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Ruvos stretches out to the back of the building

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entranceRuvos Italian Restaurant

As I recently 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 on the Youghiogheny River (how do you pronounce that?!), with a couple of good places to eat or stop for a drink or cup of coffee. One is Hutch, which I wrote about before. Another is Ruvos, which serves good food and highlights the strong Italian influence around here (see an earlier post).

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Vera G enjoying the dishes

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Note all the posters and photos

We could walk to Ruvos from our hotel, so we decided to do that one evening. It offers a large menu, but we discovered is not licensed. However, you can BYOB, so Rod walked back to the hotel and brought a bottle of wine. This is not a big restaurant inside, although there is a large seating area outside, unused that night as it was raining heavily.

The décor is Italian-inspired, with posters—notably of Frank Sinatra in Italy—and photos, many of the owner’s family in Italy. One of the young servers told us he was the owner’s nephew and we heard a little of the Italian history of the family.

So, it came as no surprise that the menu offered all kinds of typical (in our opinion) Italian-style dishes. We chose a number of different ones to share between the three of us, as that way we could get a taste of more. Good plan.

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foodThe food was pretty good, the service excellent and the ambience very nice. If we are ever in Connellsville again we would definitely return.

 

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The stuff that legends (and dreams) are made of.

People are always fascinated by true stories of animals, as we can see from varous books and movies on the feats of animals. On our travels we’ve come across a few of these kinds of stories. Two that stood out were about the Hoover Dam dog, in Nevada USA, and Greyfriars Bobby in Edinburgh, Scotland.

First, here’s the story of the Hoover Dam dog.

100_0353Hoover Dam, built 1931-1936, about 30 miles SW of Las Vegas, is still an engineering wonder. It is one of the largest dams in the world—726 feet high, 1244 feet long on the crest—and Lake Mead is the largest man-made reservoir in the USA. Building this dam was a long and daunting task.

When we visited the dam, we saw a plaque with a dog on it in the canyon wall, just across from the escalator leading to the Visitor Center at the dam site.  We wondered about the plaque, so I did a bit of checking to find out more.

Well…Take one little dog.

Add a bunch of hardened construction workers. Mix in long, tough working hours in a hot river gorge, with the dog running around every day, and the scene is set.

The story has persisted and over the years has added to the mystique of Hoover Dam. Man is fascinated by the awesome achievement of this dam, and the story of the dog adds a human element.

The story goes like this…A dog of unknown origins was born, with black fur and big paws. A construction worker found him, when hardly weaned, and put him in his transport truck, which took workers from Boulder City to the dam site and back each day. After that, he became the dam’s dog. Everyday he rode the transports with the men, and scampered around the site at will. As the construction got higher, he also rode the skips,  sort-of open-air elevators to get to higher levels. In addition, he learned to race very happily and easily on catwalks swinging 700 feet above the river. The men were amazed as most animals cannot learn to do this.

The dog ran all over the site, and belonged to all the men. If he missed the regular

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Indeed an engineering marvel

transports for a ride back to Boulder City after a hard day at the dam site, he never hitched a ride on a truck that wasn’t associated with the dam construction. Nobody could quite work out how he knew which trucks to flag (bark) down!

Everyone wanted to feed him, and of course, being a dog, he accepted. But then he got sick, and the workers were very worried. They made a plan with the commissary for the dam construction at Boulder City; that the commissary would pack a lunch for the dog too, and they put up signs that no-one was to feed the dog in between meals. So, every day the commissary also packed a lunch sack for the dog, which he carried in his mouth when he boarded the transports in the morning. At the construction site, he put his sack with the workers’ lunch pails. When the lunch whistle blew, he raced to eat with the workers, waiting patiently for one of the men to open his sack.

P7300147.JPGMost of the workers gave a few dollars to the commissary, to help pay for the dog’s food. The money also helped pay for his license and collars. There’s a story that once a man, who wasn’t a construction worker, kicked the dog. The workers attacked the man so badly that the dam police had to be called. Supposedly, when the police chief arrived on the scene he stopped the attack because it was his duty, but he said that he wished he could finish the job!

One extremely hot day the dog lay down under a transport for some shade. The driver didn’t know, and later just drove off. News of the dog’s death had a very sobering effect on all the men, and many wept openly, especially as they carved out his grave in the solid rock.

Life on that dam construction site was very difficult, and the dog had probably given the men something more light-hearted to think about.

Quite a story!

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View of fort and park from entrance

 

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The fort has many canons of varying ages

We’ve had so much other wonderful travel this year that I never did get round to finishing the story of Fort McHenry in Baltimore. It is an interesting story and we did enjoy our morning visiting the fort in the summer. So, to rectify that, here come parts 3, and 4.

Part 3: Brief History of the Fort:

In a way, the history is more impressive than the actual structures we see today, as they are more symbolic than grand now.

Although the United States won its independence from Britain in 1783, the threat of foreign invasion remained. To protect the young republic, the federal government launched an ambitious program of building forts near America’s primary cities along the East Coast. Fort McHenry was one of those forts.

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1878

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One of the informative boards in the fort

Completed in 1805 and named after the Secretary of War, James McHenry, the new fort had five points or “bastions”, which had a star shape, accommodations for over 150 soldiers, and a line of heavy artillery aimed downriver. The fort is strategically placed at the end of a point dividing different branches of the Patapsco River, a perfect spot for protecting the city of Baltimore.

The first flag to fly over the newly-constructed ramparts was a 15-star, 15-stripe banner, reflecting the recently added states of Vermont and Kentucky.

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Entrance to inner fort

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Part of the inner fort, and a flag that always flies

The fort saw serious action when it was attacked by the British in September 1814, but repulsed the British onslaught (see earlier post https://viviennemackie.wordpress.com/2017/09/27/fort-mchenry-and-the-star-spangled-banner/ ).

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Board about Lt Allen Fay, at the time of the 1814 war. Interesting facts about amounts of rations (click photo to make it bigger)

 

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Statue of Lt Allen Fay

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Rod M and a Rodman canon

The fort never again came under enemy fire, but it continued as an active military post for the next 100 years. In 1829 the earthen walls were reinforced with granite blocks and a brick wall was added to shore up the parapets. During the Civil War it was used as a temporary prison for captured Confederate soldiers, southern sympathizers, and political prisoners.

In 1866 the enormous Rodman Canons were installed, the heaviest ever at the fort. However, they were only ever used for ceremonies.

During WW1, the US Army built over 100 buildings around the star fort. It was one of the rodmanlargest military hospitals in the country and housed 3,000 wounded soldiers from the battlefields of France. Over 1,000 staff worked in this facility. From 1917 until 1923, US Army General Hospital No. 2 was located here to serve WW1 veterans. It was especially known as a surgical center and great advances in neurosurgery and reconstructive surgery took place here. It was also one of the first medical centers to reintegrate disabled soldiers into civilian life by offering special classes in typing, knitting, metal work, automotive repair and other trades.

In 1925 Congress made Fort McHenry a national park; 14 years later it was re-designated a national monument and historic shrine, the only park in US to have this double distinction.

Next is Part 4 on plaques and statues in the fort park.

 

 

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fortsign4Fort McHenry and the Star-Spangled Banner: Historical Context

With all the hou-haa going on right now about the US anthem, honoring it and what it means to be patriotic, this seemed like a good time for me to try and finish writing about Fort McHenry in Baltimore and the birth of the song that was inspired by a huge flag.

In July we were in Baltimore for a conference, our first time to visit this American city. Our knowledge of its history was a bit sketchy to say the least, so we had a great time exploring Fort McHenry, and the small house where Mary Pickersgill lived and helped stitch the flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to pen his victory poem that later became the American anthem.

It’s actually a tense and dramatic story, made more real by visiting the sites of the action, and trying to visualize what happened on those momentous days.

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The inside of Fort McHenry today

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Entrance to the inside of the fort today

battle_starsignEveryone speaks of the War of 1812, but in reality the major events took place in 1814.

Bit of background:

After the American Revolution and the exhausting fight to win independence from Great Britain, tensions between the two countries still smoldered. Britain was at war with France for supremacy in Europe, and also set policies that interfered with American trade, like confiscating merchant ships and cargoes. The British navy needed more men, so would board American vessels and seize men said to be British deserters. They also forcefully blocked American expansion along the Great Lakes and Northern Frontier.

Many Americans, including President James Madison, wanted to strike back, and Congress declared war on June 18, 1812. Over the next 2 years, American and British forces clashed in many places from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. The British occupied the fertile Chesapeake Bay, and raided waterfront towns.

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One of the canons in Fort McHenry

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Fort McHenry

By summer 1814, President Madison realized the war could escalate, especially since Napoleon had fallen and the British then had more troops available. He worried in particular about the Washington-Maryland area and called for more militiamen and volunteers.

On August 19, 1814 British General Robert Ross brought more than 4,000 troops ashore in southern Maryland to start a land invasion, and Rear Admiral George Cockburn sailed up the Potomac River towards Washington DC. Both of them and their troops arrived at the edge of DC at dusk on August 24, and created havoc and panic. They torched much of the city, including the US Capitol and the President’s house. The rampage only ended because of a violent rainstorm. Bladensburg, a tobacco port just 5 miles northeast of the capital, was also attacked and badly affected, mostly because the American commanders and troops were very inexperienced compared to the British counterparts.

From August 28 the British plundered Alexandria for 5-6 days and then set their sights on Baltimore, on the Patapsco River with its many ‘arms’ and branches.

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The guns that won the battle

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armisteadplaqueBut, Baltimore was better prepared than Washington had been. Under Maj. Gen. Samuel Smith, a US Senator and veteran of the Revolution, defences were erected, arms and equipment stockpiled, and troops trained. He had about 15,000 men, and Fort McHenry, the key to the harbor, had 1,000 men. Fort McHenry was commanded by Maj. George Armistead. The fort’s guns and two batteries along the river’s edge dominated the channels leading to the city. A line of gunboats and sunken hulks across the mouth of Northwest Branch also obstructed entry.

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Direct Hits to Fort McHenry–in which 2 officers were killed

On September 12, Ross’s troops marched towards Baltimore. Ross was killed but his replacement, Col Arthur Brooke, marched to within 2 miles of the city and was waiting for the naval attack to end before assaulting the city. British Admiral Cochrane knew that for the British campaign to succeed he had to capture or destroy Fort McHenry. He attacked the fort at dawn on September 13th and the bombardment from the water carried on for 25 hours. Armistead estimated later that between 1500 and 1800 shells and rockets were fired at the fort. However, only two officers were killed and several gun crew members injured.

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Dawn’s Early Light

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The soldiers on Fort McHenry hoist the huge flag

Around midnight Cochrane realized that shelling the fort was not enough and decided to send small boats as a diversion up the Ferry Branch of the river to distract the Americans and allow Brooke to storm the east side of the city where he was waiting. But in the dark, this plan went wrong—they rowed up the wrong branch, and other barges were detected and driven back by the Americans. The British carried on bombing the fort until 7am on September 14th, and then they withdrew.

The American soldiers fired the morning gun and hoisted the huge flag that Armistead had ordered especially, which later became known as the “Star-Spangled Banner”.

How did that happen? This takes us to Francis Scott Key.

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Plaque to Francis Scott Key on Fort McHenry

As the British sailed toward Baltimore in early September 1814, Georgetown attorney Francis Scott Key and John Skinner, the US agent for the exchange of prisoners, met the British to negotiate the release of Key’s friend, a physician abducted from Maryland. They were aboard a truce ship when the British began bombarding Fort McHenry outside Baltimore. They had to watch the fighting through the night, but then came the raising of that large flag measuring 30×42 feet, which Key could see even from a distance. He then knew that the Americans were victorious and was very proud. To record his thoughts at that moment, he wrote a poem about his feelings on seeing the flag. This poem later became the national anthem. Some of his words say “the stars of that banner”, which led to the actual flag being called The Star-Spangled Banner too.

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Viv M and a flag and statue of Key in the Fort McHenry Museum

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The flag on Fort McHenry today

President Madison signed the Treaty of Ghent on February 17th, 1815, and the war was officially over. Neither America nor Britain had won a clear victory, but the war gave Americans a stronger sense of collective identity and confirmed its new position on the international stage.

Fort McHenry became a National Monument, which people can visit. We did and it was fascinating—I’ll write more on that later.

Two lasting symbols came from this war: The Star-Spangled Banner (now in the Smithsonian Museum of American History in Washington DC) and the national anthem that honors it. More details on those coming too.

 

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Aronia Berry bushes

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Unripe berries

berriescloseIn recent years I’ve heard a lot about aronia berries and how they are one of the new “superfoods”, mostly due to their high antioxidative activity and their high level of vitamins, minerals and folic acids. We even tried a few dried berries from Whole Foods, and I have to say I wasn’t that impressed with the taste.

So, it was really interesting a few weekends ago to actually see some aronia bushes and find out more about how they are grown.

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Our group at the farm

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A young aronia bush

We were in Wisconsin visiting a business colleague of my husband’s in Milwaukee, and after that we drove to their house in Door County, at Sister Bay at the end of the peninsula. They have a beautiful house on the water there, plus he owns a farm just behind the house. Part of the farm, called Hidden Acres, is devoted to a community garden and part to a commercial enterprise, where they grow all kinds of vegetables organically for local restaurants. Wonderful to wander around and pick fresh carrots or purple beans, for example.

Something new that he is trying is growing Aronia berries. The bushes are now about cheesecakethree years old and are producing quite nicely. The best production will come after about 5 years, apparently. The berries were not ripe yet: harvesting will be at about the beginning of September.

Our host’s wife made a cheesecake for dessert, and served it with a berry compote, made of blackberries, blueberries, raspberries and aronia berries. In a mix like that, the aronia berries were quite pleasant. We tried eating a few fresh ones too, and found them very fibrous and chewy and not terribly tasty really. But, mixed in a smoothie they are very good.

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eating plain fresh aronia berries

We found out that Aronia is a woody perennial shrub in the rosaceae family that is native to the eastern United States. It grows in full sun and along woodland edges, so the setting of this farm is perfect.

Aronia has benefited from increased interest in phytonutrients, plant compounds that have beneficial effects on human health. Interest in “eating healthy” has led to worldwide growth in the popularity of aronia berries and products made from them. Aronia has been grown as a commercial berry crop in most Eastern European countries since the 1950s, starting in the Soviet Union in the late 1940s. It is now becoming a more popular cash crop in the Mid-West of the USA too. Some sources say that Aronia berries top the list of more than 100 foods that have been scientifically tested for antioxidant capacity.

 

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Part of Baltimore’s famous Inner Harbor

We have just returned from a week’s trip to the city of Baltimore, a first for me. We really enjoyed it, in spite of the extreme heat and humidity, and agree that the city deserves its nickname of “Charm City”.

They have done a good job with public transport, which is very important for a city to be moving forward. They have a Light Rail system, many different bus lines (some are free), and a metro.

 

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Our Light Rail ticket to BWI Airport

For example, it’s very easy to get from Baltimore (BWI) airport to downtown. When you’ve collected your baggage walk to Gate 18 in the baggage collection area and buy Light Rail tickets at the machine there. Normal fare is $1.60, but seniors pay only $0.80 (there are some advantages of being a senior!). Then Gate 19 straight ahead leads directly onto the platform. During the day, trains come about every 20-25 minutes and it took us about 40-45 minutes to get to Camden Yards, one of the convenient stops for the Convention Center (the other is the next stop, Convention Center, but that day the train ended at Camden Yards).

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A Purple Line Charm City Circulator bus

Returning to the airport very early in the morning, trains only run every 30 minutes and do not stop at Convention Center, so we caught the train at Camden Yards again. Same price, from the ticket machine.

Another great feature of public transport, for both visitors and locals, are the Charm City Circulator buses. There are four lines that run different routes. Each route has a color—purple, orange, green, and dark blue (called Banner Line). We used them a number of times, as the routes run to most of the main tourist sights. Best of all they are FREE! People hop on and off at will. Pick up a Charm City Circulator bus schedule at the Visitors’ Center on the Inner Harbor.

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Sign on the sidewalk: North Adams is very much an “art” town

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Only a part of the eye-catching mural inspired by Egyptian stories

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Another section of this huge mural

Beautiful Murals in North Adams, Massachusetts

As you know by now, I love public art of all forms and we were happy to find lovely murals on our trip to the Berkshires recently. I’ll mention four, although we did see a couple of others.

The town of North Adams in the Berkshires has become an art friendly environment, as artists (both local and international), many local businesses, and the city government try to preserve this old mill town. Many of the old Ebigbirdmill buildings and warehouses are now converted into galleries, shops selling vintage items and plenty of restaurants. Street art has popped up on many of the brick walls too, especially after the public art projects—DownStreet Art, and the Mural Project (2012)—were started. This project was designed to revitalize downtown North Adams, by harnessing art organizations and events already in the city and changing vacant and open spaces into art destinations that make locals proud and attract tourists. Well, they certainly did attract us. We were only in town for a couple of days attending a family wedding, but we managed to find many of the fascinating murals.

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Alaa Awad is obviously a very talented artist

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EanimalsJust down from Public Eat and Drink (a great place to eat) is a long wall of eye-catching color. It’s a nearly 60-foot-long mural on the base of the Route 2 (Mohawk Trail) overpass—it’s beautiful and amazingly detailed. Egyptian artist Alaa Awad created it and gave it as a gift to North Adams. Awad has painted street art in Asia and Denmark and has had exhibitions and murals in Germany and throughout Egypt. This North Adams piece, though, is his first commissioned work in the USA. It was unveiled June 26, 2014. His work is inspired by historical

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A giraffe—I think

Egyptian tomb paintings, and his mural is covered in stylized figures of ancient gods, chimeric beasts, animals and people.

Awad aims to celebrate humankind and make Egyptian heritage known as a source of pride for Egyptians, and instill ideas such as “peace, mercy, justice and balance.”

Awad is a graduate and a faculty member of the Luxor Faculty of Fine Arts and Egypt, and he teamed up with fellow artists to use art to protest censorship, social injustice, and civilian lives lost during the revolution in Tahrir Square in 2011.

On the opposite side of the street is another large bright mural, this one very abstract. It was done by Maya Hayuk in 2012.

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Much more abstract

And on the back of the Mohawk Theater nearby is a huge colorful mural by Spanish art collective Muralismo Publico. It seems to have a flamenco/Spanish dance theme.

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In MassMoCA

In the lobby of MassMoCA (and therefore free to view) is a fascinating 120-foot-long mural by Barbara Takenaga, called “Nebraska”. She presents an image of the wide-open plains of her home state. Pulsating lines of white dots, repeated 14 times, radiate out from a horizon line, making us think of neat rows of corn extending as far as the eye can see, and an infinite canopy of stars above.

 

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Deer on a wall near Renee Restaurant

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Monkey on an underpass pillar

 

 

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