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On my first and probably second trips to Walt Disney World (assuming those trips would have been around first and third grades), we mostly ate crummy hamburger and hot dog type food from the "quick service" outlets like the oddly named Pinocchio Village Haus.

Then when I was in I think it was fourth grade (I really wish we could find those photo albums!) my teacher mentioned that there was an actual sit-down restaurant upstairs in the castle.  This was the also oddly named King Stefan's Banquet Hall.  I say that this name was odd because King Stefan was Sleeping Beauty's father. Cinderella's father didn't have a name.  As the 21st Century approached, the suits at Disney apparently decided that a woman could be the host of her own damn banquet hall and the name was changed to Cinderella's Royal Table.

My teacher told me that we had to have reservations some number of months ahead of time, so one of my parents (likely my mom) got on the phone and made them.  And it was wonderful.  I was kind of an unusual child.  Most "kiddie foods" like hamburgers and hot dogs did little for me, unless they were very good, and I was a teenager by the time the chicken nugget became a common thing (discovering that one of my friends loved McNuggets may well have damaged our relationship permanently).  I did like fried chicken, but it had to be an identifiable part.

I loved King Stefan's Table, but it was expensive, so it was a one-time thing.  Fortunately, EPCOT was on the horizon by then, and that would change my eating-at-Disney habits for good. But that's a story for 1982 and not for Before 1977.

I do have one last Magic Kingdom eating experience to share, though it doesn't fit in chronologically.  When my now-ex and I went to Walt Disney World in 1992, we bought a cookbook called Cooking with Mickey, Volume II. This book had a recipe called "Freedom Fighter Chicken."  My first thought was that sounded more like a superhero from a funny animal comic than an entree, but it's really good.  It has chicken and vegetables in a sauce made from white wine and white wine Worcestershire sauce.  Freedom Fighter Chicken comes from the Liberty Tree Tavern in the Magic Kingdom, which neither my folks nor I had ever noticed was there during our 1970s visits, but I'm pretty sure it must have been, and it probably served real food at the time.  In 2003, my folks, my now-ex, my son, and I all went to the Liberty Tree Tavern for dinner.  Freedom Fighter Chicken is apparently a lunch menu item, because dinner is a family-style Thanksgiving dinner, which, as one would expect, was a little steep, but very good thus worth the money.

National Geographic May 2014, Part 1

A Five-Step Plan to Feed the World, by Jonathan Foley, photographs by George Steinmetz and Jim Richardson

Over the next 35 years, from 2015 to 2050, the food needs of the world will likely double.  This is due not only to population increase, but also to the increase in prosperity of formerly impoverished nations.  These developing nations are now demanding more in terms of meat, milk, and eggs, as well as of produce.  As a result, scientists need to come up with new ways to feed these people while not wrecking the environment in the process.  Foley led what he refers to as "a team of scientists" who have studied this very question and they came up with five steps that may help with this.

These five steps are to freeze agriculture's footprint, to grow more on farms we've got, to use resources more efficiently, to shift diets (to less meat-intensive diets, for example), and to reduce waste.

These goals seem to be pretty obvous to me.  Further, while this article gives a few examples of how these goals might be achieved, it then ends with "we already know what we have to do; we just need to figure out how to do it."  I felt sort of underwhelmed by this conclusion.  I guess I should count it as a good thing that scientists are thinking about this topic at all.

Digging Utah's Dinosaurs, by Peter Miller, photographs by Cory Richards

In Digging Utah's Dinosaurs, we meet the Miller brothers, Ian and Dane, who are paleobotanists.  We join the Miller brothers on an expedition at Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah, where they are searching for signs of the lost continent of Laramidia.

90 million years ago, the area which is now North America was two separate continents, Appalachia to the east and Laramidia to the west.  The Western Interior Seaway lay between them.  The Miller brothers, along with other scientists, are searching for the species of dinosaur who lived in this area and trying to figure out why the dinosaurs of northern Laramidia were so different from those in southern Laramidia. It is possible that there was a physical barrier of some sort, but they have not yet found any evidence of such a barrier.  Instead, the going theory is that the area, much of which is now desert, was a tropical rainforest.  This means that the herbivorous animals would not have had to have gone very far in search of food.  This also means that any carnivorous animals in the area also would not have had to wander very far.  The result would be a less dramatic version of how isolation caused divergence in Australia and Madagascar.  The species would have had different pressures causing different traits to be selected for, resulting in very different species.

Finally, I noticed that the writer, Peter Miller, shares a surname with the Miller brothers.  Miller is a very common name in the United States (the sixth most common in the 2000 census), so it is not impossible that this is a coincidencie.  However, it is also not impossible that all three Millers are related in some way.  I have been unable to determine which of these it is.
I have not really abandoned this blog, but I am in the process of transitioning to a new one.  I will get to work on, and start queuing up new posts here until I am ready to make the final transition.

I am moving posts from here to there one at a time (though I am compiling my National Geographic posts into one post per issue as I go) and making a few small edits as I repost.  Once all of the posts that I have here are at the new site, I will stop posting here completely.  I will let you know when that is.

The new site is http://www.to-hither.com and I am putting new content there as well.  For example, posts about my recent trip to New York City will be new content that will only be available there.  I will, however, keep up with my current schedule here for the foreseeable future.

National Geographic June 2014, Part 3

Train for the Forgotten, by Joshua Yaffa, photographs by William Daniels

In 1974, the government of the Soviet Union began an ambitious project to showcase what they believed was Soviet superiority over nature.  They started work on a rail line connecting Lake Baikal to the Amur River in northern Siberia.  Around half a million people worked on the rail ine and on the towns that they had to build to connect it.  The original homes for the workers were wooden barracks in the woods, and as time passed, they erected prefabricated buildings to live in.

Then when the Soviet Union collapsed, so did the construction project.  Since 1991, the people of this region, known as the Baikal-Amur Mainline ("BAM") have been isolated and left with no regular health care.  In an effort to remedy this situation, the Russian government runs a medical train along the tracks.  The train, named for Russian health-care pioneer Matvei Mudrov, has exam rooms and medical personnel and visits each village on average every six months.  This may be okay for many of the residents, but for those who are sick or injured, it is not nearly often enough.  There are no urgent care facilities and people die of conditions that are treatable in the world outside the BAM.

Yaffa takes us into the world of the BAM, seeing how isolated the people are and how desperate their medical situation can be.  He show us the slowly crumbling buildings and infrastructure (where anything besides a dirt road exists; some of the villages don't even have running water) of the villages along the BAM.  The story out of Russia is that the Russian government intends to use the BAM to ship containers, but none of that is seen here.  All we see is the slow decay of what started out as an audacious (in both senses of the term) project.

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Where to start?

Well, the obvious place is 1972, my first visit, but I was awfully young and don't remember a whole lot.  I remember taking the monorail from the parking lot to the park.  My mom wanted to take the ferry boat, but I refused (more on my old fear of boats later). I also remember some of the kiddie rides, like the Dumbo ride and the Teacup ride (which was my very favorite for probably entirely too long).  I remember, without a great deal of enthusiasm, the food.  I think that was the visit where we ate at Pinocchio Village Haus restaurant with a German name, which is exceedingly odd for a restaurant that takes its theme from a movie based on a book that's set in Italy.  Casa di Pinocchio would be more accurate.

Sadder than the German theme was the food, if I recall.  I seem to remember fast-food type hamburgers and not much else.  I don't think there were chicken nuggets.  The chicken nugget had been invented, but no one had heard of them yet.  That was still a good eight years in the future.

My parents and cousin went on the Haunted Mansion ride.  I don't think I went on the Haunted Mansion on that trip yet.  I was sill pretty little and very imaginative.  Even though it was all in fun, I probably would have had problems with some of it, like the head in the crystal ball. That would have totally freaked me out.  I do wonder who watched us, though.  The oldest child in our group would only have been nine at the time. Maybe my cousin's husband watched us.

We didn't take many, if any, photographs at Walt Disney World that trip.  I seem to recall all of the Disney World pictures in that photo album as being postcards.  Our old Swinger camera was pretty bulky and really didn't travel very well.

This was the first of many trips to Walt Disney World.  We originally did it as a day trip from my cousins' house, but one year my family stayed in a hotel in Orlando.  If I recall, that hotel was the first time any of us ever saw a digital hotel room lock.  I think that was the 1974/1975 school year.  Since they reprogrammed the lock for every visitor, they let us keep the key and I brought the room key back to show in school.  My most recent trips were in 1982, 1992, and 2003.  I will likely be back to discuss them in those years.

And why do I refer to Walt Disney World as being "more or less" in Orlando?  Because the resort is not actually in Orlando.  Walt Disney World is actually southwest of the city limits. Most of it is in Bay Lake, Florida, and the rest is in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.  But the popular conception is that it is in Orlando, so I figured I'd better reference that, rather than putting either of the other two cities as the location.

National Geographic, June 2014, Part 2

Puffin Therapy, photographs by Danny Green, text by Tom O'Neill

Before we get to the meat of this article, I find the way this article was credited interesting.  Generally, it's the title, then after a few pages of photographs, when the text starts, the writer and photographer are credited in that order, and then the text starts.  In Puffin Therapy, the photographer credit is by itself where the writer and photographer credits normally go, and the writer's credit is stuck at the very end of the text section, following a dash.  I wonder why they did it this way?  My first instinct is to say that perhaps Green was supposed to have written the text, but he had some kind of prior obligation that kept him from being able to do so and so they enlisted O'Neill at the last minute.

The text is largely about the mating behaviors of puffins.  The common image of puffins with their bright orange beaks is their appearance during mating season.  The rest of the year their faces and beaks are darker.  In fact, one photo that I found when searching for what puffins look like the rest of the year looks more or less like the puffins that we're used to seeing right after a vacuum cleaner bag blew up in its face -- all gray and sooty looking.

It wouldn't be a National Geographic article without a mention of global climate change.  There is some concern that the change in climates may have a deleterious effect on the puffin population.  Puffins in some locations have had almost no offspring in some years.  Puffins are long-lived and can afford to miss a year or two of breeding, but this trend may be increasing and the puffin may end up being threatened as a result.

The title comes from Iain Morrison, who takes visitors to see the puffins.  He says that spending time with puffins makes the visitors happy and refers to it as "puffin therapy."  And looking at Green's photographs, I can definiltely believe it.

How to Farm a Better Fish, by Joel K. Bourne, Jr., photographs by Brian Skerry

It should come as no surprise that an article called How to Farm a Better Fish would be about fish farming.  This installment of the Future of Food series focuses on the growth of the fish farming industry and how fish farmers and scientists are attempting both new and older methods in the industry.

As a general rule, fish is one of the most efficient forms of protein there is.  Where chicken takes around 1.7 pounds of feed to produce a pound of meat, and the ratios are 2.9 for pigs and 6.8 for cattle, for fish, the ratio is close to one pound of feed per pound of meat.  Additionally, more people are eating fish than ever before.  As a result, there is more growth in the fish farming industry than in most other areas of agriculture.

We look at a number of farms, including the farm of Bill Martin, who  is attempting to develop carbon-neutral onshore fish farming.  We also see several offshore farms, including one eight miles offshore which raises cobia.  The man who developed this farm, Brian O'Hanlon, has put the farm so far offshore so that the currents will take away the waste. And, indeed, researchers have yet to detect any waste outside of the fish pens.  And one researcher, Stephen Cross, is attempting what is called polyculture, where many different edible species live in a sort of symbiotic relationship.  In Cross's case, he is raising sablefish and then down the current from the fish, he is raising mollusks.  Down the current from the mollusks are kelp, and further down are sea cucumbers.  These three other species filter the water and remove waste from the sablefish.  Cross says that the biological filtration system that he is using could be fitted onto any fish farm and, since all of the species he is using for filtration are edible, the filters themselves can be harvested and sold.

The final farm we see is a kelp farm.  The owners of the farm, Paul Dobbins and Tollef Olson, grow three species of kelp that can grow up to five inches a day.  They then sell the kelp to restaurants, schools and hospitals.  Dobbins and Olson have increased their farm has increased to ten times its original size in the past five years and the kelp is cleaning the water in the area as it grows, a win/win for both the farmers and the environment.

I love seafood.  I was visiting a friend who was a vegetarian and he tried to convince me to go vegetarian.  I admitted that vegetarianism holds some appeal for me, but that I don't think I could ever give up seafood.  And this article made me feel even better about seafood and its future as a source of food for the planet, than I felt before I read it.
The River Walk extends from Brackenridge Park to Mission San Francisco de la Espada.  Only the middle section, which passes through downtown San Antonio, is really the tourist attraction.  And that part of the River Walk almost didn't happen.  In 1921, the San Antonio River flooded, with devastating results.  50 people died in the flood.  And that was not the only time the river had flooded.  There is a U-bend in the river right downtown and which was considered to be particularly dangerous.  Following the 1921 flood, though, the city was considering just paving the bend of the river over into a sort of storm drain and being done with it.

This would, of course, have been a grave mistake.  San Antonio takes in millions of dollars from tourists every year, and a not-insignificant portion of it comes from people visiting this particular section of the River Walk.  And having part of the river paved over would pretty much have prevented the River Walk entirely, since a storm drain does not really say "tourism."  Without the River Walk, the city would have missed out on that money.  I think that this would have been  a mistake from an ecological and public safety standpoint as well.  If the bend had been paved over, all of those trees and habitat for animals would be gone, shoved underneath the streets of San Antonio.  Additionally, if someone fell  into the river just a little bit upstream, it would have been very difficult to rescue the person once he or she went into the storm drain.  In past floods, the water became fairly high on street level.  There are photographs of the flood in 1913, for example, show water at least knee-deep at street level.  If another flood like that had hit after the river had been paved over, where would all of that water have gone?  I am not a physicist by any stretch of the imagination, but I have a hard time believing that enough water to reach two feet above street level would stay put under the pavement.  I suspect that the end result of paving over the San Antonio River, even if the paving was at street level, was that they would have had to fix flood damage and damaged pavement.

Instead, the city began work on actual flood control measures.  In 1925, construction began on a dam upstream in Olmos Park, for example.  The rainfall from farther north builds up behind the dam, rather than flowing into the river.  Then, in 1929, flood gates were installed at the beginning and end of the U-bend and a channel was dug connecting the two ends.  When the river threatens to flood, the flood gates are closed and the water simply flows through that channel and onward south towards the Gulf of Mexico.

The River Walk is the brainchild of architect Robert H. H. Hugman.  He fought against the storm drain plan and instead offered a plan for turning the river into a region of restaurants and shops that he wanted to call "The Shops of Aragon and Romula."  This name, of course, never "took."  The city decided ot follow Hugman's plan, but construction was delayed by the Great Depression,  In 1938, money became available from the Works Progress Administration.  Construction continued until 1941 and soon afterwards, Hugman showed his belief in his project by moving his office down to the river level.  Close to the intersection of Losoya and Commerce Streets, there is a building with a rounded corner.  If you take the stairs down to the river level right there, you will see Hugman's name at the same level as the street and his office is just beneath that overhang.  Five years later, in 1946, the first restaurant, Casa Rio, opened up on the other side of Commerce Street.

I will probably do another post on the River Walk detailing some of the other buildings that can be seen along the downtown section of the River Walk and perhaps two more, one on the Museum Reach section, which extends north of downtown, and another on the Mission Reach section, which goes southwards.

National Geographic June 2014, Part 1

The Dogs of War, by Michael Paterniti, photographs by Adam Ferguson

The Dogs of War is about the Marine Corps use of dogs to find improvised explosive devices (IEDs).  I was less enthusiastic about this article than I might otherwise have been because I don't like war.  I'm one of those people who thinks that the best way to support the troops is to bring them home.  And that goes for the dogs, as well.

Paterniti takes us to Afghanistan, where we meet Jose Armenta and his dog, Zenit.  Zenit is a German shepherd.  And when I say "his" dog, neither Paterniti nor I am using this word in a way that you would expect.  I have read articles about how most police dogs are socialized to live with humans and trained only to be aggressive on command.  As part of their training, they live with the police officers' families more or less as a pet would.  I expected that to be the way that military dogs are kept as well.  It was kind of startling to find that while Jose lives in the barracks, Zenit lives in a kennel.

Though I should put that last sentence in the past tense.  We find out what happens, in the end, to Jose and Zenit and it's a bittersweet ending.

Untouched, by Heather Pringle, photographs by Robert Clark

El Castillo de Huarmey is a tomb built into the side of a large rock formation in northern Peru.  The area around El Castillo had been used as a burial ground and had been violated by tomb robbers many times over the centuries.  As a result, when Polish archaeologists decided to explore El Castillo, which looked more or less like a step pyramid, no one but the archaeologists expected to find anything.

What the archaeologists found was the undisturbed tomb of one of the rulers of the Wari, a people who ruled this area of northern Peru for around 500 years.  One of the chambers contained what looked like a stone throne.  There were mummified guards, as well, all of whom were missing their left feet.  No one now living knows why their feet were removed.

In one chamber, the bodies of sixty women were found.  It appears that three or four of them were royalty and some 54 of the others may have been nobility.  These women were found wearing jewelry and fine clothing, then wrapped in cloth that left a roughly egg-shaped form.  There were also some other unmummified women found in the chamber, and it is possible that they may have been sacrifices.  Other goods, fabrics, vessels, boxes, and so forth, were found in the tomb as well.

And yet, with all of the bodies and materials and the throne, no sign of a king has been found yet.  The archaeologists are still searching, but while looking for other information on the Wari, I found a page at Archaeology Magazine's website called "A Wari Matriarchy?"  And it occurred to me that why not?  Maybe the archaeologists will never find the "king" because there is no king to find.  Perhaps the highest-ranking woman, with the finest jewelry and clothing, was the ruler.  

Greece Debt Deadline Approaching

I discussed the National Geographic article on the debt that Greece owes to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in my May 23, 2015 blog post.

The IMF has demanded repayment of 1.6 billion Euros which Greece simploy does not have. As a result of the impending collapse, people are panicking.  There are runs on the banks, which have put caps of 60 Euros per day for withdrawals.  and people are considering canceling their travel plans to Greece, which would be an even worse setback to the already struggling country.

The IMF have offered a bailout, which was soundly, and (in my opinion) wisely, rejected by the people of Greece in a referendum held on July 5, 2015.

Interestingly, a man in London has come up with the idea of crowdfunding the payoff amount.  He insists that this is a legitimate attempt to raise the money that Greece needs so desperately, and with 36 hours remaining in the campaign as I post this, it looks like they will not make the deadline.  However, they are approaching 2 million Euros in pledges so far and the numbers go up every few minutes.  If you would be interested in checking it out, you can find it here: Greek Bailout Fund.

The man behind this campaign has promised that if the goal is not met, he will refund all of the money sent for the campaign.  The perks offered if the campaign succeeds, he promises, all will come from Greece and will be mailed by residents of Greece.  I just found out about this two hours ago and think that it seems like a decent idea.

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National Geographic July 2014, Part 3

Empire of Rock, by McKenzie Funk, photographs by Carsten Peter

Alas, Empire of Rock has nothing to do with popular music.  It is, in fact, about the karst caves underneath Guizhou, China.  This part of China was once covered by a sea.  Over the centuries, the mollusks left their shells behind, which compressed into a  limestone formation known as karst.  Karst is limestone which is punctured by holes.  Water seeps down into the holes, which wears the holes away until they join together and eventually form caves.  This area is relatively unique in that this process has taken place over so many centuries that there are entire mountains of karst on the surface.  Have you ever seen photographs or Chinese paintings of large, steep stone mountains, usually surrounded by mist?  Those are karst mountains.

Funk accompanied a group of scientists and cavers who were attempting to measure the volume of one of the largest cave chambers in the world, the Hong Meigui chamber.  Though Funk's eyes we watch them descend into the chamber and see their laser scanners, which Funk tells us is about the same size as a human head, measure the volume of the cave.  Funk and her hosts also visit other caves and karst formations in the area.

"Hong Meigui," by the way, is the word that inspired me make my last post, on my experiences with foreign language.  "Hong Meigui," depending on the tones, can mean "red rose."  And I suspect that may be the meaning here, since there is a caving organization called the Hong Meigui Cave Exploration Society and the characters for the name of that group are the "hong," "mei," and "gui" of "red rose."  Another chamber mentioned (the largest in the world) is the Miao Room, and my first instinct was that the "miao" in question is "temple," but, when looking at a list of other "miao"s, it could also be the "miao" that means "infinity," or any of a number of other Mandarin words that can be transliterated as "miao."  I just don't know.  To make things more frustrating, Funk does tell us that the Yanzi cave is named for the swallows that live in the walls, and I do know that "yanzi" is "swallow."

Two months after the cover date on this magazine, in September 2014, the title of the largest cave in the world was granted to the Miao Room.

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