Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Franklin Expedition

The Erebus and the Terror
Sir John Franklin
 The last great expedition to search for the Northwest Passage came to a bitter end. According to Slate:
For hundreds of years, the British Admiralty had been dispatching expeditions to search for a geographic chimera, the Northwest Passage linking Europe and the Pacific by a navigable route over the top of North America. Some voyages were more successful than others, but none was able to push through hundreds of square miles of pack ice from Baffin Bay to the Bering Strait. Despite having almost nothing to show for the expeditions except nautical charts revealing where the Northwest Passage was not, the Admiralty kept the dream alive. Claiming the Northwest Passage became a matter of national pride for Victorian England.
In 1845, the Admiralty outfitted its most sophisticated expedition to date. It chose naval officer Sir John Franklin to command the voyage, even though some criticized Franklin’s age (59) and physical fitness (lacking). The ships HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, freshly returned from a four-year mission to Antarctica, had proven their ice-worthiness. They were fitted with locomotive steam engines and screw propellers to breeze across open water. Every modern technology was provided for the expedition’s crew of 134: a library of at least 1,200 books, a daguerreotype camera, one mechanical hand-organ per ship, three years’ worth of canned food (a recent invention), steam-heating systems to keep both vessels toasty, and even a pet monkey.

Their mission: Chart the last unexplored area of the Canadian archipelago for a likely route to the Bering Strait. They were to voyage via Lancaster Sound and Barrow Strait, filling in the final blank space on the Arctic map. What could possibly go wrong?

After leaving London, Franklin’s party stopped at a Greenland whaling post to collect supplies and discharge five sick crew members before heading into Baffin Bay. Two passing whalers hailed them on July 26, 1845. Then the Erebus and Terror vanished.

It wasn’t uncommon for Arctic voyages to last two or three years without communication home, but by 1847, the Admiralty was getting worried. The government sent a series of search-and-rescue operations, but no trace of the Franklin expedition was found until 1854. That’s when the world learned the horrifying truth. (Read more.)
From The National Post:
The two ships of the Franklin Expedition and their crews disappeared during an 1845 quest for the Northwest Passage.

They were the subject of many searches throughout the 19th century, but the mystery of exactly what happened to Franklin and his men has never been solved.

The expedition has been the subject of songs, poems and novels ever since.

“We’ve got half the story here,” said John Geiger, president of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society.
“It’s very exciting. It’s a big break.”

Since 2008, Parks Canada has led six major searches for the lost Franklin ships. Four vessels — the Canadian Coast Guard ship Sir Wilfrid Laurier, the Royal Canadian Navy’s HMCS Kingston and vessels from the Arctic Research Foundation and the One Ocean Expedition — led the search this summer. (Read more.)
From The Guardian:
It remains one of the greatest mysteries of polar exploration. In 1845, a well-provisioned Royal Navy expedition commanded by Sir John Franklin embarked to find the North-West Passage between the North Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. A total of 129 officers and men set sail on Franklin's two ships, the Erebus and Terror. None returned.

The disaster was the greatest single loss of life inflicted upon any polar expedition. Only a few scattered remains – papers and bones – have since been found of Franklin's men on north Canada's frozen islands. These testify that at some point, some crewmen resorted to cannibalism in a bid to survive, a revelation that horrified Victorian Britain. As Andrew Lambert states in his biography, Franklin: Tragic Hero of Polar Navigation, the story is "a unique, unquiet compound of mystery, horror and magic".

In the intervening years, there have been many attempts to explain why Franklin's well-provisioned expedition failed, with one recent idea finding particular popularity. According to Owen Beattie and John Geiger, in their book Frozen in Time: The Fate of the Franklin Expedition, analyses of the skeletons of three Franklin crew members, whose graves were found on Beechey Island in northern Canada, showed they had suffered from severe lead poisoning that would have had "catastrophic" consequences for themselves and for their fellow crewmen.

Lead poisoning causes abdominal pain, confusion, headache, anaemia and, in severe cases, seizures, coma and death. And, according to Beattie and Geiger, it could be traced to their ships' canned food. (The expedition carried provisions for three years.) Poorly soldered, the authors argued, the tins' food contents would have been contaminated with lead and would have poisoned the crewmen, an idea that has since achieved widespread acceptance.

Not every scientist agrees, however, and several studies have since argued that the support for the idea is poor, culminating in a paper, written by Keith Millar, Adrian Bowman and William Battersby, that is published in the current issue of the journal Polar Record. It argues that the evidence for widespread lead poisoning in the crew is questionable. "We looked at two key pieces of evidence," says Millar, of the Institute of Health and Wellbeing at Glasgow University. "The analyses of the bones of the three crew men – John Torrington, John Hartnell and William Braine – who died in 1846 and who were buried on Beechey Island and a statistical study of how lead might have affected the entire crew." Beattie and Geiger found very high levels of lead in the body of Torrington, a stoker on the expedition: 226 parts per million (ppm), which was 10 times higher than samples taken from Inuit skeletons found in the area. The discovery formed a key part of Beattie and Geiger's theory.

But as Millar points out, high levels of lead were common in men and women in Victorian times. "Drinking water and food were often contaminated and some medicines also contained lead. The lead found in the men's bones could easily have been acquired at home. More to the point, there was wide variation in lead levels between the three men. It is not at all clear that it killed them, certainly not all of them"

A similar analysis of seven other skeletons of men from the Franklin expedition who died a couple of years later also found wide variations in lead in their bones. In some cases, these were well above standards that are now considered safe. Others were not, however. "There is not enough evidence to support the idea the Franklin expedition was solely wiped out by lead-contaminated food," adds Millar.

As to the real cause of the loss of the expedition, that remains open to speculation. "However, it was probably ice, not lead, that killed them," he argues. Extreme cold trapped the expedition for two winters near King William Island in northern Canada. "By the following year, provisions would have been running short.

By then, Franklin and 23 others had died. We don't know why. The surviving men had no option but to desert the ships and trek south to the mainland. But they were ill-equipped, and probably in poor health, so escape was beyond them. Their plight was desperate and all died in the attempt." (Read more.) 
Death of Sir John Franklin
More HERE.

Here is the first underwater video of one of Franklin's lost ships.

"Man Proposes, God Disposes" by Edwin Henry Landseer
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Rizzoli to Reopen

From the Wall Street Journal:
The new store will be at 1133 Broadway—that's between 25th and 26th streets—on the ground floor of the St. James Building, an 1896 Beaux-Arts structure. Rizzoli executives looked at more than 150 locations, including Brooklyn, whittled the list down to six, and then to two before choosing the space in the Nomad neighborhood. They also used focus groups to identify the best location for a high-end destination bookstore in the city. Indeed, one executive—for some reason, apparently steeped in Italian corporate tradition, he declined to be quoted by name—went on for several minutes about the delights of the area. He provided a virtual walking tour to bolster the company's belief that this is a part of town as receptive to books as Fifth Avenue was when Angelo Rizzoli opened his original shop in 1964 at Fifth Avenue and 55th Street.

At that time, Rizzoli joined as many as a half-dozen other bookstores on the avenue. The shop moved to 57th Street in 1985. The executive mentioned the nearby Nomad and Ace boutique hotels, as well as Madison Square Park; and he seemed to attribute almost talismanic importance to the fact that Rizzoli will be only two blocks from an institution that has successfully managed to bottle the essence of Italy, or at least a supercharged, Americanized version of it—Eataly, the destination food store, espresso bar and multiple dining establishment. He also cited the trend of artists, galleries and bookstores moving into an area, making it desirable, boosting real-estate prices and eventually becoming victims of their own success. Apparently the hope is that Rizzoli will add a touch of class to this stretch of Broadway, which—despite its good bones—also has its share of tacky storefronts. 

Rizzoli's 57th Street store covered three slightly cramped floors. But that was part of its charm. It was as if you were entering Henry Higgins's private library. Simply by setting foot in the emporium you felt patted on the back for your erudition and good taste. The new store will be approximately the same size—5,000 square feet—but on a single level. (Read more.)
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Friday, September 19, 2014

The Real Mary Queen of Scots

From Aleteia:
The image of Mary which comes down to us through the biased lens of Protestant history is a classic case of ‘blaming the victim.’ The Whig historians of the British Empire depicted her as weak-willed and excessively romantic – so hopeless, in fact, that she ‘deserved’ her fate.

The real Mary Stuart, however, appears to unbiased eyes as guileless and forthright, clearly possessed of intelligence and character sufficient to survive a life rife with calamity – and still to keep her wits and charm about her.

Daughter of King James V of Scotland and Mary of Guise of France, Mary Stuart became Queen of Scotland at her father’s death. She was six days old. What followed were certainly her happiest years – her youth spent in the French court, educated by devoted French religious.

She was then married to the sickly Francis, son of Henry II and Catherine de Medici, whom she treated with kindness. His death two years later followed that of her own mother; she was eighteen years old.

Grieving her losses, Mary nevertheless stalwartly acknowledged her royal obligations, and left her merry France for dismal Scotland. It was a country engulfed in religious turmoil, with significant political opposition entrenched against her. The stern Puritans who followed John Knox made much of her elegant French wardrobe; she was said to have arrived with more than 20 lavish black gowns, the height of French fashion.

Regardless of their politics, however, the Scots were inevitably struck by Mary’s beauty, charm, sweetness of character and gentleness of spirit. An eyewitness relates that “In one of the … processions Mary was moving along with the rest, through a crowd of spectators, and the light from her torch fell upon her features and upon her hair in such a manner as to make her appear more beautiful than usual. A woman, standing there, pressed up nearer to her to view her more closely, and, seeing how beautiful she was, asked her if she was not an ‘angel’.”

Wishing to avoid further discord and bloodshed, Mary allowed the Scots their religious freedom.
(Read more.)
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The Strange Death of Richard the Lionhearted

From Nancy Bilyeau:
In the legends of Robin Hood, Richard is a benevolent ruler, who after being freed forgives his brother John and returns to the task of governing England. But Richard had little interest in England his whole life–he is rumored to have said, “If I could have found a buyer, I would have sold London itself”–and was passionate about going on Crusades or fighting for more French territory than he already possessed as the ruler of the Aquitaine.

Richard decided what he needed was an impregnable castle from which to defend Normandy and then retake critical French land. The vast one that he built required two years of punishing around-the-clock labor and cost an estimated £20,000, more than had been spent on any English castle in the last decade. Legend has it that while building the Chateau-Gaillard, Richard and his men were drenched with “rain of blood,” but he refused to take it as an evil omen. (Read more.)
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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Caroline and Her Son

The widowed Duchesse de Berry with her son Henri, the Duc de Bordeaux. Via Vive la Reine. Their country home Rosny is in the background. Share

The Cradle of Civilization

It is ironic that the most fierce persecution of Christians is occurring in the very place where civilization began, where Abraham was first called by God, and where some of the earliest Christian communities were founded by the Apostles Simon and Jude. From Aleteia:
The human toll, of course, is the most important concern: the killing of innocent people, the rape and enslavement of women, the brutal uprooting of a population whose ancestors have lived there for untold generations.

But the story of civilization that is recorded in everything from stone tablets and sculptures of winged lions to ancient monasteries and languages is also very much at risk as the Islamic State tries to establish a caliphate in Syria and Iraq.

Already, the world has witnessed the blowing up of the Tomb of Jonah, a mosque where it was thought the prophet who had preached to the Ninevites and had spent time in the belly of a great fish was buried. Now, it’s thought, priceless archaeological artifacts may be sold off, further bankrolling an already well-off jihad.


An Amnesty International report this week detailed what it calls ethnic cleansing in Iraq. Besides killing Christians, Yazidis and other religious minorities, the Islamic State is forcing those minorities to leave their homelands and apparently trying to make sure there is no trace of them. (Read more.)
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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Almost French

For anyone looking for light reading about Paris, I highly recommend Sarah Turnbull's amusing memoir, Almost French. Sarah, an Australian native, meets a  Frenchman in Romania and decides to accept his invitation to visit him in Paris. While I do not recommend moving in with a perfect stranger in a foreign country, I do find Sarah's observations about French culture to be insightful. I am relieved that Americans are not the only ones who meet with obstacles in Paris while interacting with the citizens. The book also reminds me of all the things I love about Gallic culture.

Many of Ms. Turnbull's sources of angst with the French are the very reasons I have always felt so comfortable there. The French dress-up when they go out! To quote:
One of the consequences of the pervasive beauty in Paris is that it makes leaving your front door feel like you're stepping onto a stage. It calls for dressing up. Just like actors in a play, the pressure is on those who live here to look the part....In France, vanity is not a vice. Rigorous self-maintenance  is imbued from birth—it's a mark of self-pride....Sloppiness in appearance is considered a fatal disease....The essence of French style can be summed up in two words, which linked together are loaded with meaning: bon goût: Good taste. The concept has far more to do with the dazzling court of Versailles than this season's trends. It emerged during the seventeenth century, when Louis XIV built a culture of beauty, etiquette, and elegance that still dictates almost every detail of French life, from the exquisitely decorated Paris shop windows to l'art de la table. (pp. 128, 129, 130, 132-133)
At social gatherings, after many embarrassing mishaps, the author comes to realize the following:
In a country where discretion is a highly valued virtue, asking personal questions—including what someone does for a living and whether they have children—may be considered inappropriate and sometimes rude. Even at dinners with good friends, the conversation remains remarkably impersonal. And if a one-on-one chat does veer into private territory, it often has an abstract quality. This can be both liberating and limiting. While it allows much to be said without revealing too much about yourself, it also precludes the sort of open, intimate exchanges that, in my culture at least, help form close friendships. (p. 266)
The descriptions of villages, restaurants, and Parisian scenes are delightfully vivid, as is the emotional journey made by the author into the French way of seeing the world. Ms. Turnbull learns that it is better when in France to "buy less, pay more," that is, better to have fewer good quality clothes than lots of cheap ones. (p. 134) She also is confounded by how the role of women in France differs from their role in the Anglo-Saxon world, saying: "...If French women haven't fought for their rights, it's because they have traditionally been treated with respect. If women haven't shown anger toward men, it's because in [France] there is no simmering male anger toward women either." (p. 174) She comes to appreciate haute couture as being "about history and tradition, passion and beauty, art and inspiration—everything that makes France a measure of civilized life." (p.202) I enjoyed accompanying Sarah on her odyssey and feel I have a little more understanding about a country and a culture which I have long loved. Share

The Death of America's Suburban Dream

From The Guardian:
This pattern of “white flight” to the suburbs was characteristic of American metro areas until the 1970s and 1980s, when newer suburbs – bigger, more spacious, more contemporary – began stealing residents away from the older inner-ring suburbs. And by the 1990s, more minorities were beginning to follow the same aspirational path as the former white city dwellers before them. Just as previous generations did, minorities sought larger homes, quieter environments and better schools. And white residents who craved insulation from the perils of urban living now saw it coming to their front lawns – again.

The recent events in Ferguson, Missouri have brought this tension into sharp focus. Ferguson, an inner-ring suburb about 10 miles northwest of St Louis, was a city in transition long before officer Darren Wilson shot the unarmed black teenager Michael Brown. In 1990, three-quarters of Ferguson’s 22,000 residents were white; just 20 years later, by 2010, nearly three-quarters of them were black. These two groups of Fergusonians share little in common. In 2012, the median age of white residents in Ferguson was nearly 49; for black residents, it was only 29. The median household income of whites was nearly $52,000; for blacks, less than $30,000. The story of Ferguson is truly a tale of two suburbs. (Read more.)
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