Thursday, August 6, 2020

Kizhi Island - an outdoor architecture museum

The Hagia Sophia post sparked Diane Henders' memory of a History of Architecture class she once took. That would be a most interesting class as it must have covered many of the architectural wonders of the world, of which several must have been in Russia and Ukraine.

I have visited two outdoor museums of historical architecture in Ukraine, the Pyrohiv Museum of Folk Architecture and Life of Ukraine near Kyiv, and the Pereyaslav National Historic-Ethnographic Reserve at Pereyaslav Khmelnitsky. These are easily visited from Kyiv and need at least a very long day to see everything. 

Click to enlarge
One outdoor museum I would live to visit that is NOT easily accessible is Kizhi Island 6 km by 1 km, in the middle of Lake Onega in Karelia. One travels by plane or train to Petrozavodsk a city of 260,000 on the shore of Lake Onega, which is worth a visit all on its own. From there a hydrofoil takes you 68 km to Kizhi Island, the home of more than 80 historical wooden structures.

The island was settled since at least the 1400s but only one small settlement remains. In the 18th century two large churches and a bell tower were built. They are now known as Kizhi Pogost and are a UNESCO Heritage site.

In the 1950s many wooden structures from Karelia were moved to the Island for preservation. Someday, I should like to visit.

Kizhi churches.jpg
Kizhi Island churches

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Kizhi Island Settlement

Kizhi 06-2017 img12 StMichael Chapel.jpg
Chapel of the Archangel Michael

Sunday, July 26, 2020

The Hagia Sophia - Cathedral, Mosque, Museum, Mosque

The Hagia Sophia is in the news again as Friday prayers were held there for the first time since Kemal Ataturk turned it into a museum in 1935. Erdogan is playing to his base of strident nationalists and pious Muslims by making this move which is unpopular at least in all Christendom.

Erdogan misrepresents history of Hagia Sophia

Turkey says it will not touch anything but simply cover the Christian stuff during prayers. Which is better than the Turks did in 1453, when Mehmed II aka Mehmed the Conqueror, captured Constantinople, changed the name to Istanbul, and ended the Byzantine Empire once and for all. The Cathedral had no meaning to them but just to show who was now in charge they promptly built 4 minarets, one on each corner, and destroyed or plastered over anything remotely "Christian" looking.

My pictures from 1999 turned out to be of the Blue Mosque which I also visited, so I am borrowing a couple from Wikipedia. I did not take enough pictures that day.
By Arild VĂ¥gen - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
Christophe Meneboeuf - Own work The full series about Istanbul: Photos of Istanbul More of my work on my photoblog:
The Hagia Sophia was build in 537 by Emperor Justinian I as the Echumenical Patrirchal Cathedral of Constantinople (along with Rome, Jerusalem, Antioch and Alexandria). After the Great Schism of 1054, Christianity was divided into Catholic under rome and Orthodox under the Patriarchs of which Constantinople was the greatest.

Constantinople was not easy to capture. The Crusaders captured the city in 1204, looted and destroyed it to some extent. The Byzantines recaptured it 60 years later. The urks tried several times to take the city so it was a matter of pride to eventually capture it. They were not kind to the defenders and massacred a great many of the inhabitants. Once the dust and blood settled, the surviving clergy fled to Moscow which now considers itself the Third Rome and the intelligentsia fled to Venice, providing a major boost to the Renaissance.

For anyone interested in the decline of the Byzantium Empire and the fall of Constantinople, I suggest reading Roger Crowley's 1453: the holy war for Constantinople and the clash of Isma and the West.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Why have masks become the hill to die on?

The government regulates many activities for the common good. Usually after a certain amount of fuss and resistance they are generally accepted by all but a few hard heads. Seat belts, helmets for bicycles, motorcycles and scooters, signal lights, stop signs and stop lights, smoke alarms, and the list goes on. So why the visceral refusal to wear masks? Even in the 1918 Flu epidemic.

My own hypothesis is this: The regulations that are accepted more or less protect not only you but me also. So I have a vested interest in following them. Masks have been sold from the onset as protecting the other person from you but not necessarily protecting you. There is a certain type of personality that sees no reason to inconvenience themselves in the slightest to provide a benefit only to someone else.

Instead of raging against the pandemic, they rage against "tyranny".

I suspect that the resistance to gun-control is much the same. Why should I "give up" my guns just to save someone's kids from being killed in a school?

Monday, July 6, 2020

Topsoil, rainfall and the magic of water

Two pictures showed up on my FB news feed this past week. One is this meme which has been around several times and which as a farm boy, still at heart, I have to agree with. The depth of the topsoil may vary as does the rainfall but without them we could not grow food. Agriculture and livestock production are merely the harnessing of these along with capturing sunlight to produce crops, meat and milk.

The other picture that caught my eye was this one of a swimmer just before breaking the surface tension of water. I found a couple more to go with it. Water is an amazing substance.  It is the stuff of life itself (without water you can't make coffee or whiskey but I digress). It was considered one of the four elements: Earth, Fire, Air, and Water.

The properties of water were covered in highschool and again in Chemistry 101 but after 55 years, I had to look it up again. Encyclopaedia Britannica to the rescue ( Water (H2O) has an atomic weight of 18 and ought to be a gas with a boiling point of -100C. However hydrogen bonding gives water in all phases some very unique properties.

Ice floats on water, it does not sink, which is different from other solids which sink as the liquid turns solid. That means life is sustained beneath the ice in rivers, ponds and lakes that do not freeze to the bottom.

Water is as close to the universal solvent as one is likely to find.
In addition, the hundreds of chemical reactions that occur every instant to keep organisms alive all take place in aqueous fluids. Also, the ability of foods to be flavoured as they are cooked is made possible by the solubility in water of such substances as sugar and salt. Although the solubility of substances in water is an extremely complex process, the interaction between the polar water molecules and the solute (i.e., the substance being dissolved) plays a major role. When an ionic solid dissolves in water, the positive ends of the water molecules are attracted to the anions, while their negative ends are attracted to the cations. This process is called hydration. The hydration of its ions tends to cause a salt to break apart (dissolve) in the water. In the dissolving process the strong forces present between the positive and negative ions of the solid are replaced by strong water-ion interactions.

At high temperature and pressure, "supercritical" water will dissolve non-polar substances such as toxic wastes so they can be destroyed safely.

Far all chemistry nerds reading this, the Britannica article is not very long and well illustrated. For the rest, raise a glass of water and toast the magic of covalent bonding on which life as we know it depends.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Learning to Negotiate

Some people are born negotiators. My friend and mentor, the late Tim Marshall, was the best negotiator I ever met. He loved every minute of it and had both charm and patience to carry it off. We were in Beijing in the 90s when he decided to go to the area of the city that had antique shops to look for opium pipes and cricket cages which he collected. He soon found what he wanted in a tiny shop and the young woman who spoke good English gave him a price. It was insanely high. That was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. I got bored and left but in an hour and a half Tim owned the antiques for the price he wanted to pay and a friend for life.

I am not a negotiator. If I consider a price reasonable and fair to both sides, I will take it. If not I will walk away. Whether I am buying or selling, the first offer is the final offer. Obviously this does not get one far in the real world, so I was sent to a Public Service Commission course on negotiation many years ago. All I remember is that one needed to get to win-win.

We had several chances to practice with set piece situations. The one that sticks in my mind went like this. Each person was given a piece of paper outlining the situation. We were paired with the person sitting beside us. A rare plant had been discovered in the high Andes with properties that indicated it could complete your companies quest for a cure for Alzheimer's. The company needs the ashes from burning 1 kg. You are flying to Lima to buy the only kg in existence. On the plane you are seated next to someone who turns out to be a competitor for the plant. Their company needs it to complete a cure for Lou Gehrig's Disease.  How do you negotiate with this person since there is only 1 kg available?

The person you are paired with has the same instructions BUT their company needs the smoke from burning the 1 kg of rare plant. Once you negotiate enough to find out that the needs are compatible, problem solved.

One of the participants in the course, sitting several seats down from me was a very attractive young woman in her late 20s who worked in PR for one of the Crowns, possibly SaskTel. When the instructor gave the signal to start negotiating, she smiled sweetly at her partner and began unbuttoning her blouse.

That pretty much destroyed the rest of the class.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Remembering the Farm: Good things about my Dad

Dad and I maybe 25 years ago

People often write loving tributes to their fathers on Facebook. I have never done that as I would feel like a hypocrite if I did. I have envied sons who farmed in partnership with their fathers eventually taking over the operation. It was certainly not for me. So many people have said good things about my father from their perspective.  They were not wrong but they were not me and they did not view his marriage and family life firsthand. But he was not all bad and I have tried to write about some of the good things he did as a father from my perspective, in no particular order and certainly not inclusive. I have this saved and will add to it as more things come to mind.

When Ross was a baby, I would have been about 3 or 4. Kaufman’s General Store had a baby doll on sale with a bottle and flow through tube so when you fed it, the doll needed changing. I’d seen Mom, looking after my baby brother so I asked Dad if I could have a doll. He said, “Of course”. The salesclerk said, “Dolls are for girls”. And Dad said, “No, boys need to learn how to look after babies, too.” I never forgot that.

Dad taught me how to play checkers. We had a round metal box with checkers on one side and Chinese checkers on the other that held the checkers and the marbles. I don’t know how old I was but likely around 10 when we started playing. Dad understood I didn’t need to ‘win’, I wanted to beat him, and he played to kill. I do not know how many games we played over three years, likely well over a thousand before I finally beat him. Dad could not get over how he would beat me time after time after time and I kept coming back for more. It took a while before I beat him the second time. Eventually we were about equally matched. The paint is worn off the board, but it is still around the old house, I think.

We were brought up very “small p” Presbyterian with all the usual DO NOTs, card playing, drinking, smoking, dancing etc. Consequently, until highschool, most of my friends were cousins. There was some question with some of my relatives, as to whether it was proper for kids to play on Sunday. Dad would have none of that. He said we worked all week at school or at chores and deserved time to have fun. There was a one acre patch of native prairie, known as ‘Across the Road’ because it was on the other side of the highway/grid from the farm site. That was our main summertime play area.

I was bullied all through elementary school at Cavell. It was a family thing. The father and uncle of the two bullies bullied my father and their grandfather fought with my grandfather on the school board. By grade three I was in bad shape and dad tried to teach me to fight back. He was no fighter, but he rigged a punching bag full of hay with a nose filled with grain and encouraged me to hit it hard and often. Sad to say, it did not work. I was too much of a coward to fight but he tried, and I give him credit.

In Saskatchewan you have to go down before you can go up, the saying goes. Our second cousins, two miles down the road had a coulee running just east of their yard, step enough to go tobogganing. Dad would often drive Ross and I over on a Sunday afternoon, when he would rather sleep than visit, so we could go tobogganing with Bryan and Barry. We would have been around 8 to 12 years old I guess.

Dad was very patient when teaching how to do something, as long as you were trying and did not argue. Both Oliver tractors, the 77 and the 88 were gasoline powered and gravity feed to the carburetor from the fuel tank. Water in the gas was a constant problem as our fuel was stored in 45 gallon drums and rain was bound to get in sometimes if the caps were not tight enough. Dad taught me how to remove, clean and replace the sediment bowl and set the needle valve so the tractor would run right. No idea how often he showed me, but it eventually sank in I guess, and I was able to do it myself if the tractor gave trouble in the field.

There was a slough about 3/8 mile away in the pasture with poplars and willows around it and sometimes even water in it. Grandparents Johnson had given Ross and I for Christmas a 6x6x6 teepee tent with a centre pole and four corner pegs. We would take the tent and go “camping” to this slough quite often when we were in elementary school. We asked dad to build a tree house for us, so we got some poplar poles which he nailed between four trees and we made a floor from other poplars. Making it was more fun than using it as it turned out because the floor was too rough to sit or lie on, but we used it to play pirate ship and other games.

Cattle were part of our farm from my earliest years. Our handling facilities were not quite the proverbial post in the middle of a barren quarter section but not a whole lot better. Building better facilities according to recognized cattle handling psychology was not going to happen. One had to learn to “think cow” if one were to persuade cattle to go into the barn or a pen. I learned to “think cow” from Dad, where to stand, how close to get, when to move where, to get an animal to move where you wanted it. I was never afraid of cattle (other than one B&W cow who hated children and skirts) because I knew what they were going to do.

We were poor; until dad started driving school bus, we were dirt poor. How poor I never knew or never noticed really. Our city relatives were much better off but that never bothered me. It is how things were. Dad did what he could with what little he had. Our allowance was 10 cents per week. But dad made sure we had money for Christmas. He would give Ross and I half a pig each to pay us for doing chores. Then when we planted miles of shelterbelt, he gave us the money that the RM paid us to hoe them.

Horses were also part of our farm life, from when dad farmed with horses when I was a small child. After he bought a tractor, he kept one team of draft sorrels, Victor and Kitten. They were young and not good with kids. Victor died when I was in Grade 4 and Kitten was no good without him, so she was sold. We got Bob and Bell, an old mismatched draft team from Mike Kump, which we drove or rode to school and used as a chore team around the yard. Dad knew I wanted a real horse, like any young wannabe cowboy. He bought a team of full sisters, Standardbred crossed with American Saddle Horse from Jud Robinson. They were one and two years old and we named them Jet and Star. When they were two and three, dad broke them to harness by driving them on the jumper sleigh in deep snow so they could not get too fancy ideas about running. He asked Bob Graham to loan me his saddle and helped me get the horses used to the saddle and then ridden, again in deep snow. Eventually I bought my own saddle and then two of us could go riding (Usually my cousin Lorne Dale and I). All through highschool I was so happy because I had a real horse to ride.

Leipzig Coop had a genuine Stockman’s jackknife which I diligently saved for. I’d had enough of cheap ones. This one was over $10. I bought it in October and that evening we dug and topped turnips. Dad had warned me if I cut myself with it, I would lose it for a month. So of course, while slicing the tops off turnips I gashed my hand. Dad felt bad because I had been using it on ‘family business’, so he put it on the windowsill and told me I just had to ask to use it. But I never cut myself again either.

Before we got big enough to be useful working on summer holidays, Ross and I would spend a week at cousins on Dad’s side (Lorne and I were the same age) or on Mom’s side (Joyce and I were the same age). Sometimes a week at each. Those were pretty much the highlights of our summers and we appreciated the time away from the farm, leaving Mom in the garden and Dad to do chores. There was still 6 weeks to weed gardens and do chores. Eventually though we had tree rows to hoe and summerfallow to work.

We milked several cows and shipped cream before dad started driving the school bus but for some years after we still had a milk cow. We would help milk in the evening or when it was just the one cow, do the milking.  Dad always did the morning milking and let us sleep in.

Dad has been gone 18 years next week. What I miss is his historical knowledge of our community when he was young and when I was small. There is really no one left now to ask. As a father Dad did the best he knew how. He carried a great deal of baggage from his father that accounted for so many things. I carried some baggage from my father, but at least I knew it and hoped I did better though certainly not always.

Happy Fathers’ Day, Dad. I love you, and I forgive you.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Tanya's Flowers are Blooming

These pictures I took this morning. The rain and heat have brought the roses and everything else too.