also seems to have been a fascination; such footage may well have been the first time anyone had seen such a thing outside of volcanic regions; it still had to be described in colours, however, such as “cherry red” for the lava, as the footage was, obviously, black and white.
The image below is of King’s Mansion, in Kealakekua, Hawaii, on the Big Island. I actually lived here in 1986, as a student (my dorm window was the left bay window at the front). The mansion originally belonged to Kamehameha dynasty; thus the name. We had avocado trees in the back garden, and our neighbour’s horses, across a stone wall, would come trotting to the wall when they saw us in the garden, hoping for an avocado; we’d feed them, entertained as they carefully chewed away the flesh around the pit (reminding me of an old man chewing tobacco!), and then skillfully spit the seed aside. In the bottom of our front garden stood a huge banyan tree [if you were standing on the covered lanai (porch) at the front of the house, it would be to your left]; it was a favourite tree to climb.
You can’t get much more “History Undusted” than building a wood, stone and mud hut, complete with a heated floor! Check out this blog, complete with time-lapse video.
I built a hut with a tiled roof, underfloor heating and mud and stone walls. This has been my most ambitious primitive project yet and was motivated by the scarcity of permanent roofing materials in this location. Here, palm thatch decays quickly due to the humidity and insects. Having some experience in making pottery I wondered if roof tiles could feasibly be made to get around these problems. Another advantage of a tiled is that it is fire proof. A wood fired, underfloor heating system was installed for cold weather. A substantial wall of mud and stone were built under the finished roof. It should be obvious that this is not a survival shelter but a project used to develop primitive technological skills.
Time line: 102 days (21/5/15-30/8/15)
Chopping wood, carving mortises, putting up frame: 10 days (21/5/ 15 -31/5/15)
Using a celt stone axe I had made previously (
View original post 1,465 more words
If you’ve wondered why my last post was over a month ago, it’s because when I go on holiday I do just that – I take leave of life, of schedules, of obligations and responsibilities. Now that I’m back, I thought I’d share some of my experiences.
They say you should write what you know; after our recent holidays to Scotland, I can now add to my arsenal that of being badly injured on a remote, uninhabited island!
If you’ve never heard of the small Isle of Staffa, you don’t know what you’ve been missing: Made of basalt columns, the island and its outcrops rise out of the Atlantic in an otherworldly fashion. For hundreds of years tourists have been going to see this phenomenon of nature, and in 1829 it even inspired Felix Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture (Fingal’s Cave). Fingal is the figure in the legend connecting Staffa with the same geology in Ireland known as the Giant’s Causeway: The legend is that Fingal was a Gaelic giant who had a feud with an Ulster giant; in order to fight Fingal, the Ulster giant built a causeway between Ireland and Scotland. Irish tales differ to Scottish as to how the causeway was destroyed, but only the two ends remained – one at Staffa and the other in Antrim, Northern Ireland. Other famous visitors to the island include Jules Verne, Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson, Queen Victoria and Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
Now to my own experience: My husband Stefan and I were on the Isle of Mull off of the west coast of Scotland; we left our motor home there for the day and took a small boat, along with about thirty other hearty souls, on a 50-minute ride across open ocean to Staffa. It is never guaranteed that the boats can actually land on the island, but on the day we took the excursion the weather was perfect, and the sea was as calm as open sea can be without the doldrums.
To get to the stone pier on Staffa, here’s how it’s done: The captain of the boat waits outside of the jagged basalt outcrops jutting out from the island until a wave swells large enough to heave the boat in; then he revs the engine and speeds up to the pier on the lift of the wave. From there, passengers are gradually handed off one at a time whenever the boat and the pier are relatively even between the swell of waves. This same process is repeated to reload passengers, and the same at the pier of Mull (without the jagged rocks).
We landed safely and were walking, carefully watching each step on the uneven hexagonal basalt columns, toward Fingal’s Cave; I was literally thirty steps from the cave when my left ankle turned on a column that was apparently split, though the two surfaces were not visible on the black stones due to the angle of the sun. Turned, as in dislocated… as in the foot was completely sideways at an angle one should never have to see one’s own foot! I grabbed for the railing to keep from falling and swung myself to sit on a taller column; Stefan was right there, and I told him to “grab my ankle and wrench it back into place!” Fortunately he didn’t stop to think about it – he just did it! I could feel that it wasn’t broken, but it wasn’t going to be happy with me either.
Just passing us on their way back from the cave were a Canadian fire fighter’s wife and her adult son; she knew first aid and went into immediate action, having us pour cold water on my sock to keep it soaked and cold since we had no ice pack; she also gave me strong Tylenol and some extra to keep the pain and swelling in check. I think my husband was in a bit of shock at what had just happened; I asked him to go on to the cave and take photos since I wouldn’t make it… it was also a way of giving him time to adjust, and to let him know that I wasn’t seriously injured, though I only thought of those reasons later. The woman and her son helped me back to the stone pier; what had taken me five minutes to walk took twenty minutes back. Now, remember how they landed the boat and disembarked passengers? Do that with one foot. Twice.
The boat crew called the doctor on Mull, and he met us at his practice (once we manoeuvred the motor home up the single-track roads there). Without an x-ray machine he couldn’t tell if it was broken; perhaps hairline fractured. If that were the case, either way I’d just need to keep my foot elevated; a compression tube sock was my only new wardrobe accessory. When we got out to have lunch in a pub at Fionnphort (the port for excursions), the waitress asked what happened and then said, “Let me guess: Staffa?” Thus, apparently, I can be added to a long list of injured tourists who got Staffa’d.
The blessing in disguise of it happening only a few days into our holidays was that I had two weeks of forced inaction to elevate my foot; thanks to the “brilliant” NHS system of Britain, it was impossible to get a pair of crutches that might have enabled me to leave the motor home (in Switzerland, one stop at the pharmacy got me rented crutches), so I got to see Scotland from the inside of the ‘home! It wasn’t our first trip there, and certainly won’t be our last, so I didn’t miss a once-in-a-lifetime trip; and my attitude is that complaining about lost opportunities is simply a waste of time and energy – the situation was what it was, and we made the best of it. My husband became my eyes and ears outside of the ‘home, and when he was out on hikes and excursions I got a lot of reading and writing toward my next novel done! I still have a month to go of behaving myself – no dancing, hiking, or even driving a car – so I guess I’ll have a lot more time to read and write!
I recently watched the film “Emma”, with Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeremy Northam; as the proposal scene was playing, I noticed her earring and wondered if that was historically accurate – did they have pierced earrings in England at that time (early 1800s)?
While we have probably all heard of “Girl with a Pearl Earring”, painted ~1665 by Johannes Vermeer (doubts have been raised as to whether it is actually pearl or rather polished tin, given the reflective qualities and size, but that’s another issue), it is a Dutch painting from the 17th century, and so did not answer my question. My interest lies more in the 1700s (18th Century) of Britain, and so I began researching 18th C. English portraits.
I discovered that, while there are many portraits with earrings displayed, there are far more without. So it would have been possible, but was by no means as common as it is today. Also, sometimes the current hairstyle hid the ears, such as that of the 1770s and 1780s, or perhaps their ears were hidden by the custom of married women wearing mob caps, even beneath other “public” hats. The portraits do not reveal whether or not they were merely clip-on earrings or studs, though ear piercing has been around for centuries, varying in intensity and use from culture to culture (some for religious purposes, some for ownership such as slave earrings, and others were status symbols for royalty or nobility). Here are a few portraits I discovered, with their details: