Friday, January 31, 2014

Franz Schubert January 31, 1797 ~ November 19, 1828

Franz Peter Schubert (German pronunciation: [ˈfʁant͡s ˈʃuːbɐt]; 31 January 1797 – 19 November 1828) was an Austrian composer.
In a short lifespan of less than 32 years, Schubert was a prolific composer, writing some 600 Lieder, ten complete or nearly complete symphoniesliturgical music, operas, incidental music and a large body of chamber and solo piano music. Appreciation of his music while he was alive was limited to a relatively small circle of admirers in Vienna, but interest in his work increased significantly in the decades immediately after his death. Felix MendelssohnRobert SchumannFranz LisztJohannes Brahms and other 19th-century composers discovered and championed his works. Today, Schubert is ranked among the greatest composers of the early Romantic era and, as such, is one of the most frequently performed composers of the early nineteenth century.

TOKUGAWA IEYASU ~ January 31, 1543 ~ June 1, 1616

Tokugawa Ieyasu (徳川 家康, January 31, 1543 – June 1, 1616) was the founder and first shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate of Japan which ruled from the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600 until the Meiji Restoration in 1868. Ieyasu seized power in 1600, received appointment as shogun in 1603, abdicated from office in 1605, but remained in power until his death in 1616. His given name is sometimes spelled Iyeyasu, according to the historical pronunciation ofwe. Ieyasu was posthumously enshrined at Nikkō Tōshō-gū with the name Tōshō Daigongen (東照大権現).

Image &

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

ANTON CHEKHOV ~ January 29, 1860 ~ July 15, 1904

Anton Pavlovich Chekhov (Russian: Антон Павлович Чехов); 29 January [O.S. 17 January] 1860 – 15 July [O.S. 2 July] 1904) was a Russian short-story writer, playwright and physician, considered to be one of the greatest short-story writers in the history of world literature. His career as a dramatist produced four classics and his best short stories are held in high esteem by writers and critics. Chekhov practised as a doctor throughout most of his literary career: "Medicine is my lawful wife", he once said, "and literature is my mistress."

Chekhov renounced the theatre after the disastrous reception of The Seagull in 1896; but the play was revived to acclaim in 1898 by Constantin Stanislavski's Moscow Art Theatre, which subsequently also produced Uncle Vanya and premiered Chekhov’s last two plays, Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard. These four works present a special challenge to the acting ensemble as well as to audiences, because in place of conventional action Chekhov offers a "theatre of mood" and a "submerged life in the text."

Chekhov had at first written stories only for the money, but as his artistic ambition grew, he made formal innovations which have influenced the evolution of the modern short story. His originality consists in an early use of the stream-of-consciousness technique, later adopted by James Joyce and other modernists, combined with a disavowal of the moral finality of traditional story structure. He made no apologies for the difficulties this posed to readers, insisting that the role of an artist was to ask questions, not to answer them.

Image &

My good friend Jeffrey Hardy introduced Dennis and me to Rachel Kempson (Vanessa Redgrave's mother) after a performance of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya in London in the late '80's. (Michael Gambon was Uncle Vanya.) I had actually met Rachel Kempson on two previous occasions, but it was fun for Dennis and me to go backstage and see her after a brilliant stage production.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Red Army Liberates Auschwitz-Birkenau ~ January 27, 1945

1945 – World War II: The Red Army liberates the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland.

Auschwitz (Konzentrationslager Auschwitz) was a network of concentration camps built and operated in occupied Poland by Nazi Germany during the Second World War. It was the largest of the German concentration camps, consisting of Auschwitz I (the Stammlager or main camp); Auschwitz II-Birkenau (the Vernichtungslager or extermination camp); Auschwitz III-Monowitz, also known as Buna, a labor camp; and 45 satellite camps.

Auschwitz is the German name for Oświęcim, the town the camps were located in and around; it was renamed by the Germans after they invaded Poland in September 1939. Birkenau, the German translation of Brzezinka (birch tree), refers to a small Polish village nearby that was mostly destroyed by the Germans to make way for the camp.

Auschwitz II-Birkenau was designated by Heinrich Himmler, Germany's Minister of the Interior, as the locus of the "final solution of the Jewish question in Europe." From spring 1942 until the fall of 1944, transport trains delivered Jews to the camp's gas chambers from all over Nazi-occupied Europe. The camp's first commandant, Rudolf Höss, testified after the war at the Nuremberg Trials that up to three million people had died there, a figure since revised to 1.1 million, around 90 percent of them Jews. Others deported to Auschwitz included 150,000 Poles, 23,000 Roma and Sinti, 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war, and tens of thousands of other nationalities.Those not killed in the gas chambers died of starvation, forced labor, lack of disease control, individual executions, and purported medical experiments.

On January 27, 1945, Auschwitz was liberated by Soviet troops, a day commemorated around the world as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. In 1947, Poland founded a museum on the site of Auschwitz I and II, which by 1994 had seen 22 million visitors—700,000 annually—pass through the iron gates crowned with the infamous motto, Arbeit macht frei ("work makes you free").

Image &

The metal Arbeit macht frei motto was stolen about a year ago from the gate at Auschwitz. It was recovered a few months later, after having been cut into three pieces. It is now being or has already been restored.

The irony is that many German Jews decided not to leave Germany in the 30's because they felt that Nazi rhetoric was just a ploy to gain political power, and not a genuine strategy for action. After all, Germany and German culture was the land of Goethe, Schiller, Beethoven and especially Mozart!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

SAMUEL BARBER ~ March 9, 1910 ~ January 23, 1981

Samuel Osborne Barber II (March 9, 1910 – January 23, 1981) was an American composer of orchestral, opera, choral, and piano music. His Adagio for Strings is his most popular composition and widely considered a masterpiece of modern classical music.

Image &

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

SWISS GUARDS ARRIVE ~ January 22, 1506

1506 – The first contingent of 150 Swiss Guards arrives at the Vatican.

Swiss Guards is the name given to the Swiss soldiers who have served as bodyguards, ceremonial guards, and palace guards at foreign European courts since the late 15th century. In contemporary usage it refers to the Pontifical Swiss Guard of Vatican City. They have generally had a high reputation for discipline and loyalty to their employers. Apart from household and guard units, some formations have also served as fighting troops; regular Swiss mercenary regiments served as line troops in various armies, notably those of France, Spain and Naples up to the 19th century.

Various units of Swiss Guards have existed for hundreds of years. The earliest such detachment was the Swiss Hundred Guard (Cent-Garde) at the French court (1497 – 1830). This small force was complemented in 1567 by a Swiss Guard regiment. The Papal Swiss Guard in the Vatican was founded in 1506 and is the only Swiss Guard that still exists. In the 18th century several other Swiss Guards existed for periods in various European courts.

The Corps of the Pontifical Swiss Guard or Swiss Guard (German: Schweizergarde, Italian: Guardia Svizzera Pontificia, Latin: Pontificia Cohors Helvetica, or Cohors Pedestris Helvetiorum a Sacra Custodia Pontificis) is something of an exception to the Swiss rulings of 1874 and 1927. It is a small force maintained by the Holy See and is responsible for the safety of the Pope, including the security of the Apostolic Palace. It serves as the de facto military of Vatican City.

The history of the Swiss Guards has its origins in the 15th century. Pope Sixtus IV (1471-1484) already made a previous alliance with the Swiss Confederation and built barracks in Via Pellegrino after foreseeing the possibility of recruiting Swiss mercenaries. The pact was renewed by Innocent VIII (1484-1492) in order to use them against the Duke of Milan. Alexander VI (1492-1503) later actually used the Swiss mercenaries during their alliance with the King of France. During the time of the Borgias, however, the Italian Wars began in which the Swiss mercenaries were a fixture in the front lines among the warring factions, sometimes for France and sometimes for the Holy See or the Holy Roman Empire. The mercenaries enlisted when they heard King Charles VIII of France was going to raise a war against Naples.

Among the participants in the war against Naples was Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere, the future Pope Julius II (1503-1513), who was well acquainted with the Swiss having been Bishop of Lausanne years earlier. The expedition failed in part thanks to new alliances made by Alexander VI against the French. When Cardinal della Rovere became pope Julius II in 1505, he asked the Swiss Diet to provide him with a constant corps of 200 Swiss mercenaries. In September 1505, the first contingent of 150 soldiers started their march towards Rome, under the command of Kaspar von Silenen, and entered the city on January 22, 1506, today given as the official date of the Guard's foundation. "The Swiss see the sad situation of the Church of God, Mother of Christianity, and realize how grave and dangerous it is that any tyrant, avid for wealth, can assault with impunity, the common Mother of Christianity," declared Huldrych Zwingli, a Swiss Catholic who later became a Protestant reformer. Pope Julius II later granted them the title "Defenders of the Church's freedom".

The force has varied greatly in size over the years and has even been disbanded. Its first, and most significant, hostile engagement was on May 6, 1527 when 147 of the 189 Guards, including their commander, died fighting the unruly troops of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V during the Sack of Rome in order to allow Clement VII to escape through the Passetto di Borgo, escorted by the other 40 guards. The last stand battlefield is located on the left side of St Peter's Basilica, close to the Campo Santo Teutonico (German Graveyard)

The Swiss Guard has served the popes since the 1500s. Ceremonially, they shared duties in the Papal household with the Palatine Guard and Noble Guard, both of which were disbanded in 1970 under Paul VI. Today the Papal Swiss Guard have taken over the ceremonial roles of the former units. At the end of 2005, there were 134 members of the Swiss Guard. This number consisted of a Commandant (bearing the rank of oberst or Colonel), a chaplain, three officers, one sergeant major (feldwebel), 30 NCOs, and 99 halberdiers, the rank equivalent to private (so called because of their traditional Halberd).

The official dress uniform is of blue, red, orange and yellow with a distinctly Renaissance appearance. Commandant Jules Repond (1910-1921) created the current uniforms in 1914. While a painting of the Swiss Guard bearing Pope Julius II on a litter (by Raphael) is often cited as inspiration for the Swiss Guard uniform, the actual uniforms worn by those soldiers are of the style which appears by today's standards as a large skirt, a common style in uniforms during the Renaissance. A lot of people are under the impression that the uniforms were designed by Michelangelo. But the official Vatican City Holy See website recently said "It is commonly thought that the uniform was designed by Michelangelo, but it would seem rather that he had nothing to do with it.

However, Raffaello(Raphael) certainly did influence its development, as he indeed influenced fashion in general in Italy in the Renaissance, through his painting". This seems to suggest that the uniforms were designed by Raphael and not Michelangelo. A very clear expression of the modern Swiss Guard uniform can be seen in a 1577 fresco by Jacob Coppi of the Empress Eudoxia conversing with Pope Sixtus III It is clearly the precursor of today's recognizable three-colored uniform with boot covers, white gloves, a high or ruff collar, and either a black beret or a black Comb morion (silver for high occasions). Sergeants wear a black top with crimson leggings, while other officers wear an all-crimson uniform.

The regular duty uniform is more functional, consisting of a simpler solid blue version of the more colorful tri-color grand gala uniform, worn with a simple brown belt, a flat white collar and a black beret. For new recruits and rifle practice, a simple light blue overall with a brown belt may be worn. During cold or inclement weather, a dark blue cape is worn over the regular uniform. The original colors (blue and yellow) were issued by Pope Julius II taking his family (Della Rovere) colors. Pope Leo X added the red to reflect his family's Medici colors.

Headwear is typically a black beret for daily duties, while a black or silver morion helmet with red, white, yellow and black, and purple ostrich feather is worn for ceremonial duties, the former for guard duty or drill; the latter for high ceremonial occasions such as the annual swearing in ceremony or reception of foreign heads of state.

The tailors of the uniforms work inside the Swiss Guard barracks. The uniform weighs 8 pounds (4 kg), and may be the heaviest uniform in use by any standing army today. The Renaissance style makes them one of the most complicated to construct. A single uniform requires 154 pieces and takes nearly 32 hours and 3 fittings to complete.

Image &

Sunday, January 19, 2014

EDGAR ALLAN POE ~ January 19, 1809 ~ October 7, 1849

Edgar Allan Poe (January 19, 1809 – October 7, 1849) was an American writer, poet, editor and literary critic, considered part of the American Romantic Movement. Best known for his tales of mystery and the macabre, Poe was one of the earliest American practitioners of the short story and is considered the inventor of the detective-fiction genre. He is further credited with contributing to the emerging genre of science fiction. He was the first well-known American writer to try to earn a living through writing alone, resulting in a financially difficult life and career.

He was born as Edgar Poe in Boston, Massachusetts, he was orphaned young when his mother died shortly after his father abandoned the family. Poe was taken in by John and Frances Allan, of Richmond, Virginia, but they never formally adopted him. He attended the University of Virginia for one semester but left due to lack of money. After enlisting in the Army and later failing as an officer's cadet at West Point, Poe parted ways with the Allans. Poe's publishing career began humbly, with an anonymous collection of poems, Tamerlane and Other Poems (1827), credited only to "a Bostonian".

Poe switched his focus to prose and spent the next several years working for literary journals and periodicals, becoming known for his own style of literary criticism. His work forced him to move between several cities, including Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York City. In Baltimore in 1835, he married Virginia Clemm, his 13-year-old cousin. In January 1845, Poe published his poem "The Raven" to instant success. His wife died of tuberculosis two years later. He began planning to produce his own journal, The Penn (later renamed The Stylus), though he died before it could be produced. On October 7, 1849, at age 40, Poe died in Baltimore; the cause of his death is unknown and has been variously attributed to alcohol, brain congestion, cholera, drugs, heart disease, rabies, suicide, tuberculosis, and other agents.

Poe and his works influenced literature in the United States and around the world, as well as in specialized fields, such as cosmology and cryptography. Poe and his work appear throughout popular culture in literature, music, films, and television. A number of his homes are dedicated museums today.

Image &

Monday, January 13, 2014


Today is my former upstairs neighbor's birthday. She now lives in a retirement home down the Peninsula in San Mateo.

Dorothy (Dot) Chursin is now ninety years old. She lived on the third floor for fifty plus years. My dogs Bette and Renzo adored her. They know her name. It means treats. Each morning, or whenever I was disciplined enough to be downstairs before work and Dorothy was home, she tossed dog biscuits from her third story window. All the dogs in the building loved her!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

A Birthday in Edinburgh

Today is my friend Martin Krupa's birthday. He stayed in the Venetian room in my flat for two summers while on holiday from graduate school. He was working on his doctorate from the University in Bratislava, Slovakia. He works at a fine hotel in Edinburgh, where he lived with his sister, just recently licensed as a medical doctor.  I met Martin through my Polish friend Adam.

Martin was best friend to my three dogs, dear Rose, Prince Rupert, and Renzo. In fact, I called her 'dear' Rose because that's what Martin always called her. Unfortunately she left us just before Thanksgiving two years ago. He also was a very special friend to my Rupert. For the previous two summers Martin had an early job at the Chancellor Hotel on Powell Street near Union Square. When he got off work in the afternoon, he'd come home and take the dogs to Dolores Park and play ball with Rupert for several hours at a time. Of course, Rupert adored Martin. Renzo got to know him when Martin house sat for me during my holiday in Italy three years ago last September and October.

six years ago, I was getting ready to go on a music holiday with Chanticleer to Vienna, Prague and Budapest. I flew into Vienna a few days early, took a bus to Bratislava, and spent the weekend with Martin. Bratislava is a charming city -- the capital of Slovakia. It was Alexander Dubcek's hometown. It has a handsomely restored historical area.

My weekend visit included a Sunday afternoon and evening in Vienna, which is very close by train. We had a pleasant visit with two of his Viennese friends. After returning to Bratislava Sunday evening, I went back to Vienna on Monday morning, checked into my hotel, and had a delightful visit to Schloss Schonbrunn before joining the Chanticleer tour.

Martin is a good guy and I wish him well on his birthday! His friend Susan from the Chancellor Hotel extends her birthday greetings as well!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

MILLARD FILLMORE ~ January 7, 1800 ~ March 8, 1874

Millard Fillmore (January 7, 1800 – March 8, 1874) was the 13th President of the United States, serving from 1850 until 1853 and the last member of the Whig Party to hold that office. He was the second Vice President to assume the presidency upon the death of a sitting president, succeeding Zachary Taylor, who died of what is thought to be acute gastroenteritis. Fillmore was never elected president; after serving out Taylor's term, he failed to gain the nomination of the Whigs for president in the 1852 presidential election, and, four years later, in the 1856 presidential election, he again failed to win election as the Know Nothing Party and Whig candidate.

image &

Millard Fillmore has a reputation of being one of the worst U.S. Presidents. At least, he has an interesting street named after him in San Francisco. Lower Fillmore has been revitalized and is trying to make a comeback as a Jazz center. Fillmore Auditorium is the site of many top rated rock concerts. Upper Fillmore is a fashionable shopping area in San Francisco. The most notable accomplishment in the Millard Fillmore administration was probably the opening of Japan by Commodore Matthew Perry.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Murano Chandelier & Epiphany Creche Sagas

After we came back from Carnevale in 2003, Dennis decided he wanted a Murano chandelier for the front bedroom, which he had just painted yellow and had a Venetian theme.

Finally getting the chandelier turned out to be a real saga. At one point we had boxes with parts of five separate chandeliers in our dining room, and only half of our own special order. The Italians may produce splendid glass, but their shipping practices leave much room for improvement. Even so— after sorting out the shipping mess and forwarding the various chandeliers to their proper recipients – Dennis managed to persuade the manufacturer to give us one of the extra chandeliers, which replaced the damaged Czech copy of a Waterford in our dining room.

The multi-color-flowered chandelier in the yellow bedroom is really extravagant, even after we simplified it. Where we ordered clear glass with a little gold for the basic frame, the original had had pink and blue! It was based on a famous chandelier in Ca’ Rezonico, one of Dennis' favorite palazzos.

In his final year Dennis had looked at hand carved Italian crèches online. Advent before last, in his memory, I ordered the complete set he had wanted. (The picture above is the Holy Family-- only a small part of the complete set.) It was shipped from Munich.

I guess Bavarians aren’t much better than Italians. Half of my order went to a very nice man in Maryland, who telephoned me after getting my name and address from the packing list. I had him ship it Express-Mail and received the crèche in time for Epiphany. At least I was reimbursed from the supplier in Munich. Have a happy Epiphany!


Today is also the birthday of my first boyfriend, Stuart Kellogg. We met back at Yale. He had a wondrous quarter-century relationship with Fernando Torres, whom I have never met in person, but have carried on a lovely email and telephone friendship after Stuart died a year ago last August. Stuart and Fer got together almost the same time as did Dennis and I.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

ISAAC NEWTON ~ January 4, 1643 ~ March 31, 1727

Sir Isaac Newton FRS (4 January 1643 – 31 March 1727 [OS: 25 December 1642 – 20 March 1727]) was an English physicist, mathematician, astronomer, natural philosopher, alchemist, and theologian who is perceived and considered by a substantial number of scholars and the general public as one of the most influential men in history. His 1687 publication of the Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica (usually called the Principia) is considered to be among the most influential books in the history of science, laying the groundwork for most of classical mechanics. In this work, Newton described universal gravitation and the three laws of motion which dominated the scientific view of the physical universe for the next three centuries. Newton showed that the motions of objects on Earth and of celestial bodies are governed by the same set of natural laws by demonstrating the consistency between Kepler's laws of planetary motion and his theory of gravitation, thus removing the last doubts about heliocentrism and advancing the scientific revolution.

Newton also built the first practical reflecting telescope and developed a theory of colour based on the observation that a prism decomposes white light into the many colours that form the visible spectrum. He also formulated an empirical law of cooling and studied the speed of sound.

In mathematics, Newton shares the credit with Gottfried Leibniz for the development of the differential and integral calculus. He also demonstrated the generalised binomial theorem, developed the so-called "Newton's method" for approximating the zeroes of a function, and contributed to the study of power series.

Newton remains influential to scientists, as demonstrated by a 2005 survey of scientists and the general public in Britain's Royal Society asking who had the greater effect on the history of science, Newton or Albert Einstein. Newton was deemed to have made the greater overall contribution to science.

Newton was also highly religious, though an unorthodox Christian, writing more on Biblical hermeneutics than the natural science he is remembered for today.

Image &

Friday, January 3, 2014

BROOKLYN BRIDGE ~ Construction Begins January 3, 1870

The Brooklyn Bridge is one of the oldest suspension bridges in the United States. Completed in 1883, it connects the New York City boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn by spanning the East River. At 5,989 feet (1825 m), it was the longest suspension bridge in the world from its opening to 1903, the first steel-wire suspension bridge.

Originally referred to as the New York and Brooklyn Bridge, it was dubbed the Brooklyn Bridge in an 1867 letter to the editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, and formally so named by the city government in 1915. Since its opening, it has become an iconic part of the New York skyline. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964.


The Brooklyn Bridge opened to great fanfare in May 1883. The names of John Roebling, Washington Roebling, and Emily Warren Roebling are inscribed on the structure as its builders.

Construction began on January 3, 1870. The Brooklyn Bridge was completed thirteen years later and was opened for use on May 24, 1883. The Brooklyn Bridge might not have been built had it not been for the assistance of Emily Warren Roebling, who provided the critical written link between her husband, Washington Roebling (the Chief Engineer), and engineers on-site. Most history books cite Washington Roebling's father John Roebling and Washington Roebling as the bridge’s builders. Early into construction, however, John Roebling’s foot slipped into a group of pylons from the shake of an incoming ferry. This badly crushed his toes, causing those toes to be amputated, leaving him incapacitated; he later died of an infection related to this injury and leaving his son, Washington Roebling, in charge of the bridge.

The actual construction started under the younger Roebling. Not long after taking charge of the bridge, Washington Roebling suffered a paralyzing injury as well, the result of decompression sickness. This condition plagued many of the underwater workers, in different capacities, as the condition was relatively unknown at the time and in fact was first called "caisson disease" by the project physician Dr. Andrew Smith. With both men out of commission, Emily Warren Roebling provided critical assistance in providing the communications between her husband and the engineers on-site. Under her husband’s guidance, Emily had studied higher mathematics, the calculations of catenary curves, the strengths of materials, bridge specifications, and the intricacies of cable construction. She spent the next 11 years assisting Washington Roebling in the supervision of the bridge’s construction.

The opening ceremony was attended by several thousand people and many ships were present in the East Bay for the occasion. President Chester Arthur and New York Mayor Franklin Edson crossed the bridge to celebratory cannon fire and were greeted by Brooklyn Mayor Seth Low when they reached the Brooklyn-side tower. Arthur shook hands with Washington Roebling at Roebling's home, after the ceremony. Washington Roebling was unable to attend the ceremony but held a celebratory banquet at his house on the day of the bridge opening. Further festivity included the performance of a band, gunfire from ships, and a fireworks display.
On that first day, a total of 1,800 vehicles and 150,300 people crossed what was then the only land passage between Manhattan and Brooklyn. The bridge's main span over the East River is 1,595 feet 6 inches (486.3 m). The bridge cost $15.5 million to build and approximately 27 people died during its construction.

One week after the opening, on May 30, 1883, a rumor that the Bridge was going to collapse caused a stampede, which crushed and killed at least twelve people. On May 17, 1884, P. T. Barnum helped to squelch doubts about the bridge's stability—while publicizing his famous circus—when one of his most famous attractions, Jumbo, led a parade of 21 elephants over the Brooklyn Bridge.

At the time it opened, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world — 50% longer than any previously built — and it has become a treasured landmark. For several years the towers were the tallest structures in the Western Hemisphere. Since the 1980s, it has been floodlit at night to highlight its architectural features. The towers are built of limestone, granite, and Rosendale cement. Their architectural style is neo-Gothic, with characteristic pointed arches above the passageways through the stone towers.

The bridge was designed by German-born John Augustus Roebling in Trenton, New Jersey. Roebling had earlier designed and constructed other suspension bridges, such as Roebling's Delaware Aqueduct in Lackawaxen, Pennsylvania, the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge in Cincinnati, Ohio, and the Waco Suspension Bridge in Waco, Texas, that served as the engineering prototypes for the final design.

During surveying for the East River Bridge project, Roebling's foot was badly injured by a ferry, pinning it against a pylon; within a few weeks, he died of tetanus. His son, Washington, succeeded him, but in 1872 was stricken with caisson disease (decompression sickness, commonly known as "the bends"), due to working in compressed air in caissons. The occurrence of the disease in the caisson workers caused him to halt construction of the Manhattan side of the tower 30 feet (10 m) short of bedrock when soil tests underneath the caisson found bedrock to be even deeper than expected. Today, the Manhattan tower rests only on sand. Washington's wife, Emily Warren Roebling, became his aide, learning engineering and communicating his wishes to the on-site assistants. When the bridge opened, she was the first person to cross it. Washington Roebling rarely visited the site again.
At the time the bridge was built, the aerodynamics of bridge building had not been worked out. Bridges were not tested in wind tunnels until the 1950s — well after the collapse of the original Tacoma Narrows Bridge (Galloping Gertie) in 1940. It is therefore fortunate that the open truss structure supporting the deck is by its nature less subject to aerodynamic problems. Roebling designed a bridge and truss system that was six times as strong as he thought it needed to be. Because of this, the Brooklyn Bridge is still standing when many of the bridges built around the same time have vanished into history and been replaced. This is also in spite of the substitution of inferior quality wire in the cabling supplied by the contractor J. Lloyd Haigh — by the time it was discovered, it was too late to replace the cabling that had already been constructed. Roebling determined that the poorer wire would leave the bridge four rather than six times as strong as necessary, so it was eventually allowed to stand, with the addition of 250 cables. Diagonal cables were installed from the towers to the deck, intended to stiffen the bridge. They turned out to be unnecessary, but were kept for their distinctive beauty.

Image &

Last June when I was back East for my Yale College reunion, I at last rode a bike back and forth over the Brooklyn Bridge. That was the day after I had mistakenly walked over the Manhattan Bridge after meeting a friend in Brooklyn. I was confused by the signs and didn't realize until too late that I was on the wrong bridge. I couldn't go back because I was late for a lunch date with my friend Mary Ellen. Fortunately I found the entrance on the Manhattan side the following day and rented a bike.

Thursday, January 2, 2014


1492 – The Reconquista ended when the forces of Queen Isabella I of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon defeated the armies of Abu 'abd-Allah Muhammad XII of Granada, the last of the Moorish rulers.

The Reconquista (a Spanish and Portuguese word for "Reconquest"; Arabic: الاسترداد al-Istirdād, "Recapturing") was a period of 800 years in the Middle Ages during which several Christian kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula succeeded in retaking (and repopulating) the Iberian Peninsula from the Muslims. The Islamic conquest of the Christian Visigothic kingdom in the eighth century (begun 710–12) extended over almost the entire peninsula (except major parts of Galicia, the Asturias, Cantabria and the Basque Country). By the thirteenth century all that remained was the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada, to be conquered in 1492, bringing the entire peninsula under Christian leadership.

The Reconquista began immediately after the Islamic conquest and passed through major phases before its completion. The formation of the Kingdom of Asturias under Pelagius and the Battle of Covadonga in 722 were major formative events. Charlemagne (768–814) reconquered the western Pyrenees and Septimania and formed a Marca Hispanica to defend the border between Francia and the Muslims. After the advent of the Crusades, much of the ideology of Reconquista was subsumed within the wider context of Crusading. Even before the Crusades, however, soldiers from elsewhere in Europe had been travelling to Iberia to participate in the Reconquista as an act of Christian penitence.

Throughout this period the situation in Iberia was more nuanced and complicated than any ideology would allow. Christian and Muslim rulers commonly fought amongst themselves and interfaith alliances were not unusual. The fighting along the Christian-Muslim frontier was punctuated by periods of prolonged peace and truces. The Muslims did not cease attempting to reconquer their lost territories. Blurring the sides even further were mercenaries who simply fought for whomever paid more.

The Reconquista was essentially completed in 1238, when the only remaining Muslim state in Iberia, the Emirate of Granada, became a vassal of the Christian King of Castile. This arrangement lasted for 250 years until the Spanish launched the Granada War of 1492, which finally expelled all Muslim authority from Spain. The last Muslim ruler of Granada, Muhammad XII, better known as Boabdil, surrendered his kingdom to Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile, the Catholic Monarchs (los Reyes Católicos).

Image &

Titian in the Frari (Venezia)