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miner

The first wall of murals we see

Vriver

We have tea at our hotel, overlooking the Youghiogheny River

Connellsville, Italian Influence, and Murals

As I just wrote about, we stayed in Connellsville in southwestern Pennsylvania and used it as our base to visit the many wonderful sights around there—for example, Frank Lloyd Wright houses, the Laurel Highlands, the Flight 93 Memorial.

Connellsville is not very big but is an interesting city about 50 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on the Youghiogheny River (how do you pronounce that?!), a tributary of the Monongahela River. As we walked around we noticed some huge, lovely murals, notably on the Italian Independent Social Club Building, so we wondered what the story of these was.

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The river through our hotel window

Connellsville was founded as a township in 1793 and as a borough in 1806 by Zachariah Connell, a militia captain during the American revolution. It was in the mining and steel working area of the state and has had 5 railroads at various times, and still seems to have a busy railroad yard.

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During our stay, many many trains passed by on the busy railway line

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We walk around the building—the mural goes from the worker to a large group of Italians

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peoplestation

And then wraps round to a Connellsville station scene

Between 1880 and 1930 a flood of immigrants from Italy and other European countries arrived in Connellsville and vicinity, mainly to work in the coal, coke, steel and locomotive industries. Many of the Italian immigrants settled in the area that is now Connellsville and their Italian-American descendants continued to do so, which is why the area became known as “Little Italy”. In the Roman Catholic tradition, the neighborhood has a patron saint, Saint Rita of Cascia. Apparently the Italian influence continues to be strong here (as we saw in Ruvos Restaurant, which I’ll highlight in the next post).

ruvos

station

Amazingly realistic!

These are stunning murals that wrap around three sides of the building really tell a story, both of the Italians and of their lives, and the passenger train station.

 

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long walk

cell

Replica of Mandela’s cell on Robben Island

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Shebeen

Mandela exhibit

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (1918-2013), also known as Madiba

We were very recently in Cape Town Airport a couple of times and noticed that there is a rather nice pictorial exhibit, stretching along the upper wall, about Nelson Mandela and his life, work and achievements in the long passage way after you exit the international arrival hall. There’s also a replica of his cell on Robben Island, and one of a shebeen (local African bar) from the time before he went to prison.

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The cell, and a space for you to sit and think about this man

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Details in shebeen

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The collage/mural starts here and flows from right to left , roughly chronologically, as you head for the airport exit

There are many other pictures and information about other parts of the Cape and South Africa too—all very nicely done—but the Mandela one really caught our eyes. Why?

Many people, both in South Africa and around the world, regard Mandela as a great man and a wonderful human being. He wrote a couple of books that are well known, (for example, Long Walk to Freedom, Conversations with Myself, Dare Not Linger) and there are a number of books and movies about him, his life, and his legacy. He was the first truly democratically-elected leader in South Africa in 1994 and approached that role in a way that tried to calm some of the troubled waters there were South African politics at the time, even though he himself had suffered terribly under the previous regime—Apartheid, the Nationalist Party, his incarceration on Robben Island (for 18 of the 27 years he was imprisoned), etc.

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collage4We moved from South Africa before he was elected, but we visit as often as we can. It seems to us that lots of South Africans today miss Mandela and what he stood for, especially when compared to all the corruption that is rampant in politics these days. He was a decent man, who tried to do the best for his country, and he is honored around the country in many different ways—statues of him, squares and schools named after him, and even the UN Nelson Mandela International Day, on July 18 (his birthday) each year. On this day people honor Mandela through volunteering and community service. It started in 2009 in South Africa, on Mandela’s 91stbirthday, but was declared international by the UN in 2010, so he lived to see some of the ways that his values were appreciated. I, and I’m sure millions of others, am very glad about that.

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roykilt

Roy C in his kilt

piper

Every year we have a piper (but not in 2018)

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Wally M recites a poem by Robert Burns 

I have a lot of photos, so please scroll down and enjoy!

Celebrating the Life and Poetry of Robert Burns (25 January 1759-21 July 1796

No matter how far away you are from Scotland, you have a good chance of finding a Burns Supper. According to a Scottish friend, anywhere you find Scots people, you’ll find a Burns Supper, from all over the UK and as far away as Zambia. There is a strong tradition of Burns suppers in New Zealand, as Thomas Burns, Robbie Burns’ nephew, was a founding father there. Canada has many Burns Suppers too, for example in Bracebridge, ON. Many places in the USA will host a Burns supper.

Burns Supper in Urbana, Illinois

Here in Urbana, a group we belong to has its very own Burns Supper most years, which we’ve been lucky enough to attend a few times, including this year on the actual birthday, January 25. A lot of fun. The photos in this post are an amalgam of a couple of years.

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The celebration in Urbana

rod

Rod M recites a Burns poem

heatherWhat is all the fuss about and just what is this? A Burns Supper is a celebration of the life and poetry of Robert Burns, a famous Scottish poet and the national bard. His works are cherished, as his words and sentiments are timeless and cover universal feelings and truths. The dinners are usually held on, or close to, the poet’s birthday on January 25th, although the first one was held on January 29, 1802, as his friends mistakenly thought that was his birthday. His birthday is also often known as Robert Burns Day or Rabbie Burns Day.

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Haggis

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The piper pipes in the haggis

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Ann C prepares to cut the haggis

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Ann C cuts the haggis another year

These dinners may be formal or informal, but will all include  haggis. Haggis is a traditional Scottish dish that was celebrated by Burns in one of his poems, Address to a Haggis. All dinners also involve Scotch whisky and the reciting of some of Burns’ poems.

The more formal dinners are fun as they follow a set format, which gives us a good window into Scottish traditions. Our dinner was pretty formal, and gave us a better understanding of how revered Robbie Burns is to Scots people.

At the beginning guests mingle informally over snacks as a piper pipes them in. Some of the guests, and the hosts, wear different tartans, depending o the clan they, or their ancestors, came from. The hosts welcome everyone and the guests are seated with the reciting of the Selkirk Grace. This thanksgiving wasn’t written by Burns, but gained its name after Burns delivered it at a dinner hosted by the Earl of Selkirk.

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Cock O’Leeky soup

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Cutting the haggis

annhaggis

Proposing a toast to the haggis and to Burns

Then comes the Soup Course, usually Scotch Broth and/or Cock-a-Leekie, followed by the Haggis. The piper pipes in the haggis, carried in by the cook and after it’s placed on the table, someone recites the Address to a Haggis. At certain lines towards the end of the poem the speaker picks up a knife, sharpens it, and plunges it into the haggis—a highlight of the evening. All rather dramatic.

Someone proposes a Scotch whisky toast to the haggis and then dinner is served: haggis with tatties(mashed potatoes) and neeps(mashed rutabagas). There may also be smoked salmon and various salads. Dessert might becranachenor Tipsy Laird(whisky trifle), and oatcakes with various cheeses. All washed down with copious amounts of Scotch whisky and/or red wine.

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Cheese plate

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Steve L proposes a toast to the Lads

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Proposing a toast to the Lassies

There will be various speeches and toasts—to the Immortal Memory of Burns; To the Lads; To the Lassies—and perhaps singing of some Burns songs, and even dancing sometimes.

We had all this a few weekends ago, except for the piper, who was unfortunately unable to attend due to bad weather. However, other years that we went the piper was there and added a great vibe to the dinner. Thanks go to our hosts, who seated and entertained about 36 people. The tables were all beautifully decorated, with proper linen and glasses of purple heather, and the walls had pictures of Burns.

For more information about Robert Burns and Burns Night Suppers, check out these

steve

Another toast to the Lads

good web sites.

http://www.robertburns.org/suppers/itinerary.shtml

http://www.visitscotland.com/about/robert-burns/supper

 

 

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Embadger

A Bucky statue at the Henry Vilas Zoo, Madison, where there are real badgers

terracefierce

One of the Buckys on Parade, looking rather fierce

pieces signWe’ve recently returned from a 10-day trip to Madison, and Spring Green, Wisconsin. Partly for a conference for my husband and partly a short family break with some of our family from St Louis.

Wisconsin is known as the Badger State and the university mascot is a badger called Bucky. This year, from May 7-September 12, Madison and Dane Country are hosting a large public art display called Bucky on Parade.  Many life-sized Bucky badger fiber-glass statues, all individually designed and painted, are dotted around the city, and people (including us) are having fun tracking them down (more on the Bucky on Parade soon).

pieces

Pieces of Wisconsin Bucky at the Zoo

capitol

The State Capitol in Madison—note the gold statue atop the dome

Why badgers, and why Bucky?

The state’s nickname originally referred to lead miners who settled here in the early 1800s. The miners built temporary homes by digging caves into nearby hillsides. These caves came to be called “badger dens” and the miners were called “badgers”. Because the miners lived in these dens, they could work through the winters when others could not.

The nickname spread to include the people of Wisconsin, and then to the state itself. In 1957 the badger was adopted as the official state animal, partly because they admired its ferocity. The badger is also on the state coat-of-arms, and tops the helmet of Wisconsin, the name of the golden female figure on top of the dome of the State Capitol building in Madison.

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Wisconsin, the statue (try to see the badger on her helmet)

1st and 10

1st and 10 Bucky on State Street

The Story of Bucky

Bucky’s real name is Buckingham U. Badger. His story starts in the 1890s when the University of Wisconsin-Madison football team began using a live badger as their mascot. But the animal was too fierce to be used on the sidelines, so it was sent to the Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison.

In 1940, artist Art Evans drew a new mascot, but at that time it was variously called Benny, Buddy, Bernie, Bobby and Bouncey. Then in 1949 the Pep Committee had a contest to name the badger, and “Bucky”, or Buckingham U. Badger, was chosen. The winner was a student, Bill Sachse. That same year the first papier-mache head of a badger was created, another student wore the outfit, and an icon was born.

It’s a fun story, and the Bucky on Parade was a lot of fun for us too.

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Rod M and El Drago trunk

tree

El Drago

signEl Drago Milenario, the Dragon Tree

In Icod de los Vinos, Tenerife

This big old tree is advertised in all the guidebooks to Tenerife, so we decided we had to go and see it. It’s in a special park in Icod de los Vinos (Icod of the vines), a town not far along the coast from Garachico where we were staying. Parking is a huge problem as this is a big tourist attraction, and as I mentioned before there’s not a lot of parking space on the islands as there’s not a lot of flat land. So it’s best to follow the signs for the El Drago parking garage (not free).

square

Square Andes de Lorenzo-Caceres

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El Drago and other smaller dragon trees in the park

We paid 3 euros each to get into the park (senior rate). You can see the tree from a pretty town square next to the park, the Square Andres de Lorenzo-Caceres around the Church of San Marcos, begun in the 16thcentury. But it’s worthwhile going into the actual park and walking in it a bit: you get closer to the tree and see many other trees and plants in the park.

Why is this tree one of the biggest tourist attractions of the island?

The El Drago (Dracaena draco) is supposedly the oldest tree of its kind in the world (it looked like some kind of euphorbia to us) but the actual age is disputed: some claiming that it’s up to 1,000 years old, but most experts say that’s very unlikely. It’s not a hardwood tree so it’s amazing that it’s that old anyway. It’s also the largest D.draco tree alive, partly because of its massive trunk formed by clusters of aerial roots that grew from the bases of the lowest branches and grew down to the soil.

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A dragon tree with berries on Gran Canaria

 

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Municipal Park, Arucas, on Gran Canaria

The park has many other dragon trees, much smaller (some were especially planted to hopefully replace this old tree when it does finally die). Other parts of Tenerife, Gran Canaria and three of the other Canary Islands also have some these trees in various places, so they are emblematic of the islands. However, they are not as prolific as before and are actually on an endangered list in some places.

The Dragon Tree is one of the most unusual plants on the Canary Islands. These are actually sub-tropical tree-like plants that are native to the Canary Islands, Cape Verde, Madeira and a part of western Morocco. They are, interestingly, a member of the asparagus family Asparagaceae! It has branches on the top, in a kind of umbrella shape, that end in tufts of spikey leaves. As Wikipedia says, “When young it has a single stem. At about 10–15 years of age the stem stops growing and produces a first flower spike with white, lily-like perfumed flowers, followed by coral berries. Soon a crown of terminal buds appears and the plant starts branching. Each branch grows for about 10–15 years and re-branches, so a mature plant has an umbrella-like habit. It grows slowly, requiring about ten years to reach 1.2 metres (4ft) in height but can grow much faster.”

berries

In Arucas

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At Casa del Vino on Tenerife

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In Orotavo, Tenerife

Its red resin-like sap (known as “dragon’s blood”, el sange de drago) and its fruit were used in Roman times to make a medicinal powder, and it was used in pigments, paints and varnishes. The Guanches (original inhabitants of the Canaries) worshipped this tree and used the sap in their mummification process.

We were very happy that we visited this park to see this tree and learn something new about Nature. Around the islands we noticed many plaques, boards with emblems and/or names of places, and local flags that have the dragon tree on them in some form.

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Hotel San Roque in Garachico

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Crest on the square in Icod—with Guanches and the dragon tree

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Germ of an Idea or What goes Around Comes Around

As I wrote earlier, my husband and I chose to go on a special trip to the Canary Islands, the destination prompted by my memories of a trip taken with my grandmother many years ago.

Laspalmaswriting56

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My grandmother and I

As I wrote “The inspiration for this trip all started many years ago—to when I was an 8-year-old girl to be exact. At that time my grandmother took me from Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), to Cape Town by train and then by steamer ship to England, a trip that took 2 weeks. On the way there, and back, the steamer stopped in Las Palmas on the Canary Islands. I was fascinated by the new culture and the new language, Spanish. Recently I was writing up my grandmother’s memoirs, which reminded me of that time again. So, when my husband suggested we go somewhere special for a “big” birthday, the Canary Islands were top of my list.”

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One of the Union Castle Line ships in Cape Town harbor in the 1950s

Vgypsy

I was a gypsy in the costume parade

The steamer ships were part of the Royal Mail service, run by the Union Castle Line, delivering mail between England and southern Africa. As far as I remember, my grandmother and I went to England on the Stirling Castle and returned to Cape Town on the Pretoria Castle. We lived on each ship for 2 weeks and I can vaguely remember some special events, like kids’ activities and a film evening. The biggest event was the “Crossing the Line Ceremony”, when the steamer crossed the equator. It was like a festival, with a costume competition, a party, plenty of shaving cream sprayed around, and lots of champagne for the adults.

Here a few pictures from that trip, very evocative pictures that got us dreaming.

 

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viewto

On the first zig-zag on the road going to the right uphill, the statue is where the white umbrellas are at the roadside cafe

statueOn the edge of Garachico, on a bend in the road going up the hill out of town, we passed a small car park, with a viewpoint, roadside café and an intriguing statue. It’s called “Monument to Canarian Emigrants” and we wondered about its significance. It was erected in August 1990, and the sculptor is Fernando Garciarramos.

Well, it turns out this is a big part of the history of the islands.

One of the important stories about the Canary Islands is the history of migration out of the islands. Because the islands are a crossroads in the Atlantic, they soon developed a very important relation with the newly conquered territories across the Atlantic. Canarians, both of indigenous and European descent, were present on some of plaqueColumbus’ journeys.

The flow of people from the Canaries to the Americas was constant from the late 15th century to the middle of the 20th century. This was due mainly to the small size and poverty of the islands, and the lure of a better life. For example, in the early 1800s more than 18,000 Canary Islanders emigrated to the Americas. Most to Cuba, and fewer to Venezuela and Puerto Rico. There are also Canarian communities in Louisiana, Florida and Texas in the USA.

statue2Many Canarians in the Americans played important roles in the bid for independence from Spain in many of those countries. For example, leaders such as Francisco de Miranda (Venezuelan military leader) and Simón Bolívar were of Canarian ancestry, and the iconic leader of Cuban independence, José Martí, had a Canarian mother.

The last large migration of Canarians towards the Americas took place in the 1950s mainly to Venezuela. Since then, Canarians have started, for the first time, to migrate to Europe. Most settled in Spain, but a few small Canarian communities are in the UK, Germany and Sweden.

A small minority of Canarian emigrants and descendants have also returned to the Islands from the 1960s onwards. As living conditions worsened in Latin America and at the same time improved on the Islands with the boom of tourism, many American-born Canarian descendants applied for Spanish passports so they could return settle back in the land of their ancestors.

A really interesting part of the history of the islands, which is way more complex than we ever realized before coming here.

 

 

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