National Zoo

A Golden Poison Frog, aka a very handsome gentleman!

Reading this week:

As I mentioned in last week’s post, that same weekend my super amazing girlfriend’s mom came to visit we also went to the National Zoo!

I remember going to the National Zoo a lot when I was but a wee child. It has the distinct advantage, like all Smithsonian-related institutions, of being free. I think my favorite time I ever had at the zoo is when I was like five or seven or thereabouts and I got separated from my parents almost immediately after arriving. The method by which I got separated is that I deliberately walked away from them because already by this point I knew my way around the zoo and had my own agenda of which animals to see. The family apparently had a day spent in increasing panic as I was nowhere to be found, while I had a lovely day admiring the elephants and whatnot. At the end of the day I merely walked up to them and announced my presence, and they were very relieved.

On this particular day I did not get separated from either my super amazing girlfriend or her mom. Upon arriving the first place we went was into the farm section of the zoo, which felt a little ironic but this section is a must-see for my super amazing girlfriend because they contain her favorite animal, the mighty alpaca. I offered that we could get an alpaca to keep at home but she turns down all of my most sensible ideas, this one being no exception.

It was a tad cold and blustery that day that we went. It wasn’t so bad in the sun, but honestly I should have worn a slightly more robust jacket. I wore my safari jacket, which is my favorite jacket for viewing animals in, but is better suited for more tropical climes. There are other ways to keep warm however, as amply demonstrated by two of the Andean bears who felt that, despite the chill, love was in the air:

They went on for quite some time and had gathered a bit of a crowd! This was perhaps to the chagrin of the many parents with small children who wandered by, and very quickly had to come up with stories about how that is just the way the bears play.

Of course, one of the most popular animals at the zoo are the pandas. They had quite a significant line that day, but we waited gamely to be able to see them. It was imperative to see them, because tiny little baby panda Xiao Qi Ji is heading to China soon, and so there was only so much time to see the cuteness. The cuteness at this point being a full-sized panda happily (I presume) munching away at bamboo like its their job, which it is. This picture came out terrible but here you go anyways:

Extremely cute!

My favorite part of this exhibit, purely for its impressive surveillance setup, was the panda control center and the lady inside earnestly marking down whatever it was she was marking down:

These are my desk goals.

There were many other exciting animals as well! The elephants were fun to see as they munched away at hay, and the lions and tigers were all very vocal about the fact it was apparently very near to lunch time. The cheetahs were also pacing up a storm. It all reminded me very much of Tink. I also enjoyed the building all about the Amazon rain forest, which housed that little frog at the top and is what inspired me, in addition to the National Aquarium, to go visit Brazil a decade+ ago now. They have a poster about a dolphin that turns into a lady that I have never quite been able to process ever since I first saw it as a little kid. It was also exciting that day to see the gorillas and the orangutans, who were particularly active:

Hangin’ out.

Then, finally, after a long day wandering around checking out the animals, we visited the gift shop, exited the zoo on the opposite side from whence we entered, and got on the metro to warm up back home.

Museum of the American Indian

Reading this week:

  • Missionary to Tanganyika edited by James B. Wolf
  • The Shock of the Old by David Edgerton
  • Mr. Selden’s Map of China by Timothy Brook

A couple of weekends ago my super amazing girlfriend, her mom, and I all went to the National Museum of the American Indian. This was not the original plan. Her mom had come into town to see the cherry blossoms, as one is wont to do in DC around this time of year. They initially had gone on Friday and had a lovely time. I was unfortunately working, and thus could not go. Saturday we spent at the zoo and then on Sunday we ventured once again to the National Mall in order to see some extremely pretty flowers.

Unfortunately between Friday and Sunday a wintry blast had hit, dashing all hopes that spring had firmly sprung and making me regret storing all of my sweaters and sweatshirts in the box to which I banish them in the summer with the idle hope I will never need them again. Don’t worry, dear reader, we did get to see cherry blossoms! In fact we saw cherry blossoms from perhaps the best vantage point in all of DC, that is atop the Washington Monument. Having had such a nice time last time, we had managed to snag tickets for Sunday morning so bright and early we found ourselves peering over at Jefferson and enjoying the view:

However, as all things must eventually come to an end, we were eventually ejected back out into the frigid and blustery cold and had to find something to do. Our original plan was to walk around the tidal basin and look at the blossoms, but due to the bluster and cold I just mentioned that plan was right out. So instead we did the logical thing: go to the National Museum of the American Indian.

Mask representing an amikuk.

I have some fond memories of this museum. I remember when it opened and how eager my grandpa was to go to it. He made a lot of art and had a deep interest in native American art, hence his enthusiasm. I also remember the cafeteria they have being very good, and it was good again this time and I thoroughly enjoyed my traditional authentic Navajo taco. However, as a museum overall I remembered it being a bit underwhelming. My sort of biggest criticism is that I remember being disappointed that they didn’t stick more museum in their museum. This is not a particularly objective criticism, and if I was running a museum I would lean heavily in the wunderkammer direction. A gigantic part of the museum is taken up by the open atrium and between that and the other sundry museum bits they really only have four or so exhibit spaces available. I just want more.

However, it was this time around that I figured out the way they give you more is being fairly well dedicated to rotating their exhibits out. I hadn’t even realized that what I thought of as the “intro” exhibit is itself technically temporary (and ending soon!), though an 18-year run is pretty good. The next exhibit was the one that most directly appealed to the interests of my girlfriend and I, which was all about the nation-to-nation relationships between the United States and the American Indian Nations. If you’re, you know, an American with an iota of feeling for one’s fellow man, it’s not a feel-good exhibit as one might guess. My favorite part was learning that the Haudenosaunee still demand to be given cloth by the United States government, despite the government’s attempt to just switch it to cash. According to the exhibit, “The nations replied, ‘The cloth is more significant than money, because so long as you keep sending this to us, there’s a chance you’ll maybe remember all of the other articles of that treaty.”

Of the exhibits, my favorite and most gorgeous displays the work of Preston Singletary, and is titled “Raven and the Box of Daylight.” It was in this exhibit that I had to remind myself to reset my notion of what a museum should be away from my wunderkammer instincts. It displays a series of stunning glass statues but then uses those statues to relate to story of, as you guessed from the title, Raven and the Box of Daylight. I came away convinced more museums should have whole exhibits that literally tell a (metaphorical) story.

The most thought-provoking exhibit however was titled “Americans,” and explores how interwoven Native American iconography, imagery, and culture is with the United States, despite or because of the massive racism and violence they have experienced at the hands of the people of the United States. As pictured above, its central hall contains multitudes of those images, including many I hadn’t quite realized were named after Native Americans (I’m thinking of SueBee Honey, ie Sioux Bee Honey here, not the Tomahawk, which is obvious, except that I took that picture because as soon as I saw the Tomahawk I realized I hadn’t actually ever made the connection). Of the hall they had smaller displays telling not only more accurate versions of the history of people like Pocahontas or events such as the Battle of Little Bighorn, and even more interesting how the perception and use of these histories have changed over time in the United States in response to the changing mores and fashion of the times. Interesting stuff, and its these changing exhibits that are going to make me need to come back to the museum more often.

After a quick trip to the gift shop (of course), which is excellent, that wrapped up our time at the Museum of the American Indian. We ventured back outside to the still-blustery day and headed home. As a final note, since I have mentioned here that I like baskets, they did have some excellent baskets:

The Chronicle, 1896-1900

Reading this week:

  • Dhow Chasing in Zanzibar Waters by Captain G.L. Sulivan, R.N.
  • Across Africa by Commander V.L. Cameron, R.N., C.B., D.C.L.
  • Earthlings by Sayaka Murata

Look guys I know it is absolutely astounding that I have posted sections from The Chronicle two weeks in a row. I can barely believe it myself and for the sake of my reader(s) I hope you like this content and are not pining after descriptions of me wandering around art museums or something. I like it and that’s all that matters on my blog. Anyways. A couple of factors at play here. First is that the downward trend in the length of these updates continue their downward trend, this one clocking in at juuuust shy of 33,000 words. More importantly however is that I was procrastinating some things and doing this was my excuse to avoid doing the other things. Please see previous updates in my plan to transcribe every article in The Chronicle of the London Missionary Society relating to their Central Africa Mission here: 1876-1880, 1881-1885, 1886-1890, 1891-1895.

I have mentioned several times now that the first reason I got interested in the London Missionary Society is because they launched the first steamship on Lake Tanganyika, the SS Good News. That era in LMS history has come and gone, however this era we are entering now is interesting because it much more closely overlaps my own experience in Zambia.

The Society by the end of this era is running three main Mission stations, having given up the Urambo Mission to Moravian missionaries in 1898 in order to consolidate their efforts at the southern end of Lake Tanganyika. There is a mission at Kambole, which I think was in the area now occupied by Nsumbu National Park, which I am sad that I never got to go to. Then there are missions at Niamkolo and Kawimbe. When I was a Peace Corps Volunteer I lived about smack dab in the middle of those two stations, making the LMS’s old stomping grounds my old stomping grounds. I’ve used pictures from this era of the Chronicle to talk about some of these things, such as Niamkolo church.

View from near the spot where the LMS Kawimbe mission was; I can’t imagine it looked way too different in 1899.

I also got interested in Kawimbe because that is where large chunks of the story of Mama Meli took place. In that article I just linked one of the things that my friend Katie and I looked at was a cemetery where many of the missionaries were buried. As part of this project I have finally been able to connect the names on some of these gravestones with the stories of the people behind them. One of the things I want to do if I am ever in Zambia again is to go back to that cemetery and do a better job photographing the memorials and documenting the people buried there. But when I do manage to identify one, such as John May Jr. or, below, Dr. Charles B. Mather, it feels like an exciting accomplishment:

But besides people dying, what’s going on with the Central African Mission? Both a lot and not so much. In 1897 they sent out seven new missionaries to Central Africa (with the Hemans returning), significantly boosting that Mission, since the numbers had dwindled to three people. This significant increase should have led to a lot more activity in the missions, and I think it will and does eventually, but for a long stretch during this interval things are pretty quiet as I think the new missionaries get up to speed and more settled. As I keep saying during these summaries the missions are getting more and more settled and integrated (they proudly talk about at one point that the Central African missions had finally become self-sustaining as far as local expenditure is concerned) and that continues to be the case here. Colonialism continues to take hold as well (“British Central Africa” is referred to regularly), and there is even now a telegraph line to Mbala/Abercorn. The Mission also at this point has a small but regular number of converts coming in, the payoff for their now 25 years in Central Africa. As I read about the Missionaries training carpenters and blacksmiths and converting people to Christianity, I think about the different churches I saw during my time in Zambia or the carpenters and metalworkers that I met, and I wonder which and how many of those people are the direct cultural descendants of the people that these missionaries trained.

As always, if you are finding this useful (or maybe just finding this at all) I would be absolutely delighted to know. My current thinking is that I will keep this project going through about 1915, which will put us into World War I and I think the London Missionary Society might no longer necessarily be the best place to find out about the culture and people in the area. But that is pure conjecture; I’ve never read that far in the Chronicle (though honestly issues become harder to find online at that point). But I guess we’ll see when I get there.

The Chronicle, 1891-1895

Reading this week:

  • The War That Doesn’t Say Its Name by Jason K. Stearns

Friends, I am stunned and astonished to say that I have completed yet another installment of my plan to transcribe every article in The Chronicle of the London Missionary Society relating to their Central Africa Mission (here is: 1876-1880, 1881-1885, 1886-1890). I have been starting with their stats, so I will let you know that this is even shorter than the previous “teeny-tiny update” at only 36,700 or so words. It does however have something like double the number of pictures as the preceding 15 years of articles combined.

Previously I posited that the amount of coverage the Central African Mission was getting had nosedived because it had become Just Another Mission within the London Missionary Society’s repertoire, and that I think is still true. My numbers are a little artificial too, because sometimes I skipped articles when the mention of the Mission was literally only passing. Also, the format of the Chronicle also changed during this time period to be longer and fancier (and with more pictures), but also mentions of the Central African Mission can arise in a wider variety of spots (different “Secretarial Notes,” in regular columns like “Month to Month” and “Personal Notes,” and sometimes in space-filling asides at the bottom of otherwise unrelated columns) so I am worried I missed some things, despite scrolling through every page. Another reason I think coverage was diminished in this era is because 1895 was the centenary of the London Missionary Society, and they were focused on their older missions, such as the South Seas and South Africa.

One of the themes I see running throughout these five years is the London Missionary Society coming to grips with the impact of colonization on their sought-after flock. Colonization is firmly established at this time – in 1894 they even see A.J. Swann resign his post with the Society “in consequence of his having accepted an official position under the British Administrator in Central Africa.” In general too the Society is in favor of colonization, welcoming a “flood” of Europeans into Africa even as they bemoan this flood is too focused on seeking gold over the spiritual enlightenment of the people. However, in a surprisingly (to me) progressive note, the Foreign Secretary, Rev. Thompson, worries about an effort by Cecil Rhodes and the British South Africa Company to take what is now Botswana away from direct rule by the British Empire and put it under direct control of the company:

Now it transpires that Lord Knutsford, when Colonial Secretary, promised the Company that in due time the Bechwanaland Protectorate should be added to their dominions. Lord Ripon in turn confirmed this promise, and now Mr. Rhodes is agitating for the realization of the compact. The chiefs and people of Bechwanaland object to the change. They have no complaint to make against the Company, but they see that it is a company with the interests of its own shareholders to care for. They think that Imperial rule is likely to be more impartial and unbiased than even the best-intentioned financial corporation.

R. Wardlaw Thompson, October 1895

The Society is forced in this era to take a look at what they have wrought, and decide whether they approve of what they have done.

Just to mention a few other things that happened during this era. First, when describing a trip through Bembaland (here “Awemba”) in an article from January 1895, Rev. W. Thomas (not the Foreign Secretary) notes “How little credit the native gets, as a rule, in books of travel!” I’ve commented on the same thing to criticize my own writing, so good on him here. It is also during this time that a great era for the London Missionary Society came to and end: in a note on the “Proceedings of the Board” in May of 1894, they announce that “the sale of the Mission steamer, Good News, on Lake Tanganyika, Central Africa, to the African Lakes Company (Limited), was approved.” How short a useful life that boat lived despite all the effort and lives that went into putting it on the Lake. But by this time Kavala Island had been abandoned, with the focus of the Mission moving inland, and they had little use for it. Their needs seem to have been adequately met by the Morning Star, but it was wrecked in February of 1895 in a gale (though they think they can repair it). As I have mentioned, the whole reason I started researching this stuff was because I was interested in these boats.

Anyways! As I always say at the end of these posts, if you find this useful please leave a note at the bottom of the post. I would be very interested to see if anyone is as interested in this stuff as I am and are finding these transcriptions useful. Someday I want to compile them all into one big document (and it will be very big) with regularized spellings and a nice index and maybe biographical notes of the missionaries so it’s easy to see who was where, when. But there is a lot of typing to do between now and then.

P.S. – I don’t have a great place to put these, but check out these pictures by Rev. D.P. Jones of two dudes fishing at Niamkolo and a stockade fence with human skulls:

White House of the Confederacy

The last major thing we did as part of our Richmond extravaganza was visit the apocryphally-named “White House of the Confederacy.” This was of course the house that Jefferson Davis lived in while he was the President of the Confederacy. It was apparently a very prominent house back in its days with expansive views, but today it is awkwardly in the middle of a hospital. The above picture is actually the back of the house, which is the fancy-looking side because that’s where garden parties would have been held.

Look if I was nervous to visit the American Civil War Museum lest I be bombarded with lost cause narratives, I was even more worried about visiting this place, but I shouldn’t have been. The house is actually owned and operated by the Museum (though it requires separate admission) and so they are pretty invested in telling a true and useful story.

This part isn’t super important to the narrative, but the big metal thing in the picture above is a section of the propeller shaft of the CSS Virginia (aka Merrimac) and I like boats and boat history so that was interesting for me. Anyways!

Pictured above is our faithful guide. The tour groups were small and at the house it was currently a one-man operation. He greeted us at the gift shop, rang up people’s purchases, and when it was time for the tour led us all out and locked up the gift shop until the next group came along. He was a very nice man and very passionate about the house. The house actually contains a good amount of furniture actually used by the Davis family while they lived there, a result of careful cataloguing in the modern day of zealous Confederacy-collecting by the Daughters of the Confederacy as they went about establishing that Lost Cause. The tour didn’t discuss too much of the actual house details that I recall. Some interesting bits about built-in closets but that was it.

Before the tour my super amazing girlfriend had pondered why Jefferson Davis didn’t seem quite so famous as Lee when it comes to Confederate symbols. I think what we learned on the tour is that was because no one really liked him. Seemed like he got the job of Confederate President because no one trusted anyone who actually wanted it, so he wound up with it. According to the tour he put his entire self into it, for better or worse for both his health and the Confederacy. The single biggest impression from the tour, thanks again to our tour guide, was that the most interesting character in the house was Jefferson’s wife Varina, who clearly had her own passions, desires, and friends, which did not appear to include much in the way of support for the Confederate cause. Maybe this is its own form of hagiography but she seems interesting nonetheless.

Going through my pictures of the house it doesn’t seem like I took many at all. I walked away thinking that our guide did an excellent job and while he had a passion for the house that wasn’t out of a passion for the southern cause. I think he must have an interesting job because I would go out on a limb to assume the “White House of the Confederacy” appeals to a lot of types trying to promote or at least not hurt that Lost Cause narrative. I think the most forthright comment he got out of our group was someone who was pontificating on door-based house taxes (which our guide said didn’t exist and weren’t a factor), but I wonder about some of the groups that come through. But then again maybe I am stereotyping! At any rate, like I say at the end of most of these things, I think the house is worth a look around. History happened there. That’s worth knowing about, even if that history isn’t all that good.

American Civil War Museum

Reading this week:

  • Moon Witch, Spider King by Marlon James

Look, loyal reader(s), I feel kinda bad. I feel like whenever I talk about an art museum, as I did just last week, I leave on a total downer about the injustices of the world. There are many injustices, and none should be glossed over, but still, I feel bad about leaving you on a downer. This week I shall try to do better with a subject that will lift all of us up: civil war.

As previewed in my Richmond post, one of the things my super amazing girlfriend and I did was visit the American Civil War Museum. I was worried. I was wary. I didn’t know what kind of museum we would find. Back when I lived in Charleston I visited Fort Sumter and look the museum didn’t go out of its way to paint slavery as all that unpleasant nor did it point out while The Citadel is very proud of the fact they fired the first shots in the Civil War (on the wrong side, to be clear) they really shouldn’t be. Jeez I hate The Citadel (look at that “War Between the States” bs). So being a Civil War Museum in the capital of the Confederacy, I didn’t quite know what to expect.

Lee’s boots and sword belt.

All that to say the American Civil War Museum was really good! I have a few quibbles. They bother to go into the whole “Lee couldn’t decide which side to fight on” thing, which as I have discussed here I think is absolutely a ludicrous way to frame a betrayal of your country in order to uphold the institution of slavery. There was also a concerning placard mentioning that Black soldiers fought on both sides of the war, but pleasingly they have a much more nuanced blog post about the issue. Though honestly it seems like the bedrock and raison d’etre of the ACWM is to house some really old food:

Of all the things in the museum this is the thing that stuck out to me the most, just the astonishingly high amount of old food on display. In the above photo, clockwise from top left we have: a piece of hardtack provided to Pvt. Thomas Penn (CS) upon his release from Point Lookout prison camp in 1865, a piece of bread given to a Confederate soldier when discharged from Fort Delaware in 1865 (along with bread plate wielded by Emily H. Booton), coffee beans (and sack) exchanged for tobacco by Lt. Joseph R. Taylor (CS) in 1863, and biscuits left over from the siege of Vicksburg in 1863. I suppose at some point you can’t get rid of this stuff and it makes you wonder how many old chunks of food they have not on display. How much of the museum’s budget is spent on climate control to keep this stuff from disintegrating? I mean probably not a big part but makes you think.

But back to the museum being good (besides as a sort of historical larder). They had a range of interesting (again, non-food) artifacts on display, like the pocket telegraph unit and telegraph wire above. Given the carnage and senseless bloodshed of the Civil War it is easy to forget how modern the whole affair was (I don’t know why carnage and senseless bloodshed makes that easy, now that I type that out). They also had on display a chunk of a balloon used for spotting over enemy lines. They tell a really good overall narrative of the Civil War and make sure to highlight plenty of the horrors and depravations it entailed. The path they had you wind through the exhibits wasn’t miles long so there was only so much of the story they could tell, but still it was pretty good. I appreciated that at the very end of the narrative portion of the museum they close out with the sign that reads “Did slavery end?” just to make sure you don’t walk out of there with the Civil War tied in a pretty little bow.

However, I thought the best part of the museum was actually upstairs. I think they’re temporary exhibits, but they had two very interesting sections on the war’s effect on U.S. money and monetary policy, and another section on the Confederacy’s foreign policy. The stuff on money was interesting because it is another avenue to explain how the Civil War impacts us even today (besides, like, the obvious). The section on the Confederacy’s foreign policy was even more important I think because it really puts a light on their ideology. For all the talk of them more or less just wanting to be left alone to treat Black people as something other than human, turns out they also wanted other people to betray the natural rights of those of African descent as well. It details how they searched for allies in Brazil and Spain and wanted to expand slavery back into Mexico and other Caribbean countries, and actively too. Tell you what man, good thing the right side one. And too bad we haven’t been more forceful in remembering that.

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

As I coyly mentioned last week in my post on Richmond, we did some big things in and amongst the little things we did. One of those big things was visiting the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, which was quite an experience!

Having alighted from the train and had our fill of Chinese food, my super amazing girlfriend and I proceeded directly to the museum. She has the habit of looking things up beforehand, so maybe she wasn’t impressed, but I was extremely impressed by the size of the museum and the breadth of the museum’s collection. Not that the state of Virginia, of which we are both at this point proud(ish) citizens, isn’t impressive or anything, but who woulda thunk that Virginia would have put together such a gigantic art museum? The art ranged from contemporary to ancient, and from lifelike portraits to impressionist to beyond. For dedicated art lovers I recommend several trips; much like my experience at the Yale University Art Gallery the collection is so wide-ranging that it becomes overwhelming to one’s aesthetic sense.

One thing I especially liked about the museum is that it very much felt like a community space. Admission is free for everyone (though there are certain exhibits that have a separate admission) and there is wifi, so there were people clearly just hanging out and doing work or whatever while absorbing all the culture. The picture above is of the courtyard/sculpture garden space they have right outside the museum, and the photo fails to portray how many people there were just milling about enjoying the space. There were families with little kids, skateboarders practicing their tricks, and at least one man eating out of a bucket of fried chicken while his girlfriend looked a little bored (not me, to be clear, with the chicken).

Having wandered in without plan or indeed a map, the first wing we perused was some more contemporary art. The one contemporary piece of artwork I am going to show you as a representative sample is the above Horseman by Cynthia Carlson from 1974 (maybe half a century ago isn’t so contemporary). My photo doesn’t do it justice but the paint in this piece of artwork is thick like frosting, literally applied with cake-decorating tools as a comment on “women’s work.”

Other notable artworks were some modern-day masters, such Sisters (Susan and Toni) by Barkley Hendricks (VMFA frustratingly doesn’t appear to have an online catalog of their collections) and a sculpture of Paul Mellon’s head that looked like I imagine it would if place on a spike; he got this treatment due to donating a lot of money, it appears. Besides these galleries we also saw a collection of works by the FabergĂ© workshop, including several eggs, works on paper that meant, in this case, gorgeous Japanese woodblock paintings, and a huge hall of Egyptian art, including the obligatory dead guy the morals of which we won’t go into because we got other things to talk about.

Again, since I don’t read things, it was my girlfriend that informed me that the VFMA is known for its very large collection of African art. The picture above captures one small portion of a very large gallery arranged largely by geographic location of the arts’ origin. The gallery is kind of hidden in the back of the museum and it took us a bit to find it, but it is certainly worth a look. I won’t discuss the artificial distinction between “Egyptian” and “African” art, but within the African art section they had a range of religious and ceremonial objects and even things like iron currency.

However man this museum seems like, five years behind the curve when it comes to restitution and deep thinking about African art. If they didn’t seem like such sincere and nice people I would think they were courting controversy. For example, the sign they have by the door of the African art wing proudly proclaims that they are actively trying to acquire “rare works from antiquity,” which, I know what they mean, but man maybe read the room guys. In the above photo on the left is a statue of Maximilien Balot, who was killed in response to the cruel treatment perpetrated by the Belgian colonial administration. The statue was likely created as a way to immobilize his spirit. I don’t know if the controversy had erupted at the time, and I took the picture just because I hadn’t run into anything exactly like it before, but man it is a whole thing. And then, of course, they proudly display their de rigueur Benin bronze, even at a time when we are firmly on the side of restitution. After I visited the National Museum of African Art and wrote about it, next thing you know the Smithsonian is working to return their Benin bronzes, so maybe I can make some changes here too. The plaque next to the VFMA’s doesn’t even mention why this bronze no longer decorates the royal court in Benin City.

Overall the VFMA is a very nice museum and well worth a visit. It is a wonderful community space and I am very glad people are able to access all the culture and history it collects. I know I like to complain about these things but you gather enough of another people’s culture under a roof and you are going to run into problems of equity and historical wrongs that require contemporary solutions. But man you should make sure you are making an effort towards righting those historical wrongs before saying you want to buy more of them.

Richmond

Last weekend, both as I write this and per the inaccurate time of publication, my super amazing girlfriend and I went to Richmond. There were several reasons we went to Richmond. I think first and foremost because my super amazing girlfriend read an article about going there by train from DC. The second is that we are both a fan of train travel, so having read about the train thing we of course had to give it a try. The third is the fact that we are both now proud Virginians, so it made sense to see the seat of our government and contemplate yelling at the anti-mask brigade there.

It was a lovely train ride! The most harrowing part was getting to the train via DC’s other train system, the metro, which I love but is suffering from a lack of preventative maintenance right now, the poor thing. But we made it and I read while Krista read and then also knit. Unfortunately the train to Richmond doesn’t deposit you in Richmond but outside of Richmond, and it being lunchtime we hunted for nourishment in the cold and wind-swept plains of the Staples Mills strip malls. We found a Chinese place with quick and reasonably priced fare and, having prepared ourselves both body and soul, caught a ride into the beating heart of Richmond.

Small-W wontons.

During our time in Richmond we did several big things, which I shall detail in the coming weeks as part of my ongoing efforts to milk my life experiences for content. Truly I am the first person to ever do this so please be patient on this journey of discovery together. In this blog post I shall detail some of the smaller things we did in and amongst the big things.

Big-W Wonton

Perhaps the best of these small things was visiting Chop Suey books. Having really hit it out of the park in Charlottesville it is now Our Thing to go to book stores and yarn stores when we go travelling. Unfortunately Richmond has a dearth of yarn stores, which might honestly be the root cause of some of this state’s political troubles, and only a slightly more accessible selection of used book stores. Chop Suey was the only one we wound up at, but quality made up for numbers. The most significant discovery here was made when my super amazing girlfriend reported to me that there was a fake cat on the chair in the children’s section. I went to investigate and marveled at the realistic paws on the fake cat, and then was even more impressed with the realistic simulated breathing, and then utterly floored when the cat moved its head and turned out to be real. The cat was named Wonton and from all accounts completes his myriad duties as a bookstore cat, i.e. napping in various locations, with aplomb.

From the bookstore we proceeded to our hotel, which was fancy enough that the wifi was not free but had a fairly expansive view of the river. Inspired, we got a closer view of the river by proceeding to walk eastbound down the canal along the aptly named canal walk. Richmond has made the walk along the canal very nice, and although it was a bit chilly as we explored (not Richmond’s fault) that meant we had it largely to ourselves. We walked along it for several locks and we both enjoyed spotting various pieces of infrastructure along the way. If you’re a fan of infrastructure they have plenty to see, from flood control walls to train trestles to draw bridges, not including of course the canal itself. A lovely dinner capped off the night and we returned to our hotel to be energized for the following day.

Infrastructurrrrrrrrrrre

We used that energy the following day to once again explore the canal. This time we proceeded westbound, on our way to (not the ruin the surprise) the American Civil War Museum. As picturesque as the eastern portion of the canal is, the western portion tops it for sure. This is not least because there are a lot more pictures, painted on the walls of various former structures. It also deposits you at a bridge you can take across the river, which is a wonderful thing in and of itself but also provides impressive and informative views of the whole area. Once a historian friend of mine told himself off for saying that one location had any more history than another, but in this case you can see a lot of the history in this location via various old bits of (you guessed it) infrastructure. Plus it was sunny and just generally a nice place to be. There were also monuments.

After doing a few more big things, and also there were elaborate waffles at one point, and secret sandwiches at another, we head back out from town, caught our train in the nick of time, and deposited ourselves at the food of the mysterious temple to George Washington that is perhaps Alexandria’s most famous landmark, we walked home to our cat who we assured ourselves missed us very much. We had certainly missed her but it is sometimes nice to get away from the kids and see a new little corner of the world. I suspect we’ll be back to Richmond at some point; there were bookstores we didn’t get to see.

Tink! 2!

Reading this week:

  • The Mute’s Soliloquy by Pramoedya Ananta Toer

This post is a special request from my only and most loyal reader, my super amazing girlfriend. You all will recall the wonderful day that I put up my first post about the world’s most wonderful cat, Tink! This is a follow-up post to let you all know how she is doing!

She is doing quite well! Back when I wrote the first post we had only had Tink for like a week or two, so although our love for this perfect cat was pure, it was young. Now, with the fullness of time, we have learned so much about Tink’s personality and habits. Some things haven’t changed. For example, in the last post I waxed on about how much she loves windows. She still loves windows! Her usual habit these days is right after breakfast she hops up onto the windowsill in our bedroom (pictured below, the one above is the office) to watch the birds out there. That is the prime bird-watching location because there is a tree underneath and so there are lots of birds to watch. Having been inspired by none other than the New York Times, we occasionally put cat TV on for her, which she seems to appreciate. The advantage of cat TV is she can watch it from the couch instead of the hard windowsill. She still prefers the windowsill, and gets grumpy if we fail to open the blinds for her, but it’s nice that there are options.

Another thing we’ve done for her is get her some cat grass. She quickly got into the habit of nibbling on every plant in the house, despite the fact that nearly every plant in the house was not good for her. We told her this, but we all know how 6-year-olds can be. So we grew some cat grass and she loves to munch down on that, especially when (in her opinion) dinner is late. She is fed at 7 and 7 every day and so at about 4 in the afternoon she starts making sure to remind us that dinner is in only three hours. To satiate her rapidly diminishing form, she’ll turn to the grass.

Of course we must remember that she is correct and she needs lots of nourishment. This is because she works hard every day. Her rent is only $50 a month but between you and me she has yet to earn it. This is despite all the time she spends on the laptop typing out emails or whatever else it is that working people do. She makes up for it instead by prowling around the apartment ensuring that all is well and that we don’t have to worry about everything, demonstrating her fierce capability to protect us by chasing down toys. She finds the ones with feathers to be particularly vicious and so takes extra delight in demonstrating to us how she would take them down if they ever posed a more substantial threat.

She’s not all work however. Tink knows the value of excellent work-life balance and pursuing hobbies. Here she is napping in her bag full of sewing and knitting projects. She hasn’t made much progress on them because being a cat she doesn’t fundamentally understand clothing, but she is getting there and we make sure to encourage her by petting her and giving her scratches on her perfect little head, the sweet baby angel she is.

One place Tink has made a lot of progress is in becoming a lap cat. Tink, who I will remind you is perfect, is not the world’s most cuddly cat. She enjoys the new perspective on the world getting picked up brings, but once she has verified that all the books in the bookshelf are still in place and there is still no likely way she is going to be able to get up there, she is ready to be put down. However, she has warmed up to the notion of cuddles. You will remember from the last blog post that she liked sitting on pillows. If you make yourself particularly pillow-like, she is, on occasion, willing to climb on top of you and knead you a bit and, if you are very very lucky, settle in. A good alternative to this process we have come up with is to lay down next to her and act like it was her idea the whole time to cuddle. If you catch her in the right mood, she’s delighted to play along:

And with that is my latest update on Tink for you all. We love her very much and miss her whenever we leave the apartment, which still isn’t much frankly, so that isn’t a huge problem for us yet. Though if work ever starts making us come in we might just have to quit our jobs and go live in a cabin in the woods or something just so we can make sure to keep Tink company. She’s worth it.

Ploob

Reading this week:

  • Strategies of Slaves & Women by Marcia Wright
  • Why Buildings Fall Down by Matthys Levy and Mario Salvadori

As I have referenced elsewhere on this blog, I went to the U.S. Naval Academy. The Academy is a strange and wonderful place, and during my time there I wound up in charge of The LOG magazine. The LOG is a weird little institution. It is at this point over a century old, and a very strange fit for a place like the Naval Academy. It’s a humor magazine, and humor is always at least a little subversive, and it is weird to have a subversive institution at the Naval Academy. When I was in charge, at least, people always wanted us to Fight for the Users, as it were, be underground, stick it to the man, etc., and then I had to explain that we were in fact funded by the Naval Academy and I had to run all the jokes by the Commandant before publication.

I wound up in charge of The LOG mostly by virtue of having shown up to all the meetings and also submitting my articles by the deadline. As I learned when I was in charge of the thing, these are rare and valuable traits in midshipmen (this is not really a dig; midshipmen were busy with academics and stuff all the time and my only real skill in this area was a strong ethic of avoiding work), and so I became the anointed successor. I did not do a good job! I have reflected long and hard on my failings and I learned a lot from the experience, which is actually the point of every Naval Academy experience, so maybe I was in some way very successful. But a positive trait I will grant myself here is a passion for the institution and history of The LOG.

One of my favorite things to do between classes when, again, I was avoiding work, was to go to Nimitz Library and peruse old copies of The LOG, every one of which (except for a banned one) they had on file. This is a remarkable little window into Naval Academy life because who are we truly, as a society, but our jokes? Reading old copies of The LOG was really the quickest way to get into the minds of all the midshipmen that had come before you and realize they also complained about the food.

One time I had just sent to the printers an issue which included a cartoon of a laundry machine. At the Academy you sent your laundry out to be done by the Academy’s central laundry service (in my day they also had washing machines you could use, or people brought it all home on Christmas vacation to ask their mothers to do it). The cartoon was the imagined machine that did the laundry, replete with stations that added weird stains to your shirts, poked holes in your socks, lost your underwear, and returned to you someone else’s laundry entirely. After hitting send that day I walked over to the library and, I swear, picked a random issue of The LOG off the shelf, opened up to a random page, and discovered, right there in an issue dating from the 1950s or so a cartoon of the machines in the laundry service that added weird stains to your shirts, poked holes in your socks, lost your underwear, and then returned to you someone else’s laundry entirely. Clearly, nothing ever really changed.

Which brings us to Ploob! While my super amazing girlfriend and I were in Charlottesville one of our many activities was visiting used bookstores, which is where I found this particular gem. Despite my recently professed expertise in all things The LOG, I was unfamiliar with the character of Ploob. I will quote from the book:

The character of Ploob was originated by Midshipman Thomas A. Hamil of the Class of 1952. While still a Plebe himself, Hamil found time to laugh at some of the problems with which he was confronted. Taking out his pen, he rapidly sketched a ‘typical’ Fourth Classman in the meshes of ‘the System’ which baffles many and yet has so successfully indoctrinated young men from all walks of life into the intricacies of Navy procedure. Hamil sent his sketches to the undergraduate bi-weekly [Ed note: in my day it was monthly at best] publication of the Academy, ‘The LOG.’

The character continued after Hamil graduated and the book I picked up is a collection of those cartoons up through approximately 1957, when it was published. When I spotted this book I immediately knew I had to have it for the fun artifact it was, a window into the Naval Academy of the 1950s and also the Naval Academy of forever and always. And so I wanted to present to you, dear readers, some of my favorite cartoons from the book, first ones that struck me particularly and then a bunch more presented as a gallery:

This cartoon I liked because it is a prescient prediction of my mom giving me this same advice and me taking it just as seriously as Ploob.
This one I like because the goat is cute.
This one I like because I was a chemistry major.
And this one I like because it shows how things HAVE changed. Or so I hear. My plebe company gave an upper classman the brick while I was there. The ritual is like this: a Midshipman is spotted going home with a woman who has been deemed ‘ugly,’ i.e. a ‘brick.’ The plebes then, in our case bedecked in our hoodies and sweatpants and with a lot of chanting and suspense, throw said upperclassman into their shower along with the brick and turn it on, much to their embarrassment and frankly to the embarrassment of society as a whole who should have moved on from this sexist bullshit by now (at the time I thought it was quite a lot of fun). When I went to the Naval Academy it was about 15% women, but now it is a whopping 30% women, and I am told the sexism has died down a LOT. I’ll be happy when we get it to about 85% women. Honestly, crewing a ship doesn’t typically require a lot of upper body strength, and most of the women I went to the Academy with could kick my ass anyways.

And now the rest (I could go on about each and every one of them but suffice it to say that each one captures the Naval Academy experience perfectly and timelessly):