National Arboretum

Reading this week:

  • Do Not Disturb by Michela Wrong
  • The Daughter of Doctor Moreau by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
  • Footprints: In Search of Future Fossils by David Farrier

One of the best places in DC to go is the US National Arboretum, and I finally got to go with my super amazing girlfriend. For many years I had wanted to go to the National Arboretum. When I was a kid and my family drove into DC to visit the museums and the like, we would always pass by the arboretum on the way. As a kid I wasn’t that into trees, but eventually, as I have discussed many times, I went to the Naval Academy. One of the things about the US Naval Academy, or USNA if you will, is that as a midshipman you are normally only allowed to wear “spirit” gear. On weekends during your 1/C and 2/C (Senior and Junior) years you can wear normal civilian clothes, but during the week you gotta wear USNA-themed clothes. At the time I thought it would be hilarious, just knee-slappingly funny, to get a shirt from the US National Arboretum, or USNA if you will, and wear it as spirit gear. Alas, I never achieved that dream while it would have been particularly funny, but years later (and about five years ago now), I did manage to go to the arboretum and obtain an USNA shirt and I wore it to death while in the Peace Corps. And now, although I was down a shirt but up a super amazing girlfriend and we went to go see the arboretum.

One of the most impressive parts of the arboretum is their Bonsai and Penjing Museum (penjing, as we learned, being a Chinese version of miniature landscapes that bonsai also represents). Although I am not normally a museum-book-buyer, last time I visited the arboretum I thought they were so gorgeous I actually bought their book about the collection. Besides their sublime beauty, one thing I like about the bonsai and penjing collection at the arboretum is its efficiency: the whole arboretum is literally about trees, but instead of hiking around and seeing a bunch of big trees, you can walk a far shorter distance and see a whole bunch of tiny trees. That is mostly a joke but it is an extremely impressive collection and is placed in a walled-off and peaceful garden area and would be a wonderful place to spend a whole day just in quiet contemplation. Of course what I especially like in museums are the especially old things, and at the museum they boast a number of 19th-century trees while the one pictured above has been in training since 1795! And it isn’t even the oldest, with that honor being held by very-nearly-400-year-old tree from 1625! Despite the tree being relatively tiny it still makes you feel small.

Although it is easy to see all the tiny trees, seeing the whole arboretum would take many afternoons. It is a big and impressive place. After the bonsai and penjing museum we walked over across the street to the National Herb Garden, where we admired all the National Herbs. You can see above me admiring them. Although the whole arboretum is massive just this garden must be a huge amount of work, given the size and number of specimens. They had a whole section just dedicated to peppers and another labelled the “Beverage Garden” dedicated to things you would find it drinks. They have shadier and sunnier portions and nestled in and amongst the herbs and throughout the entire arboretum there were plenty of picnickers and groups and couples sprawled out and enjoying the lovely and extremely sunny afternoon. The only downside of the arboretum is that it is relatively poorly served by public transportation. I personally thing it would be well worth it to spend a few billion bucks to run a metro station out there just so more people could enjoy it.

Although the sun was nice my super amazing girlfriend and I decided to get out of it and drove to the far end of the park to check out the Asian collections. She was particularly interested in all the camellia plants because they are of course closely related to tea. We hiked around the trails and the best part was probably the few moments we spent relaxing in the above pavilion, taking a forest bath as it were and listening to the sounds of nature there and admiring a squirrel jumping about. I tried to trick her into thinking there was a panda walking around but she didn’t fall for it. Nonetheless it was extremely peaceful and, you know, anytime I am hanging out with my super amazing girlfriend it is a nice time. If I can do it around trees all the better. Satisfied with having gotten back to nature, and an especially gorgeous example of it, we head back home to hang out with our cat.

Puerto Rico VI: Menos Museos a Ponce

Reading this week:

  • African Kaiser by Robert Gaudi (could have used a more enthusiastic editor)

Our fifth day in Puerto Rico found us waking up in Ponce. Visiting Ponce was quite an experience and not really at all what I had been expecting. We planned two full days in Ponce and the major reason for that is all the museums in the town. The guidebook we had in fact described Ponce as a museum town and that was very clearly true at some point.

The first place we went is the Ponce Art Museum, aka Museo de Arte de Ponce, ie MAP. We approached and were very quickly disappointed, finding it closed. I’m going to say this was not entirely our fault, as there was another confused dude wandering around trying to figure out if there was another door or something, and once we tried to figure out what the deal was the museum’s socials and website had wildly conflicting information. For example, the website said “The Museum is partially open.” I eventually found an article that explains a lot of the museum’s current woes, which are both a litany of natural disasters and more man-made ones. The forces that hit an institution such as MAP also seem to have barreled over the many other museums in the town. Ponce looks like it was once home to a wide variety of the local cultural institutions my super amazing girlfriend and I are big fans of, and man tell you what if I was the rich it is to places like this my money would go.

Despite all that we did manage to find some gems in Ponce. The brightest building there is of course the Parque de Bombas, which houses a small museum all about the Bomberos. I was delighted to discover that Teddy Roosevelt had visited at one point and had given them a trophy. Everyone likes trophies. Then we wandered on down the street and walked past the Museo de la Historia de Ponce, which we knew would be closed, but luckily a block beyond that is the Museo de la Música Puertorriqueña, which is fantastic.

I should clarify that in many ways the Museo de la Música Puertorriqueña is not fantastic. It took us a bit to find the door, first off (I led us the wrong way and my super amazing girlfriend eventually led us the right way), and also it was very hot and there were very few signs around to explain things. However, when we went we were the first people to have visited in days and therefore got a very personal tour from the very nice man working there that day. It was fantastic, as he showed us around and even went so far as to play some of the instruments for us. He was very clearly dedicated to the collection they had there and it was in fact pretty impressive, including a very old Rickenbacker electric guitar and on the wall a number of prints by Rafael Tufiño. I mentioned before the Puerto Rican museums’ dedication to contextualization, and here was no different. Alongside the numerous Puerto Rican instruments the museum put similar and ancestral instruments from different cultures around them as a way of explaining how Puerto Rican music developed, all explained in detail by our extremely gracious host. It was sad that we had to leave eventually but off we went.

Our host, peeking in from the right.

For our next stop, in what would be a trend as we visited Taino sites, we arrived shortly before closing at the Tibes Indigenous Ceremonial Center. This was probably my super amazing girlfriend’s favorite part of the whole vacation. We were not in fact the only tourists here (I forgot to put this in somewhere, but also there were free-range horses in the parking lot) but nonetheless we got yet another excited and personal tour around the place. “The place” involved a small gallery of art we didn’t get to see, a museum, and the site itself. Calling Tibes a Taino site is actually a little wrong, as it is largely a pre-Taino site, as the museum aptly explains while it walks you through the cultural development of the island and the significance of the site. After the museum our new host walked us through the botanical garden standing between us and the site itself, and then off we were to the site. The main body of the site is a series of courts or fields outlined by stones. The courts were apparently home to a ball game and other ceremonies, as well as being an astronomical observatory. Our host showed us the various alignments and the different pictographs at the site, and it was great to walk around and try to get a feel for the pre-European history of the island for the first time on our trip.

Since like I said it was nearly closing anyways our visit wasn’t all that long and off we were for what would prove to be our most harrowing journey of the day. We had wanted of course to go to a lechonera but hadn’t found a convenient time until now, so we started driving back across the mountain range. This was all going smoothly until we got really close and it started to rain. This was the first of many windy mountainous roads we would travel over the next few days, and I was inexperienced and nervous in the rain. We kept trying to find ourselves a lechonera only to keep finding them closed, what with lechonering being mostly a lunch thing it turns out, and the starting and stopping and lack of dinner and the getting dark and the rain and the blind curves was stressing me out. Thankfully we finally found a lechonera that wasn’t closed and had what was the most delicious pork I had ever tasted. We ate more than I actually thought would have been possible between my super amazing girlfriend and I.

One final anecdote from here. I had been amazed during my few attempts to speak Spanish at how bad my pronunciation was, as evidenced by the utter confusion on the face of anybody I tried to talk to. I was wondering how bad I could really be, like when I tried to say “treinta” how did the nice lady at the gas station get “ochenta?” I had been discussing this very topic with my super amazing girlfriend as we travelled back over the mountains. Which brings us to the lechonera. My super amazing girlfriend pointed at something and the nice lady behind this counter said something that sounded like “thirty.” We were bewildered, because nothing in this situation had anything to do with 30. After an unedifying back and forth the poor lady got out her phone and went to Google translate and pointed at the English result, which was in fact “Turkey.” So I learned that day that no yeah I am really bad at Spanish. Thankfully, humbled and full of pork, we made our ways back to Ponce and settled safely back in for the night.

“Danza Negra” by Rafael Tufiño, 1968

Puerto Rico V: El Yunque

Yokahu Tower

Reading this week:

  • The Slave Trade Today by Sean O’Callaghan (this book is definitely unethical and has some clear errors but is probably useful as an artifact)

Our fourth day in Puerto Rico dawned bright and early (kinda, we were reasonable about it) because we had big plans to escape the confines of San Juan and explore this gorgeous island. That’s right, we were renting a car, and having successfully secured passes the previous day, our first stop was El Yunque National Forest.

Picking up the car and getting there was easy, and the first place we stopped was of course the Visitor Center, aptly named El Portal. We could have done more research on El Yunque before we left, so we were unaware that you don’t need the pass to visit El Portal (though there is an entry fee, but if you have a National Parks Pass you can get in for free). So if you are visiting Puerto Rico and don’t get the El Yunque pass, don’t despair, El Portal is great! It’s a largely outdoor visitor center complex that tells you a lot about the history of the forest and all about the different ecosystems there, and has an extensive set of “discovery trails” that take you through a forest section and you of course see all sorts of plants and stuff. Also a delightful gift shop and cafeteria. We poked around and had a grand ole’ time but worried about the time on our timed passes we set out for the park proper.

The causeway is the entryway to El Portal with the discovery trail below.

When I found out the park had passes I figured it was just a COVID thing or something but now I understand they are very necessary. The forest, or at least the portion that requires the passes (there are actually a lot of ways to access the forest, it is a relatively small portion that requires the pass though it is where many of the popular trails are) is basically one long road with various small parking areas. You drive up the road, steeply ascending the mountains of El Yunque and can stop off and park at various spots to hike the myriad trails and see the multitudinous sights. There is only the one road and only so many parking spots, so if they let just unlimited numbers into the park it would only be one long perpetual traffic jam. But as it was it was quite pleasant and fairly easy to navigate.

Serious hiking!

Neither my super amazing girlfriend nor I were prepared for any serious hiking. That def requires a bit of planning, as many of the trails (they sternly warn though we did not verify) are fairly strenuous and take a few hours to traverse. It seems like an awesome experience but for sure looks like a thing best started early in the morning and with plenty of water. But the forest was still awesome for us more casual viewers. There are plenty of places to get food (we stopped by a very tiny hot dog stand run by a woman who seemed far more east coast than central Puerto Rico and I wondered how she wound up in the middle of the United States’ only tropical rainforest selling potato chips) and easier sights and we enjoyed a number of them.

View from the tower.

The first and one of the most spectacular sights was Yokahu Tower which is a big ole’ tower you can climb up and get fantastic views of the forest stretching down to the ocean on one side and on the other the very peaks of the mountains, including the eponymous El Yunque. So we climbed up and snapped a bunch of photos and then went down and got that hot dog I mentioned and then got back in our car and continued to climb up the mountain. We hadn’t planned out anything beforehand so we mostly stopped at whatever was interesting. There was a pool you couldn’t swim in built by the Civilian Conservation Corps and um lots and lots of trees. One thing I liked about El Yunque is they were in fact really into trees here, focusing most of the materials on the environmental aspects of the park. They were super into it, though I do think that was potentially at the expense of thinking about the original inhabitants of the park and that is always something we should think deeper about. We eventually got to the end of the road (there was road construction so on normal days you could go even farther) and hiked up the trail a bit, but then got tired and turned around. One nice thing is that we had the very picturesque La Coca Falls to ourselves on the way out and so we took tons of photos.

Baño Grande, Novia Pequeña

After having gotten our fill of El Yunque, we stopped by once again at the Visitor’s Center for lunch and then departed for Ponce, where we were planning on staying a few days. It was a perfectly easy drive over the mountains to get there and we settled into our place not too far from the center of town. It was a much different vibe in Ponce than San Juan and we were looking forward to spending plenty of time poking around.

La Coca Falls

300th Blog Post!

This is my 300th post on this blog! I will therefore do the very self-indulgent thing and do some personal reflection. Of course this whole blog is self-indulgent, as I think most blogs are, so we’re right on theme.

I am extremely pleased with having gotten to 300 blog posts. That wasn’t a particular goal or anything, but I like to think it shows some commitment. There have been ups and downs. I think for a while when I first started I was shooting for two blog posts a week, but that was unsustainable. I just wasn’t doing enough stuff. Once a week, however, I think is the perfect amount. It is regular enough to keep you honest but not too much that it is a burden. I chose to publish on Sundays because I read a lot of other blogs and not many publish on Sunday so I figured I would have a bit of a niche. Plus it gives me most of the weekend to scramble to publish something (I like to publish at noon). But even after settling on once a week there were some long stretches there where I didn’t write anything but now I am pretty dedicated to it and that feels like a good thing.

In my memory, the main reason I started a blog was as a creative outlet. At some point during my time at the Naval Academy I discovered that I needed some sort of creative outlet to keep myself from going crazy. Just doing schoolwork all the time didn’t work for me. Back then my creative outlet was writing for The LOG. But reviewing my aptly-named First Blog Post, I told the world my primary reason for writing this blog was to push myself to go out and do things and look at places. I think I have been pretty successful on both fronts. This blog gives me a way to put something out into the world, even if no one reads it except for my super amazing girlfriend, and it has definitely pushed me to go out and do activities I wouldn’t necessarily otherwise have done because getting blog material was the reason I needed to push myself out of inactivity. So that’s great!

In each of these posts I shoot to write about 750 words. This number comes mostly from the site 750Words, which I used to use. They explain that 750 words is about three pages of hand-written paper, which is what you are supposed to write everyday to become a better writer, or at least get in the habit of writing. I think I also read somewhere that 750 words is about the ideal blog post length because people will read it, or something. It hasn’t catapulted me to the top of the SEO ranks, I can tell you that (except for some very particular and very obscure topics), but still that’s what I go for, though some posts fall far short and some posts far exceed that goal. I explain all that to say, if I am somewhere near my goal of 750 words on average, and I have 300 posts, then that is over 200,000 words, which is a book! A book! I effectively wrote a book! A very disjointed book that will require a lot of editing but a book nonetheless! That’s pretty cool and I am proud of that.

In order to celebrate my 300th post, I’ve mostly done some backend stuff I have been meaning to do for a while. A big thing I did is go through and make sure every post had a picture (except for the very first one, just to be idiosyncratic). Some of these posts maybe didn’t need pictures but I added one for consistency’s sake. I have also fixed some errors I had been meaning to for a while, but since some posts needed it more than others and 300 posts (well 299 besides this one) is a lot to go through not every post got gone over with a fine-toothed comb. Nonetheless, there were some glaring errors that I have now corrected. There were other, minor things that were only for me like removing some pictures I had double-uploaded. Turns out editing a blog on your phone in a mud hut in Zambia is not the most technologically smoothest thing to do and will create some errors. But those are now fixed!

However I think for the average reader of this blog the most significant update is that every post is now in one or more categories. This is handy because it makes it possible to group say, all my London Missionary Society (or Chronicle thereof) posts in one place, or link together all my posts from travel to a particular spot like the DRC or Guatemala. I had meant to do this for a while but as the number of blog posts pile up it just gets to be a more and more monumental task but now I have tackled it and only hope that I remember to keep categorizing posts going forward. Here’s to hoping.

How I have I changed over the course of this blog? My life has changed a lot, that’s for sure. In my first blog post I was still in the Navy, and then I had a whole Peace Corps and then Grad School experience, and now I am back out into the “real” world doing a job. I have also met the most fantastic person in the world, my super amazing girlfriend. But most of that would have happened without the blog I think. As for blog-induced change, I have definitely developed more of a “voice,” as I said I hoped to do in my first blog post. Sometimes this has been a hindrance. In a blog post I will simply link to something as way of explanation but when I was in grad school this technique did not work in term papers and I had to adjust. And sometimes I worry when I am out and about in places I am spending time mentally writing a potential post instead of taking in all the beauty. But at the same time thinking about a blog post makes me think about the narrative of a place I am visiting and to be able to reflect and articulate what is significant about that story. So maybe pros and cons there.

I guess it’s not a great conclusion but moving forward I don’t think this blog will change much. By far my most well-read blog posts are the one about Joe Biden’s ties (I found it linked by a Russian blog for reasons that are inscrutable to me, and sometimes I wonder if people are searching for metaphorical ties and find my post about real ones) and the one where I mentioned a strip club on Saipan (as I linked to before in this very post). One move would be to chase these successes but I don’t think that is the direction I want to travel. I will instead continue to focus on obscure interests (that so far evidence shows interest only me) and the many many many more adventures I plan to have with my super amazing girlfriend. To any and all of you who read this blog thanks for coming along with me. Hopefully someday I will in fact write that real book and then when I become a rich and successful author people will all flock to this blog but you will be able to say to yourself that you were there the whole time, reading as he invented cool new KitchenAid attachments or looked at some dirt.

Thanks for reading!

-Pat

Puerto Rico IV: Big News

She’s so fantastic. Super amazing.

Reading this week:

  • On the Missionary Trail by Tom Hiney
  • Simone by Eduardo Lalo
  • River of the Gods by Candice Millard

On our third day in Puerto Rico, we did wake up bright and early. Or earlyish anyways. During the trip we wanted to visit El Yunque National Forest, but pro tip for those that want to visit you need to get passes in advance and the correct time to do that is 30 days before you want to go, which is when the passes become available. A limited number are available the day before so we had to be ready and on our phones to snap up passes when they became available. We were ready and we did indeed snap up those passes.

By this point in our time in Puerto Rico we had managed to get a variety of Puerto Rican food for lunch, dinner, and even brunch, but we had not yet tackled the most important meal of the day. So for breakfast, on the suggestion of my super amazing girlfriend, we set out for a very cool old-fashioned diner named Mallorca where we got mallorcas, which are a Puerto Rican pastry that is apparently equally happy to be served with powdered sugar as it is to be served with ham, cheese, and powdered sugar. I opted for the straight powdered sugar version while my super amazing girlfriend got her mallorca with cheese and said she liked it.

Fueled, we were off for our next adventure, which was Castillo San Cristobal. I know a guy named Cristobal, so it was nice to finally check out his digs. Castillo San Cristobal is the other big fort in San Juan, the other one being El Morro which of course I covered last week. Our guidebook warned that if you visited both in the same day they might start to run together, what with them being two parts of the same interlocking city defense system, so we hadn’t done that.

While conceptually the two forts are pretty similar, we liked the vibe at Castillo San Cristobal a lot better. I think what it was is that it is more in the city. El Morro, as the name suggests, is out on a pointy point of land and it feels more like maybe you are out at sea or something. But Castillo San Cristobal is nestled firmly within Old San Juan, so as you look out you see the city and people and all that and it feels like you are in the midst of the hustle and bustle. But yeah like El Morro it has cannons and passages and I think we spent the largest chunk of our time hounding fellow tourists to take our picture. The single coolest part was probably in a dungeon-like area, where they had centuries-old graffiti of Spanish galleons, which is cool, but which had been drawn by “a Spanish captain held here to await execution for mutiny,” which is grim.

Leaving the Castille, we head back to our room to cool off and rehydrate and this was the most exciting part of the day, because my super amazing girlfriend found out she had finally been placed on the register for the foreign service!!!! This doesn’t mean she’ll be able to join the foreign service necessarily but it is a huge step and I am proud of her and she is the coolest person ever!!!!!!

To celebrate we got the hell out of San Juan. That’s not true, we had planned to leave anyways. My super amazing girlfriend had wanted to visit a rum distillery, and so we went to Ron del Barrilito in Bayamón. By visiting we actually missed the mark on the whole distillery thing, because they aren’t one, but oh well. To get over there we took the ferry, which cost an astoundingly cheap 50 cents and provided some fun views of the harbor if you weren’t too worried about leaving on a regular schedule. Ron del Barrilito is a Puerto Rican rum brand founded by an engineer with a fondness for port. What they do is take raw distillate, flavor it with dried fruit and the like according to their secret recipe, and then age it. We had a fantastic tour. We were the only two on it and our guide was a true Barrilito believer (he had a tattoo). We walked the grounds a little bit, looking at the outside of the house and the old windmill, then were brought into the bottling line and where the mix the distillate and everything, and then shown the aging warehouses which were of course filled with barrels. We learned some about the mixing process which I think is super impressive. A cocktail of your choice comes with the tour and it was great.

In the middle is the “Freedom Barrel,” which was barreled in 1952 and Ron del Barrilito says they’ll open up in the town square for everyone to drink when Puerto Rico gains its independence.

After enjoying the cocktail we head back to the ferry which we found out would not be leaving for like two hours. So we explored the waterfront there which was nice and watched two huge cruise ships pull into port. When we returned to Old San Juan we found it fairly packed but managed to find a quiet place for dinner, an experience only marred by the fact that a mango fell out of a tree and hit my super amazing girlfriend’s shoulder which really hurt her. Based on how delicious mangos are we both put aside any plots for revenge but this won’t be forgotten, mangoes. Also at some point we went to go see the tomb of Juan Ponce de León, again not thinking too deep about his legacy. All in all it was a fantastic day and we were left excited for our fourth day in Puerto Rico, which would see us break out of the confines of San Juan entirely.

The mortal remains of Juan.

Puerto Rico III: Mas Museos

Sun-kissed.

Reading this week:

  • Beautiful Swimmers by William W. Warner

Look I’m sorry to have cut you off on that cliffhanger last week. Normally it’s easiest to keep each day of a trip like ours to a blog post, but we’re only halfway through our second day. You see, my super amazing girlfriend and I, if you can’t already tell from my many many blog posts, are Museum People. We go to museums. We kept meaning to hit up a beach in Puerto Rico, and we brought our bathing suits and everything, but we kept going to museums because that is what we like to do. We are extremely worldly and when I am just fantastically rich I am going to donate to so many museums just so I can finally get invited to a gala or two. This means this blog post got split up because man we went to a lot of museums that day.

But we didn’t only go to museums! For example, after we saw all there was to see at the Museo de las Americas, my super amazing girlfriend got a piragua as a tribute to In the Heights. We relaxed in the Plaza del Quinto Centenario and watched the crowds go by and one specific guy try to master some BMX tricks. He was very good and this was very nice.

Refreshed, we went to the Museo de San Juan. We really didn’t mean to go to this many museums this day (though I don’t know why I am apologizing) but we just kept getting through them. This was a nice museum, not least for the air conditioning, though it was more courtyard than museum. Still! A very nice courtyard. The most embarrassing part of our experience here is that we got into the foyer of the first exhibit and didn’t realize there was a second door, so we thought it was just a very small exhibit. After we went to the second exhibit we figured it out and saw the rest of the first. These two exhibits were some art displaying the history of tourism in Puerto Rico, and the second was a lot of silver displaying the history of religion in Puerto Rico.

Having finished Museum #3 and ready for more, we exited, looked out over the horizon, and set our sights on the final major destination of the day: El Morro. Properly Castillo San Felipe del Morro, it is a big ole’ fort that protects the entrance to San Juan harbor. In my journal I described it as “super-duper impressive.” You approach over that big field where people fly kites and where the Dutch apparently invaded that one time, over a very long road. You cross over the moat and before you know it, you’re in!

The thing I find most impressive about these sorts of old forts is that we just kept using them. One of the last things we did was descend down into the original tower of the fort, which is now fully encapsulated in one of the defensive walls. But there is a handy sign saying those bricks were laid 500 years ago and it feels like it. The fort I suppose isn’t actually that massive compared to like, the Hoover Dam or something, but the walls are massive and thick and standing at the bottom of one you see how it got the reputation of being (according to the National Park Service site) unconquerable. It’s got stairways and warrens to help soldiers get all over the fort and with its commanding presence over the harbor I would not be enthusiastic about going up against it. But despite it being at that point 400 years old I like how during WWI and WWII the Americans just moved in and set up new guns and kept on going. Though again with those walls you see why!

Heading down into the tower.

From atop the fort there are fantastic views of the sea and the museum displays are very good about explaining the centuries-long history of the fort and its strategic importance to the Spanish and then the Americans. With big ramps and all the different passageways like I said it is a very fun place to explore, though we got Very Hot and needed to make sure to rehydrate. Satisfied we had gotten an insight into coastal defense, we eventually left and then wandered around finding souvenirs and then dinner (a task that was hindered by most restaurants being extremely loud despite this being a Sunday night), and well fed we returned to the room for the night.

The Chronicle, 1901-1905

From March 1905

We take a break from Puerto Rico content (there is a lot more to come, don’t worry) so as to bring you, my loyal reader(s), what will likely be the last segment of my transcriptions of the The Chronicle of the London Missionary Society for a while at least (please see previous segments here: 1876-1880, 1881-1885, 1886-1890, 1891-1895, 1896-1900). However don’t fret! This project is far from over. It is just that, as I alluded to at the end of the last installment, the availability of the Chronicle past 1905 becomes spotty thus making it difficult to put together full transcriptions.

What I would like to do as a next step is put together all 30 years I have transcribed so far (30 years ain’t too shabby, is it?) and extract from it useful information to guide follow-on research. I am specifically thinking at minimum an index, but I would like to compile a timeline of the Central Africa Mission and put together short biographies of all the missionaries, at least as far as their association with Central Africa and the LMS goes. Someday when I A) figure out how to apply for a research grant or something, B) apply for those grants, and C) win one, I would like to go out and find the years of the Chronicle that the internet doesn’t have yet and also of course get my butt over to London to look at all the LMS archives in the flesh. And then I dunno write a book or something? But to write a book I would also want to do a lot more research on the ground in Zambia, and we can already see this is more than a nights and weekends project. But a boy can dream.

But back to these five years, specifically (those are 1901-1905, just to recap). Since it is now tradition, I will say that this edition bucks the trend of downward word counts, coming in at about 54,000 words (the whole project is running to over 300,000, so the proofreading required for the compiled edition will take a hot minute). It also features a whopping 45 pictures, representing very nearly half of the total pictures from Central Africa the Chronicle published over the entire 30 years I have covered.

The Mission is well established at this point, even to the extent that by the end of 1905 Rev. R. Stewart Wright is talking about the work of “our early missionaries, some twenty years ago.” The Mission is, however, still expanding, setting up new bases in “Awemba Country” (Bemba in the modern parlance). Besides their drive to evangelize as much as possible, that effort was driven also by a fear of the Catholics claiming more area (there is a short article, tinged with fear, noting that the White Fathers have the rest of Lake Tanganyika surrounded by well-staffed stations, with some of their African converts being trained in medicine) as well as the not-so-hidden protagonist of this whole story, Mr. Robert Arthington, of Leeds, donating £10,000 for “the extension of mission work to the Awemba tribes” (Although Mr. Arthington died in 1900, he left a final donation to the London Missionary Society that was to only be used for new endeavors and not for the maintenance of the Society’s established endeavors, which due to some court stuff continued to cause the Society some headache throughout this period).

As illustrated by the group photo at the top, the Mission is also benefitting from being it seems less deadly to missionaries than it was in its early years. I am sure this is a byproduct of them figuring some stuff out (like in 1897 the fact that mosquitoes transmit malaria) as well as colonialism making it easier for these British people to travel around and communicate with central Africa. It was safe enough that they are regularly sending out women to the Mission, albeit it as the betrothed to missionaries already in the field (where they hop on down to the magistrate in Abercorn to get hitched) and not as missionaries in their own right. There was still danger of course, but at this point when a missionary in central Africa dies it is shocking instead of routine.

The biggest development I was pleased with at this point is that the Chronicle mentions Africans with increasing regularity. I know it’s a minor thing but hey in a literal sense at least it’s not nothing. I think a big chunk of this is that the missionaries are finally having some success in converting Africans to Christianity, once they had really settled down and had a generation of people grow up around them.

So that’s that, for now. As always, if you are finding this useful or want to swap info on the Central African Mission of the London Missionary Society, hit me up. I would be very excited to hear from you.

Puerto Rico II: Museos

Reading this week:

  • Between Man and Beast by Monte Reel

Our second day and full first day in Puerto Rico dawned bright and early, except it didn’t because it was delightfully dark in our room and we were on vacation. Our first destination of the day was Casa Blanca, where we arrived shortly after it had opened.

Casa Blanca is one of if not the oldest structure on the island (and is therefore one of the oldest structures still standing in the US) and was originally built as a house for Ponce de León, whose legacy we never quite saw deeply considered on the island. It kept being used for various things over the next few centuries, and eventually we got to visit it. It was a really nice museum! It wasn’t large, but admission was only $5, so not a shabby way to spend some time.

We were still getting used to the immense beauty of Puerto Rico at this point so one of the best features of Casa Blanca was its viewpoint on said beauty, which was excellent. The displays in the house itself were mostly concerned with the construction and physical history of the building, with many many “windows” into the actual brick and masonry that the building is constructed of. These windows list the various approximate dates that these building materials were placed there. One thing I was surprised at here and would continue to be surprised at was just how out in the open everything was, in that they had centuries-old artifacts just chillin’ exposed to the ocean air. My instinct is to put them under glass but I suppose if they survived a few centuries already they would survive a few centuries more.

I really enjoyed the architecture of Casa Blanca with its openness and handy-looking kitchen, but the best part (besides the stray cat curled up beneath a bench) was probably the courtyard. It was this gorgeous tree-lined space with a fountain in the middle providing a cool oasis and all that right in the heart of Old San Juan and it was great. We gotta get one of those for our place.

As the title of this blog post suggests after this museum we continued to go to more museums. The next step was the Museo de las Americas. When going there we were thwarted by several things. The first was our inability to find the front door for a bit. There was some construction and confusing signs in my defense. The next was that we were very confused why there was no one at the entrance, which we eventually figured out was because the museum was still closed. So we had a lovely brunch at a place on the ground floor and when the museum opened we dove in.

The Museo de las Americas covers a lot of topics, from the African influences on the island to contemporary art movements. When we went they had a section on a contemporary art group, “Agua, Sol y Sereno.” That group puts on a variety of performances, involving sometimes these large masks and other caricatures, many of which were on display at the museum. One performance they would put on was a commentary on the food situation in Puerto Rico, where despite the lushness of the island much of the food was imported. I was just thinking to myself that I would have liked to see that one when we discovered that they were putting on a performance at the museum in like, 15 minutes. So we got to see that! It was very good, and I think we got the gist of it largely thanks to the museum displays. However afterwards there was a discussion portion which we could not understand (it was in Spanish, you see) but were too embarrassed to leave because there was no easy way out. It was my super amazing girlfriend that was brave enough to rescue us and get out of there. Still, quite an experience!

My one other comment on the Museo de las Americas is that they and in fact many of the museums we went to were very good about contextualizing what they were putting on display. I mentioned their African exhibit and what they are doing there is going back to African traditions that were imported by enslaved persons in order to show the roots of different aspects of Puerto Rican culture. It was very good and it was far from the last place that really worked to show the sources of traditions and other cultural aspects and how Puerto Rico has transformed them to produce the culture of today. It was really great!

Puerto Rico I: Arrival in San Juan

Reading this week:

  • The House on the Lagoon by Rosario Ferré

Almost but not quite a year into our jobs, my super amazing girlfriend and I decided to take a vacation. We took that vacation to Puerto Rico and it was a blast. We had decided to go to Puerto Rico because we wanted to go somewhere exotic and foreign, but going someplace actually foreign was too much of a logistical hurdle. So, in the long tradition of exoticizing anyone with a different accent, we settled on Puerto Rico.

I am extremely harsh on us in that paragraph and this comes from guilt from seeing references to TikTok videos saying that people should stop visiting Puerto Rico. I have a lot of different thoughts on that topic and a deep interest in the United States’ territories, having lived in Guam for two years. In that vein I was very interested in visiting Puerto Rico to get a better glimpse into how the United States is treating the place and what the situation really is on the ground. Without pontificating too much based on a one week vacation, in the end I was surprised at how different Puerto Rico was. I had expected it to be a lot like Guam (which the US also took over in the Spanish-American War) but it felt much different than I expected. But first of course we had to get there.

Traveling to Puerto Rico went perfectly smoothly, and we arrived at right about lunchtime and immediately caught a ride into Old San Juan where we were going to spend a few days. Burdened with our luggage and needing to kill some time before we could check into our room, we stumbled around until we found a magnificent lunch place that I regretted not being able to rediscover the rest of our time there. While in grad school, only a whopping one year ago, I took two years of Spanish classes which were almost entirely wasted on me. I relate that to say that I didn’t know what it was that I was ordering off the menu, much to the surprise of my super amazing girlfriend, but like all the food we had in Puerto Rico it was delicious and filling. We had a couple of beers to kill some more time and basked in the literal warmth of Puerto Rico and the metaphorical warmth of being in a new and exciting place where we were bound to have memorable adventures.

When enough time had passed we head into the heart of Old San Juan to check into our room and then turned around again to see what we could see. This was great. Old San Juan is not a large place and takes like 15 minutes to walk from end to end. On this first walk we admired the park filled with pigeons, various old chapels/churches/cathedrals, and did some touristy photos in and amongst the colorful streets. The most gorgeous part was when we hit the north side of town and got our first look at El Morro, and the massive field in front where people were flying kites in the late evening. As we walked around a cargo ship drove right by El Morro and into the harbor, which of course I was gaga for.

Heading southward, we were then delighted to find all the street cats. We eventually made our way down to the Parque de Los Gatos, though man that park is an absolutely minefield for cat poop. Despite that the views of the harbor were beautiful and we took a bunch of selfies, as one does. We then headed down through the San Juan gate and strolled along the waterfront, taking many more selfies along the way. We proceeded to a pre-dinner Sangria at a tapas place before settling into a bar to get some grouper and fried plantains for dinner. On a short post-dinner walk (to aid in the digestion of course) we poked around even more of Old San Juan, and I admired people’s windows where there was no glass but only wooden bars, making an intimate connection between the street and their living room. Then it was back to our room to chill for the night and prepare for a big day two.

Goddard Space Flight Center

My super amazing girlfriend is, as I like to mention here, super amazing. One facet of her super amazingness is that when you read this (admittedly you are likely her, hi hon!) she will be working for NASA!!!! This is super cool, and is a reflection and not a cause of her super coolness. But seeing as when I am writing this she is not yet working for NASA, we decided to see if we couldn’t learn a thing or two about the coolest space agency and so we went to Goddard Space Flight Center to check it out!

The visitor’s center for Goddard is small but mighty, much like the rockets they have on display in the backyard. I had been to Goddard once before, when I was but a wee little lad in the Boy Scouts but didn’t remember much of it. Admission is free and when you go in it is almost entirely in one large room full of space stuff:

In addition to the one large room there is a “solarium” which is playing videos of the sun’s surface, and another movie theater which is playing videos that are about space and stuff. I assume they are somewhere in Goddard’s surprisingly impressive YouTube channel.

The special treat the day we visited is that they were doing rocket launches. Unfortunately the Delta rocket they have in the backyard stayed put (it could use a coat of paint), but what they launched were a bunch of model rockets. This was the first time they had done it since the pandemic, but it turns out the first Sunday of every month you can bring your model rocket and they’ll launch it off for you which is an extremely fun way to do model rocketry and have a nice day at the Goddard Space Flight Center. Only a few of the rockets wound up in the trees. Here is a gif of the first launch for your pleasure:

I have failed to find a way to fit this in narratively but I wanted to say that my clearest memory of my childhood visit to Goddard was the story told by the guy (one of the fellow Scouts’ dad) who brought us there. He worked at Goddard (hence the visit) and he was telling us that some of his fellow satellite designers were trying to figure out how to design a fluid ring, which is a uh ring of um fluid that somehow helps satellites stay stable when they’re up there is space. They used to be used all the time on satellites but NASA had gone away from them in favor of more advanced technology or something (look I was a little kid and I don’t work at NASA unlike my super amazing girlfriend the details are sketchy). But they were going back to them due to budget cuts or something, but everyone had forgotten how to design them. But this dude (the dad) mentioned to them that one of the satellites hanging in the visitor’s center had one, so they marched on down there to check it out and it saved the day or something like that. Anyways this is a good excuse to always keep old junk around.

Of all the objects at the visitor’s center I think the one I was most fascinated with was the above piece of equipment, which fitted over a component of the Hubble Space Telescope they needed to repair or replace and was used to capture screws. I dunno, just like, kinda neat, and also it is a perfect piece of NASA engineering, for better or for worse. Also excellent colors! Some really great craftsmanship went into that piece and all to capture screws. I was impressed.

Besides that the other thing I think I learned the most about was probably the James Webb telescope. They spent a few decades building it right there at Goddard and so they were fairly proud of it. I hadn’t actually quite realized what it looked like until I saw a scale model, nor realized how far away from Earth and the moon it was really orbiting. They also had full-sized mirror mockups and the dang thing is just extremely impressive and I am excited to see the images it produces. I think by the time this is published those photos will have been published which will be cool.

And then finally our trip concluded with a visit to the gift shop, where they had a surprising amount of cat-themed souvenirs and a bunch of other cool NASA stuff. I noted the other day to my super amazing girlfriend that just given the relative volume of Space with everything that is Not Space, most museums should in fact be Space Museums and this visit solidified that sentiment for both of us. Going to Goddard doesn’t really take very long but it is an excellent visitor’s center and it was a hoot checking out space stuff with my super amazing girlfriend. I am very excited to see all the cool stuff my super amazing girlfriend learns actually working for them. Gonna be a blast!