For thirty years, inventor Theo Jansen has created strandbeests (Dutch for “beach animals”). They are mostly PVC tubes.
As they step and slither on the flat beaches of the Netherlands, they avoid inland dunes and shy away from the sea. They have water feelers, tubes suspended inches above the flat sand, that suck in air. Once the strandbeest sucks in water, it can feel the difference — water has more resistance than air — causing it to backtrack to the sand.
They keep moving, temporarily, after the wind dies down. Wind pushes their sails, which move parts that pump air into soda bottles. This is saved for when the wind stops.
The movement starts with a loosely-jointed square, as shown in the following 50-second video. The caterpillar is different, a later invention.
Jansen’s formal education was in applied physics, and he has been an artist and writer. He visited Pasadena when NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) invited his advice on designing a Venus rover. Venus has a steady wind. It is so hot there that computers won’t work, so the JPL engineers are interested in Jansen’s creations and their sensors which are mechanical, not electronic. More here.
These seem more than mere machines. I see art, grace, and a pioneer’s vision. Jansen uses words like “evolution” and “genealogy” when writing about his strandbeests. He calls them “new forms of life.” He dreams of wild herds that will outlive him. Strandbeest.com
It began in the West. After Wyoming Territory granted women suffrage, other western territories and states followed suit.
In California, the successful 1911 campaign involved billboards, speeches by men and women, and spectacles. Women rode in a hot-air balloon above a Los Angeles park and dropped suffragist flyers and symbolic sunflowers.
In 1915, three women drove a car from the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco to Congress and President Wilson. They brought a petition for a federal amendment. Newspapers were notified in advance of appearances, rallies, and interviews in forty-eight cities along their route. Readers everywhere followed the story with surprise; roads were primitive and the ladies had no man with them to drive and change tires. This event was planned by Dr. Alice Paul.
While studying overseas, Paul had joined the British suffrage movement and learned much more extreme tactics, even ways to protest while in jail. Paul met fellow American suffragist Lucy Burns while both were political prisoners in England.
Paul returned to the States, earned a Ph.D., and took a position with the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). Paul asked the much older leaders to send her and Burns to Washington, D.C., where, in the eyes of NAWSA, they gradually went rogue.
Like NAWSA, the anti-suffrage movement was also large and well-organized, with mostly women activists. Both sexes feared a social revolution and the breakdown of family values. President Wilson said to an old friend, Nancy Saunders Toy, “Suffrage for women will make absolutely no change in politics — it is the home that will be disastrously affected. Somebody has to make the home and who is going to do it if the women don’t?”
Suffragists were elated when Wilson announced that, as a private citizen of New Jersey, he would vote for women’s enfranchisement in that state’s election. To him, this was an issue to be settled by each state, not an amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Wilson’s endorsement was emblazoned on signs in suffrage parades. Ten thousand women marched down Fifth Avenue in the fall of 1915, when enfranchisement was on the ballot in four states with large populations: New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania.
Men voted down suffrage in all four. There were still no eastern states with full suffrage, and in the South, anti-suffrage sentiment was high. Some southern white men prevented Black men from voting, sometimes with violence. Black men were lynched. How could white men keep enfranchised Black women away from the polls?
After the defeats in the northeast, the Susan B. Anthony Amendment seemed the best chance for nation-wide women’s enfranchisement, although it had languished in Congress for more than thirty-five years. President Wilson opposed it.
Carrie Chapman Catt, president of NAWSA, presented “The Winning Plan,” which included women lobbying Washington lawmakers. “We do not care a gingersnap about anything but that federal amendment,” Catt said.
Paul had focused on that goal long before. She decided it was necessary to pressure Wilson into persuading lawmakers. On January 10, 1917, members of Paul’s National Woman’s Party (NWP) stunned the country by picketing the White House. Not even men had protested outside the president’s home.
The banner above reads, “Mr. President/ How long must women wait for liberty.” Women took turns as “silent sentinels,” and the cold winter months were just the beginning.
In spring, the United States joined the World War, and the protestors appeared unpatriotic. Crowds gathered almost daily to jeer the suffragists. Catt’s NAWSA members sold war bonds, but Paul’s NWP protesters carried a banner with the first line “Kaiser Wilson” outside his home. Wilson did not want them arrested because they would get even more publicity.
In July, Helena Hill Weed carried a banner that read, “Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
She served three days in jail.
Perhaps because of the unruly spectators, picketers began to be arrested in the summer. By August, the crowds of onlookers attacked women suffragists. Ernestine Hara Kettler wrote about the time she and the other three picketers were arrested. The charges were obstructing traffic and loitering. She told the court that the four women marched single-file on the sidewalk. She said that a lot of people stopped and it was they who obstructed traffic. The women were sentenced to thirty days. By the fall, sentences became longer.
Paul got seven months. In prison, she refused food, as she had in England. She was fed by a tube shoved down her throat. The other imprisoned suffragists protested, and in a “Night of Terror,” the women were dragged and beaten. Lucy Burns’ arms were chained to the top of her cell door, and she was left overnight.
Other suffragists joined the hunger strike and were force fed. Rose Winslow wrote that she vomited repeatedly during a single feeding. She fainted when she was not being fed.
Journalist David Lawrence, a close friend of Wilson, visited Paul in prison. Whether he brought a proposal is unclear. A few days later, all the suffragists were released. Hunger strikers were too weak to walk without assistance.
Although progress was made with Wilson and the House, the situation continued into 1918. Here, hunger striker Dora Lewis is physically supported by two women (in hats) upon her release.
The publicity was bad for Wilson’s image here and abroad, and for that of his party. After his turnaround, Wilson saved face by acknowledging the moderate NAWSA — he and Catt corresponded frequently — but not Alice Paul’s NWP. He told the Senate that because women had filled men’s jobs when they went to war, women deserved the vote. The Senate immediately voted down the proposed amendment.
Women had worked for the vote for almost seventy years. Catt and the women of NAWSA did an excellent job, but men could continue to refuse them.
It was Paul who forced the president to act. She said, “If a creditor stands before a man’s house all day long, demanding payment of his bill, the man must either remove the creditor or pay the bill.”
The amendment was almost defeated, even with Wilson’s efforts on the federal and state levels. It barely passed the House and Senate, where approval took more than a year. Three-quarters of the states needed to ratify it, and its last hope was the Tennessee legislature.
A preliminary vote indicated the Tennessee lawmakers were tied on ratification. A tie meant the proposed amendment would die. Were it not for twenty-four-year-old Senator Harry Burn changing his vote, at the request of his mother, on August 18, 1920, and Dr. Alice Paul and her “silent sentinels,” some American women might not be able to vote today.
Berg, A. Scott. Wilson. New York: Berkley Books, 2013.
Hill, Jeff. Defining Moments: Women’s Suffrage. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2006.
American Experience: The Vote. PBS. Prime Video. 2020. Episodes 1-2.
Wheelock, Martha. California Women Win the Vote (DVD). Wild West Women. <www.wildwestwomen.org>. 2011.
Library of Congress. “Women Fight for the Vote.” <https://www.loc.gov/exhibitions/women-fight-for-the-vote/about-this-exhibition/confrontations-sacrifice-and-the-struggle-for-democracy-1916-1917/surviving-prison-and-protecting-civil-liberties/all-join-me-in-much-love-very-very-much/>
Edmonston, Washington, D.C. Miss Alice Paul, New Jersey, National Chairman, Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage; Member, Ex-Officio, National Executive Committee, Woman’s Party. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/mnwp000146/>.
Carrie Chapman Catt. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/rbcmiller002725/>.
Harris & Ewing, Washington, D.C. Penn[sylvania] on the Picket Line — 1917. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/mnwp000212/>.
Helena Hill Weed, Norwalk, Conn. Serving 3 day sentence in D.C. prison for carrying banner, “Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/mnwp000060/>.
Kate Heffelfinger after her release from Occoquan Prison. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/mnwp000298/>.
[Mrs.] Lawrence Lewis [Dora Lewis] of Philadelphia on release from jail after five [d]ays of hunger striking. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/mnwp000229/>. [Cropped for this use.]
In 1925, the condenser microphone began to be widely used in music studios. These convert sound waves into electrical signals. Before that, recordings were made by machines without electricity.
Acoustical Recording Machines
We’ll see a video showing people singing into very long horns. Their voices (or instruments) had to vibrate an attached diaphragm that was usually glass. Doesn’t that sound hard? Professional singers needed a big voice and the ability to sustain the volume. The glass moved a stylus, which cut a groove into rotating hard wax.
Acoustical recording machines couldn’t record singers with lower or higher voices. A baritone was too low, so men tended to be tenors. In this acoustical recording of Eddie Cantor, note how he projects his voice.
Here is a video: How the Microphone Changed the Way We Sing.
EMPRESS OF THE BLUES
These two recordings show why Bessie Smith was called the Empress of the Blues. The condenser microphone came into wide use in 1925, so I have chosen recordings of her from 1923 and 1929. There’s a big difference in the sound.
Bessie Smith sings Baby, Won’t You Please Come Home (1923)
Bessie Smith sings I’ve Got What It Takes (1929)
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Energetic design. Asymmetrical, yet balanced. This whole apartment building, Castel Béranger, is Art Nouveau. It was architect Hector Guimard’s first important work, and it was noticed.
Soon afterwards, he was awarded a commission to design entrances to the new Metro. There had been a design competition, but Guimard had not officially entered it.
The structure is iron, exposed, and made decorative. These are characteristics of Art Nouveau architecture. The iron is painted green and in forms that suggest plants, flowers, and Crustacean-like designs (below). These entrances made Guimard famous, but at first Parisians weren’t sure that they liked them. The cast iron could be made elsewhere, so this was practical.
People sensed a stagnation in the western world. They called their time fin de siè·cle, meaning “end of the century.” They looked forward to the 1900s and wanted change. Paris was to host a world’s fair, and the Metro was built in anticipation of this 1900 Paris Exposition.
An Art Nouveau Church
I love surprises when I travel, and I spotted this around the corner from the charming Metro entrance I photographed (Abbesses, in Montmartre, Paris).
The door was open, so I went inside.
It’s a more restrained Art Nouveau. There’s no asymmetry as in the gate by Guimard. The style is subdued because it is a sacred space and maybe because it’s a departure from the other churches in Paris, which are older and traditional in style. This is considered the first modern church in Paris.
The curving balustrades sparkle.
The Church of Saint John (St. Jean) was built over several years that spanned 1900. It took so long because construction was halted due to concerns over structural safety. The building passed tests, and the world’s first church made of reinforced concrete was completed in 1904. The architect was Anatole de Baudot.
Imagine. Those Metro entrances were being built at the same time as this.
My next post will appear on July 1. I hope you enjoyed Paris.
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The Huntington is also an art museum, famous for Blue Boy. Due to the pandemic, this is the kind of art I am seeing now, at home.
I love how this art is stylized. There are no gradations of color in the birds, and the angle of their wings is precise. You may have noticed that the puzzle has only 300 pieces. I ordered puzzles when I began to confine myself to my home, and I got easy ones. Slim pickings online, by the way.
I was also not above buying cheerful puzzles which I will one day share with the children in my family. Really, I will. I need happy, easy activities now.
I have seen recent silly movies too many times to watch them again. Dumb and Dumber. Happy Gilmore.
For comedies I haven’t seen a dozen times, I watched some from the 1960s. After the Fox stars Peter Sellers, and my brothers and I must have watched this every time it came on TV. I never found a video or DVD of it, and I was afraid it had faded into obscurity. I found it on Amazon Prime.
The famous playwright Neil Simon wrote the screenplay, and the music is by Oscar-winner Burt Bacharach. Here’s the original trailer, from 1966:
Can you recommend a favorite goofy movie?
I’ll get serious this week, and next weekend, we’ll see a bit of Paris from 1900, the Fin de Siecle. Stay safe.
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All winter long, in the shade of towering, ancient oaks, camellias bloom red, pink, and white in California’s Descanso Gardens. This enchanting garden has a painful origin, one tied to World War II. It is also a story of a beam of light in the darkness, an act of friendship amidst the anguish of many people.
This KCET video tells the story in less than twelve minutes, starting at the nine-minute mark, but you may want to watch the entire episode. Descanso Gardens is located in the city of La Canada (can-YA-da) Flintridge, only thirteen miles from downtown Los Angeles.
This video should start at about 9:00 minutes. Watch to 20:24. The last minute tells of the construction of Japanese Garden at Descanso Gardens, completing the story of what is now the largest camellia collection in North America.
E. Manchester Boddy saw a business opportunity, Brown says, but also had “deep compassion” for his friends and paid a fair price for the camellias.
The camellias I’ve seen in California are pink, white or red or a combination, such as red and white stripes. I hunt for “sports.” These are single plants with two different colors of blooms. For example, a camellia shrub with red blooms might have a section with white ones. Those branches have a natural mutation, so its blooms are different.
The trailer for the episode shows the gardens at Descanso.
Camellias at Descanso bloom from early autumn to spring, with the most dazzling floral display in winter, from January through February. Other gardens at Descanso make it beautiful year-round.
I visited France and wrote about a spectacular garden, shown here.
I passed through the Berlin Wall. Even though I was an American tourist, my trip through the Iron Curtain and into the DDR changed me. In 1983, there was no grafitti on the Communist side of the wall. Nobody could go near it.
It was assumed that the East German guards in the border towers, like the white one above, had machine guns to kill their fellow citizens. The vast majority of East Germans could not leave the DDR until they reached retirement age. They could see, beyond the Berlin Wall, the buildings of free Germany. They could also see this inspiring banner of Polish workers successfully challenging their own Communist government.
Crossing the Communist Border
I boarded a tour bus in West Berlin for a trip to the East. It stopped at Checkpoint Charlie. We crossed through and had a tour of East Berlin. At the end of this post, I include links to sights.
It’s leaving a Communist country that’s serious business.
Everyone had to get off the bus and stand single file on a long line painted on the pavement.
The stern young border guards appeared, wearing the military uniforms of a Communist country. I had nothing to fear, but thirty years later, I get a chill down my spine again.
A border guard examined my passport photo. He looked up and studied my face for at least five seconds. When he was sure I was not an East German seeking freedom, he handed me back my passport.
A guard produced a hand truck like the one below, but with a mirror on the bottom.
The guard moved the hand truck under the edge of the bus and looked at the mirror on the base. He was looking for an East German resident clinging to the undercarriage. He moved the hand truck in and out, all around the edges of the bus. Later, I crossed the border on a train in the countryside, and the same thing happened. After checking our photos, the guards looked under the long train seat for a person.
The Next Day, A Solo Trip
The following day, Communist Berlin pulled me like a magnet, and I went alone. I found poverty.
I went in a produce store where half a dozen people shopped. Everyone had little potatoes in their basket. Just the potatoes, except one woman had a dirt clod with a bright orange dot. It appeared to be a carrot, or bunch of carrots, in a dirt clod.
An attractive sign high on the wall said, “Apfels,” but I could not find apples or any other fruit.
I walked in a nice area and saw images of Marx and Lenin. I ate in a pleasant restaurant and pitied my waitress her lack of freedom.
I came to a rundown neighborhood and saw the rubble of a brick building.
I believe it was damage from the war, forty years before. Next to this, someone had spray-painted a cry for help.
They had written it in English. As if we could help them, I thought.
I mailed postcards from East Berlin to the U.S., and they took five weeks to arrive. My friends back home said, “Well, the censors had to read the postcards.” Yes, but five weeks to read three sentences?
Where the Tour Bus Went
A Military Cemetery With Propaganda
East Berlin, and East Germany (DDR), were the Soviet Union’s slice of the pie when the victorious Allies divided up Germany. My tour bus stopped at the Soviet Memorial in Treptower Park, where more than 7,000 Soviet soldiers are buried. They lost their lives in World War II. Our tour guide told us an inflated number, 25,000 soldiers, 5,000 in each of the five great rectangles of lawn.
I heard these museums were spared from Allied bombing. An island in a river is easy to see from the air. We were taken to a museum with the famous Egyptian bust of Nefertiti.
At the Pergamon Museum, I was amazed to enter an enormous room containing part of a Greek temple. It’s the Pergamon Altar, and visitors walk up the ancient stairs. The many marble figures appear to be life-sized or larger. In another room, I walked down a walled street taken from ancient Babylon. Those walls are covered with beautiful blue tile.
Our last names tell about our ancestors hundreds of years ago.
Long ago, when there were fewer people, all anyone needed was one name. Eventually, that became confusing. Different men had the same name.
“John? Which John do you mean? John the miller, or John the young man?”
People spoke this way for centuries before these “tags” became the names John Miller and John Youngman.
In the year 1000 AD, the British Isles had only about 2 million people. This includes the UK and Ireland.
As an American, I tried to imagine this and looked for a comparable US state. I found that New Mexico is the same area, and it now has the same population as the British Isles did in 1000 A.D.
In 1066, William the Conqueror led the Norman invasion of England. Europeans started to go to England, and the population grew. People began to use last names. (In France, this taking of last names happened earlier, about 1000 AD.)
In the four hundred years or so after the Norman Conquest of 1066, people in the British Isles began to adopt last names. Their family members and relatives would have the same, or similar names. Some countries and regions resisted longer.
Often it was the knights and gentry who were the first to take last names. Knights, of course, are addressed as “sir.” Last names are also called surnames, which came from “sir”name.
Our names tell about our ancestors in the Middle Ages, writes William Dodgson Bowman in The Story of Surnames and Geneology.
Jack London’s ancestors were from…you know.
Playwright Noel Coward’s ancestors were cow herders.
There were four main categories of names, Bowman writes, giving these examples:
Where they lived. Street, Hill, or the name of their town
Who their father was: John’s son became Johnson
Nicknames like Wolf, Oldman, Goodman, Brown, Strong
Their occupation or position
Occupational last names are fun! I have been noticing them for many years. My dad told me about them after he explained why our last name was Wilson (son of Wil). It took me a while, but here is what I came up with on my own. I have known people with most of these last names:
Smith (blacksmith, silversmith, etc.)
Sexton (church custodian, even today)
Hostler, Ostler (takes care of horses)
Sawyer (saws wood)
Cooper (makes barrels)
Bowman has more, including:
Chandler (makes candles)
Fletcher (makes arrows, a more common occupation in the Middle Ages!)
Would you like to tell us about your name, or that of a family member?
“Welcome, Modernists!” read the banners in Palm Springs, California. I hadn’t thought of myself as being modern, but this is Midcentury Modern, with a focus on the 1950s and 1960s. It might be as cool now as it was back then. I went to the fall preview of Modernism Week, an annual February event billed as the ultimate celebration of Midcentury architecture, design and culture.
Frank Sinatra’s Home
My first stop was Twin Palms. Designed by E. Stewart Williams, this house will forever be known as Sinatra’s house, although he lived here only ten years.
He and his first wife, Nancy, moved into their brand new home and threw a New Year’s Eve bash to usher in 1948.
Yes, his bedroom was open for the tour! This is the view from the bed.
A preservationist who spoke to our tour said the pool, which is in the front yard, was not built to look like a piano, although its shape reminds people of one. The walkway’s pergola often casts shadows which look like piano keys.
Sinatra left his wife for actress Ava Gardner. In 1951, they married, but the marriage was stormy. The master bathroom sink is still cracked from the time Sinatra reportedly threw a bottle of champagne during one of their fights. They divorced in 1957, but became lifelong friends.
There is a lot of sandstone inside and out. A microphone was found embedded in it. The preservationist said Sinatra did that because he wanted to hear what people said about him after he left.
Fireplaces in the Sinatra home. On the left, the sandstone one in his bedroom.
Sinatra could record from the property. An antenna extends up from the stone feature in the middle of the photo below. It sent his home recordings to his studio.
His living room had sound and recording equipment built in.
We saw many houses in a few days, but one stood out. We forgot the official name–the Morse residence–and called it, “The James Bond House.”
The James Bond House (But Not Really)
In 1961, Mr. and Mrs. Morse commissioned architect Hal Levitt to remodel their tract home. They liked to entertain and wanted to bring a pool into their living room.
A framed photo in the home showed one of their parties in the 1960s, with Mrs. Morse dancing to a band.
When the party’s over, partitions are pulled out of the walls, and the living room is separated from the outdoor pool.
The party continues. Even if you can’t go, see photos with sunshine and style at Modernism Week.
This was my first taste of Midcentury Modern, and now I really appreciate it.
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