The history of grasses — a timeline

Snow’s melting in Berrien County, Michigan, showing the winter wheat greening up, March 22, 2014 [Photo, Micki Glueckert]

The dates given in this timeline are the best approximations available at the time of publication (March 25, 2014).

One hundred million years ago — Grasses appear 

Oat grass, Locust Lane, Michigan. [Photo, TWCarns]

Grasses evolved relatively late among the land plants, near the end of the Mesozoic period. Dinosaurs ate them, as shown in 2005 when scientists found silica from grass leaves in fossilized dinosaur dung. They spread everywhere, adapting to a wide range of conditions because they had:

  • Bits of silica in their leaves, to make it harder for animals to eat them. That didn’t prevent numerous animals from evolving ways to consume them anyway — extra stomachs (ruminants like cows, zebras, elephants and deer), big teeth and extra digestive spaces (like horses), and jaws and mandibles (insects).
  • Growth from the ground up, rather than from the top of the plant, which allowed them to survive fires, droughts, winds, and other harsh conditions.
  • Two types of photosynthesis, allowing them to grow in a wide range of climates. Some grasses have C-3 photosynthesis, adapted for tropical climates; the C-4 path of photosynthesis developed more recently and enabled grasses to colonize colder and drier climates, including Antarctica.
  • The ability to propagate both by runners,(above and below ground) and with seeds.
  • Wind-carried pollen, so that the grasses didn’t have to rely on insects for fertilization.
     The climate cooperated as well. No-one knows for sure why the dinosaurs went extinct about 65,000,000 years ago, but cooling climates and ice ages after that often favored mammals and grasses. Herds of ruminants and the animals who ate them for dinner covered much of Africa, the Americas, and Asia.

Deer eating grass in Tacoma, Washington, February, 2014. [Photo, TWCarns]

Six million years ago — human ancestors appear 
     Fast forward through many millions of years to the grasslands of Africa where the earliest signs of humans appeared.

Savanna, Samburu National Reserve, Kenya.  Credit: Thure Cerling, University of Utah.

Humans developed their cultures and civilizations in close relationship to grasses. Whether they were feeding themselves or their domesticated animals, or subsisting on wild animals that foraged on grasslands, much of the human diet came — and still comes — from grass. One human ancestor, Ardipithecus, from 4.3 million years ago was eating grass; its members lived in woodlands near the savanna. Other evidence from about 3.5 million years ago suggests that grass was a main component of the hominids (pre-humans) diet, distinguishing them from their primate ancestors who subsisted mainly on fruits, leaves, and insects or small animals.

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An artist’s image of Ardipithecus. 

3.4 million to two million years ago — evidence of hominids using stone tools, and eating grasses

About 2.6 million years ago, humans were making stone tools, in the Kenyan grasslands, and elsewhere, while continuing to eat grasses. At the same time, the climate was shifting from more tropical in most places to drier, cooler, and more variable, well-suited to grasses, as shown by a variety of scientific data, from undersea sediments to fossilized vegetation.

Tools from the Stone Age. [Photo, Wikipedia]

There’s plenty of evidence that humans were eating meat at the same time as the grasses and other foods, but data suggest that human kidneys and livers are limited in in their ability to process proteins. Too much meat is toxic, and half or more of human calories must come from fats and carbohydrates such as grains. Wheat is the focus of this blog; others have done great justice to the rest of the omnivores’ diets.

1.9 million years ago — hominids begin to cook?

[Photo, TWCarns]

When did people begin to cook grains, whether by roasting them, boiling them, or in some other fashion? The evidence is so murky that it’s probably better to be cautious rather than to say that anyone knows with certainty. One study looked at the size of hominid molars from about 2,000,000 years ago, and suggested that they were much smaller than those of related primates because hominids needed to spend much less time and energy chewing food — only possible if they were cooking it.

40,000 to 23,000 years ago — people begin to grind up grains

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Paleolithic grinding stone (Italy, 30,000 years ago). [Photo, NPR]

Tools for grinding grains appear well before humans domesticated the grasses with agriculture. Excavations have found stones that were used to grind tubers and grains in Italy, Russia, and elsewhere. A flat stone found in Israel in 1989 had been used to pulverize barley, and possibly wheat. The earliest evidence of wheat ancestors, such as wild einkorn and emmer, dates from about this time as well.

12,000 to 10,000 years ago — the beginnings of agriculture

Northwest Ohio wheat field, June 30, 2013. [Photo, Betsy Slotnick]

Finally, we get to agriculture when people began to deliberately plant crops — mostly grains — and cultivate the ground. Notice that by the time agriculture begins, people had been eating grains for most of the multi-million-year history of hominds; they had been cooking grains for perhaps two million years; and they had been grinding grains into pastes (and probably cooking the pastes) for tens of thousands of years.

Most of the existing evidence for the earliest farms is from archaeological sites in the Middle East. Agriculture would assure a reliable source of grains and legumes for proteins to supplement meat. People had been eating wild wheats, and they were among the earliest plants to be cultivated.

A fox and other carvings on stones at Gobekli Tepe. [Photo, Smithsonian]

One of the most interesting possibilities for the origins of agriculture comes from a site in southeast Turkey, Gobekli Tepe, where excavation began in earnest in 1994. Stones, some that are sixteen feet tall and quarried with flint tools from about 11,000 years ago suggest a temple or burial site. Many have sophisticated carvings of everything from lions to snakes, vultures to spiders. Twenty miles away, a village site contains the earliest evidence of domesticated wheat, from 10,500 years ago. Within a few hundred years after that, signs of domesticated sheep, cattle, and pigs appeared in the area. Klaus Schmidt, the archaeologist who began excavating Gobekli Tepe suggests that the need to care for the large numbers of hunter-gatherers while they were building the monuments led to villages and thence to agriculture, rather than (as has often been thought) agricultural settlements leading to formal religions.

10,000 years ago to the present: Mesopotamia to Monsanto

Left to right, einkorn, emmer, spelt, and kamut — all ancient varieties of wheat. [Photo, Purdue University.]

Wheat has changed so drastically that none of the wheat strains most commonly cultivated in the 20th and 21st centuries would have been found in Mesopotamia, at Gobekli  Tepe and elsewhere.  What’s more, the wheat grown in the past fifty years, since the “Green Revolution” differs greatly from the wheat that farmers grew before the 1950s. Some of the most important changes during the past ten millenia include:

  • Thousands of years ago, farmers selected the strains of wheat that held onto their grains (had a rachis, or stem for the grains, that did not shatter when the grains were ripe) — so that the seeds stayed on the stalks until they could be harvested rather than scattering to the winds.
  • Farmers also selected wheats that did not have tight hulls, because these were easier to thresh.
  • Over the centuries, farmers have grown wheats with differing levels of gluten, in part because those with higher gluten contents do better in northern climates and those with lower gluten do better in warmer areas. The foods of the regions with low-gluten wheat are different, as a result, from those in the high-gluten regions. [Current concerns about the pros and cons of gluten are discussed here.]
  • Dr. Borlaug, in the Green Revolution during the 1950s, won a Nobel Peace Prize for hybridizing wheat that was much shorter, so that the stalks didn’t topple under their own weight before harvest, or get blown down in summer storms. He also developed wheat that was far more productive, although it did require substantially more nitrogen-rich fertilizer.
Wheat displayed at Alaska State Fair, 2013. [Photo, TWCarns]
  • Monsanto, characterized as the world’s largest seed company, said in January 2014 that although no genetically modified wheat is grown anywhere in the world today,  it was coming closer to marketing one. The company halted field testing in 2004 because of resistance from potential foreign purchasers and others. Plants from genetically modified seeds would resist destruction by glyphosphate, sold by Monsanto as Round-up. The weed-killer is already widely used on Monsanto’s patented GM corn, soy and other crops. One source suggests that consumers are less concerned about using the herbicide on those crops because they are more widely used as animal feed or biofuels than as food for people, like wheat.
       Wheat’s future, despite many concerns about celiac disease, gluten sensitivities, and its healthfulness, seems assured after so many years of serving as one of the most important foods in many parts of the world. The great majority of people are not sensitive to gluten, and wheat provides substantial percentages of the protein, carbohydrates, and nutrients needed daily.
Loaf of bread, Fire Island Rustic Bakeshop, Anchorage, 2013. [Photo, TWCarns]
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Sicilian artichoke and tuna stew  


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Artichokes, Santa Cruz News.

After Pablo Neruda

Find a tuna among the market vegetables, a solitary man of war. Pair it with artichokes, their sides burnished as grenades. Take them in your market basket, home to the deep soup pot. I am envisioning a Sicilian fish stew, one where you start by sauteeing the small diced onion and smashed cloves of garlic (two, maybe, or three) in olive oil that smells of the dusty October hillsides where it was harvested. After the onion and garlic have scented the kitchen, stir in the baby artichokes, two dozen or so cut into quarters, and stir them sizzling but not burning for a good five minutes. Then it will be time to splash in half a dozen crushed tomatoes, red with the blood of the New World from which they came, along with the chopped green celery stalk and its leaves, and the bright bitter parsley — enough to bring summer into this autumn dish.

You will stir this with salt and pepper (“to taste,”as all of the good books say), half a glass of white wine, a cup of stock (fish or vegetable) and simmer for half an hour, while you turn back to the noble tuna, the missile that has become a missive, a letter from Pablo Neruda to your kitchen. Now you must bravely cut the tuna into one-inch pieces, of a size to cook quickly and tenderly, each piece a word, and all of them together a pound of the red muscles that propelled the tuna through the deeps. When the artichokes have let down their guard and are al dente, slip the tuna chunks into the pot, and quickly toast some slices of ciabbata that have been brushed with more of the olive oil. They will be done at the same time, the tuna and the toasted bread, and you may ladle the stew over the slice of bread in the bottom of each bowl. Some would fling more parsley atop the stew, or a lemon aioli, or some other garnish. You must be the judge. Take the bowls outside, sit with them under the fig tree in the evening, and drink a wine from the slopes of Mt. Aetna with your meal.

Artichoke, tuna —
Neruda immortalized
you. I make a stew.

Northern blue-fin tuna.

Pablo Neruda, Ode to a Large Tuna in a Market; Ode to the Artichoke

My thanks to the poets of “Ten Poets” in Anchorage for their thoughtful and helpful comments.
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Why the Magi brought gifts







Christmas gifts of years past.

[Note — this was written in mid-December, as I was busy wrapping gifts for dozens of friends and family members, for charities and hostesses. It is now late January. Hanukkah, Christmas, Epiphany — all those gift-giving occasions have come and gone. This still seems Important.]

The Magi traversed wild deserts and hostile trails seeking the new-born king whose star they saw. They went to Bethlehem to take the baby gifts — gold, frankincense and myrrh — things of this world, material things. Why, when we are told so often and so harshly that Christmas is too materialistic, would the Three Kings have been the first to bring the Christ Child gifts of this world?

In the Catholic teaching, God gave us bodies, and a world of plants and animals, seas and mountains, fields and orchards to live in. Then God became human to live among us — in the Catholic teachings, fully God and fully human. He broke and ate the bread, drank the wine, laughed with his friends, and walked the dusty paths of Israel. He welcomed the material gifts, like the ointment from the woman who washed his feet. We owe it to the God who shared these gifts of shape and form, taste and sound with us to appreciate them and in our turn, share them with others. 

Instead of rejoicing in gifts this season, we wail about the materialism of the world, and the burdens of giving. It can be tough. We feel pinched for time and money. The demands appear insatiable. Who has any idea what a teenage boy wants — that we can afford or appropriately give him? Or a friend of exquisite taste? Or someone living out their last days asleep in a nursing home? Not to despair — there is always something to give, from a tech-friendly gift card, to an hour sitting beside the sleeper as a quiet companion.

If we don’t want to take the Christian view of the season, we can see the holiday as a chance to show our deep delight in the world we live in. The fact that we are body intertwined with spirit means that our relationship with everything around us is one of interaction. It is not given to us to reproduce just in the most physical sense. Every time we cook, garden, clean, create a song, make a child, throw a pot, write a story, we share in the creation of and maintenance of the world. Resting, enduring, pushing the Sisyphean rock up the hill, we share in the creation and maintenance of the material world. It is our gift and our task. 

As artists, we have even more responsibility. If we don’t share the things that we create with our talents as gifts to others, and recognize the talents of our fellow artists by giving others their work, how can we think that people in general will take the time to do that? It doesn’t seem to me to be an either-or. Each aspect, material and spiritual, supports and enlarges the other.

Snowflakes, a gift (Micki Glueckert, December 8, 2013).


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Anchorage snowstorm, December 14, 2013

View from the front of our house.
Sounds like most of our friends are getting enough snow for a white Christmas. Just in case Anchorageites were feeling that theirs was a little grubby and worn out, we got about a foot yesterday and today, with more coming. Here’s what it looked like today.
A snow-covered Christmas bow at Fire Island bakery where we began the day.
View from the Costco parking lot, looking toward the Chugach mountains, 11:30 a.m.
Parking lot raven. They are remarkably black — eyes to toenails.
Sidewalk plow at I Street.
Jim cleaning the car windows, one of many times today (I offered to help, but he was having too much fun).
Low visibility on DeBarr Road . . . and everywhere else.
Catkins contemplating winter.
Black-capped chickadee at the bird feeder.
Neighborhood moose, browsing at 5:00 p.m. — too dark to get a clear photo.
Stuffed moose at the Fifth Avenue Mall waiting for people to come and have their pictures taken.
Christmas bling at Nordstrom’s. 
Snow abstractions at night.
We wish all of you delightful days in the next few weeks.
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April 7, 2010 — Hotel Carolina and Kerameikos, Athens

April 7, 2010: Kerameikos, and a new hotel

A graffitied wall, and the Parthenon on the Acropolis.

Jim says:

“It’s Thursday, and we checked out of the Athens Studios and checked into the Hotel Carolina, a little trepidatiously since it sounds so much like the “Hotel California” as sung about by the Eagles. (“Such a lovely place…”).  It is priced about the same as the Athens Studios, but the room is much smaller, and we don’t have access to a laundromat. But it is nice, the desk clerk is very friendly and it is in the heart of the city and near the Parliament building. And there is a Starbucks nearby. So far we have seen two in  the city. I can remember when there was just the one in the Pike Street Market. There is something simultaneously comforting and disconcerting about having a little bit of Seattle wherever you go.

View from the balcony of our room at the Hotel Carolina on Kolokotroni Street.

To get here, we caught a cab instead of taking the metro. It cost 4 euros instead of 2, but there is less walking, and we didn’t have to hassle with our bags up and down the stairs to the subway, and rolling through the busy streets here in the city center. Especially because Teri’s bag has a broken wheel. Alas, she may have to consider replacing Old Paint when we return to Alaska.

This part of the city is grittier than near the Acropolis Museum. Narrow streets lined with “antique” stores, hardware stores, coffee shops, shoe stores, religious icon stores, fabric stores; few wider than 20 feet. The pattern through much of the city is to have the first floor of the 4 to 7 story buildings dedicated to retail, and the remaining upper stories used for residence. It makes for an interesting mix of activities with women shaking our throw rugs on the fourth floor balcony, a couple having coffee on the 3rd floor, and the shops down below. Everywhere there are pigeons and doves.

Street scene on the way to Kerameikos. Note the graffiti, and the lavender flowering trees.

After we checked in, we walked to the old Athens cemetery, which dates back to Socrates, Plato and Pericles [Pericles is buried somewhere there, but not the others]. It has a nice little museum with statuary and artifacts from the area. Much of the material for the museum came from the wall of the city of Athens that was erected in great haste with whatever material was at hand to fend off the Spartans.[We aren’t entirely sure about this, but some quick research isn’t settling the question. At some point, someone decided to put at least part of the grave markers on the walls, rather than the ground below.] And so it was preserved all these centuries. Parts of the wall are still there in the cemetery. We walked down the Sacred Way that leads to the Sacred Gate (one of 13 into the city. Not superstitious those old Athenians). I have a photo of Teri standing where the Sacred Gate used to be. The high points were spotting a 10-inch tortoise, tadpoles in the Eridanos “River” (a small stream by our standards) that flows through the cemetery, and a woodpecker.

Part of the city wall, with the Sacred Way running alongside it.

We had lunch alongside the railroad, led to our destination by a student who spoke good English and offered to help find our way (we were, in fact, heading in quite the wrong direction).  He was very nice, and hoped to get into the London school of Economics after he graduated from college. We dined in the shade [on delicious Greek salad with the freshest, most flavorful tomatoes and cucumbers you could hope to eat], outside next to the sidewalk. The passing crowd was fascinating, from North Africans selling watches and sunglasses, to the five-piece gypsy band (3 accordions, 1 guitar and 1 tambourine, which was used more for collecting change than playing). I realized that they were playing the same five bars over and over, with some slight embellishments. It made sense. Because they were strolling musicians nobody was going to listen to them for more than a minute or two, so they didn’t really need much of a repertoire.

Teri says:

A new week, a new home. We’ve been in Athens seven days. The Hotel Carolina features a filigreed elevator door on each floor, with the elevator itself having no doors.  The neighborhood is all retail stores of every description – hardware, antiques, shoes, lots of jewelry, bags – and cafes, fast food shops, and lounges (bars) for blocks in every direction. There’s a church every couple of blocks, including the head cathedral for all of Greece, the Mitropolis that sits at one end of a marble-paved square.

We spent parts of the afternoon and evening walking through the streets, looking for the cheap Greek pies (spanikopita – the spinach pie, tiropita – feta cheese pie, and many other varieties – potato, vegetable, and meat) at the Everest chain of pie and salad fast food restaurants, and for chocolate. We found the pies, along Ermou Street which has British and American chain fashion stores, and lots of street vendors. Today’s sellers included some selling guns that blow bubbles, coconut juice stands,and Greek men selling lottery tickets.  They leave the sunglasses and bags and toys to the Indians and Africans. In the past few days we’ve actually seen customers buying sunglasses and bags, and I saw a teenage boy on the ferry to Aegina with a splat tomato – we are relieved to see that they sell things. It was a chillier day, with a west wind blowing off the ocean, and clouding up later in the afternoon.

Gravestones at Kerameikos, some that didn’t get used by the Romans to pave over the river.

As Jim mentioned, we walked to Keramikos, the potters’ field  and graveyard since about 2,500 B.C. ( Pausanias writing about 160 C.E. says that Keramikos was named after the hero Keramos, son of Dionysus and Ariadne; our word “ceramic” came from Keramikos). About 600 C.E., people stopped using it as a cemetery, and it lay unremarked until the mid-1800s, when someone found a grave marker while digging. The Eridanos River runs through it – two thousand years ago it was a wide marshy area with enough water to make it good for potters. The river today is maybe two feet wide and a few inches deep, with tadpoles and dragonflies, and one sizable tortoise crossing a bridge ahead of us. Tall orange canna lilies and reeds stand along the banks, and red anemones (one of Demeter’s flowers), beds of chamomile and grasses spread across the cemetery grounds. In later days, the Romans covered the river over through most of Athens to use it as a sewer, often using gravestones.

Tortoise on the footbridge over the River Eriadnos.

Hoopoe bird at Kerameikos. Back behind the museum the area is littered with gravestones, bowls like these, and other fragments that haven’t been put back into place  and weren’t considered worth a display.

One reason I wanted to go is that the route from Demeter’s temple in Eleusis to the Parthenon ran through the cemetery along the river. Every year, a procession honoring Athena started in Eleusis, and went through Keramikos to the Parthenon atop the Acropolis. This was the biggest event in the Greek religious year, and many of the statues and carvings on the Parthenon show scenes from it. A small stone marker says, “Sacred Gate.” Looking up to the southeast, the Parthenon stands out against the blue sky. Pilgrims walked the route the other direction as well, going through Kerameikos and Piraeus to get to Eleusis to participate in Demeter and Persephone’s religious ceremonies there.

A view of the Parthenon from the Sacred Way in Kerameikos.

Jim found an area called the Dromos, a road that ran through the cemetery between Athens and Plato’s Academy. It was at a spot along here that Pericles gave a famous funeral speech honoring the dead in one of the wars by speaking of how great the Athens form of government was. Pericles, by the way, paid for many of those temples on the Acropolis, including the Parthenon, by taking money from the alliance of Greek city-states that Athens dominated. One Greek scholar termed it the greatest embezzlement of all time, but at least Pericles didn’t spend it foolishly.

A group of German art students shared the space with us; they sat in front of the museum for an hour and drew the statues taken from the graves. We walked through the museum before going to the cemetery itself. The marble statues and grave markers there are free to be touched –so unlike the American museums with which we are familiar. One shows a grandmother holding her infant grandchild, with the inscription, “I hold here the beloved child of my daughter which I held on my knees when we were alive and saw the light of the sun, and now dead, I hold it dead.”

Memorial for a grandmother and her grandchild, in the museum at Kerameikos.

The museum holds hundreds of grave offerings – vases, jewelry, cups, toys – and one wonders – how did you come by these? When your grandmother died, did you go to the potter’s shop and say, “I need two of these, and she would have liked this, and I should probably have three of those?”

Covered box with octopi at the museum at Kerameikos.

Vase with chicken heads at the Kerameikos museum.

Tomorrow we think that we will head to the modern market, and then to explore our new neighborhoods. Anthea is on Crete with her class and without much access to the Internet. I’ll pass on the links to her blogs when they show up.

An old (1600s?) stone church behind Kermeikos, with its adjacent modern concrete tower next to it.

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April 1, 2010 — Getting to Greece

The Parthenon from the Keraimekos Cemetery in Athens.
Getting there is half the fun
                                April 1, 2010, midday

We have gotten as far as the Milan airport – it’s a gray day – doesn’t look a lot different from Newark on the outside. One the inside? Not an American airport – the halls are narrower, the ceilings lower, the lights much brighter. The traffic pattern in the airport routes you through the middle of shopping areas. Many of the shops have no walls – they’re larger than kiosks, but small enough to keep track of all of the goods easily. And they’re not American shops – no “buy the goods made in this state here” stores. No stores devoted entirely to souvenirs and T-shirts and stuffed animals. No Burger Kings.  No, in Milan we have glove stores, a mozzarella bar, Mont Blanc pens, Swatch watches, lots of designer name stores, and perfume. Lots of perfume. The airport smells like the Nordstrom cosmetics section, dense with fragrance in the shopping areas, with an undercurrent of scent everywhere else.

April 1, 2010, Midnight

About midnight in Athens.

Our cab driver from the airport knew a little more English than I did Greek (which is to say, very little). We passed by the “First Cemetery” which is the recent (last couple of hundred years) one. People there are “in the ground three years” – she gestured – “and then out. They pull them out. Me – I am [buried] in my village. That’s good. I stay there. People with lot of money – 50,000 euros – they can stay in that cemetery all the time. Most people, three years.” We agreed that being buried in the village was probably a lot nicer than in the graveyard where they dig you up after three years. She drove us a different route, she said (as if we would know,– but she quoted a flat rate, same as the one in the guidebooks, so we didn’t care) because everyone is leaving town to go to their villages for Easter – everyone, yesterday (Wednesday), Thursday; “tomorrow more will go. Then Athens is very quiet.”

She drove us past the local Catholic Church so that we could go there on Easter Sunday, pointed out Syntagma Square (the preferred location for demonstrators because the Parliament Building is there; it also was the location of a Christmas bomb that failed to deliver), Hadrian’s Arch, and more. Then she left us a couple of blocks away from what we thought was our checkin location, and betook her dyed hair, black-fingernailed, big-sunglassesed, tight purple dress off for her next fare. We tipped her well and liked her a great deal better than the New York cabbies.

Athens street.

It wasn’t our checkin location, however. We had to walk another couple of blocks. My small roller bag which needed a tape job on the corner at the beginning of the trip now developed a broken wheel, which made even louder clattering on the cobblestones. We got our studio, retrieved the password for the free wifi, connected with Anthea,  and set our clocks forward another hour. At about 7:30, she arrived at our doorstep, fresh from class, and we set off on a twenty-minute walk to dinner at a taverna near her school.

Jim was vowing to lose weight on this trip – if that happens, it will be because of the miles of walking, not because of the food which is excellent and served in generous amounts. We hoped that the wait staff found our attempts to decipher the menu and speak a little Greek entertaining.  For dessert, they brought us complimentary halvah and mastic wine in one-ounce glass mugs (a side note – mastic is the gummy sap of a tree grown on Chios. The ancients considered it a great prize for medicine, cooking and wine; pirates and others raided the island on a regular schedule to steal it. The wine tasted a bit like vodka with a pleasantly sweet exotic flavor, and eminently desirable).

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A typical taverna.

We walked Anthea to her apartment in the Pangrati neighborhood above a cookie store and bakery (half an hour), and then back to our apartment (another hour). By that time, the bars and restaurants were winding down a bit – Athens stays awake late. Only a few pedestrians were out as we made our way back past Hadrian’s Arch again, the Olympic Stadium, a view or two of the Acropolis, and many Athens streets. Two scents predominate in the city night – orange blossoms and cigarette smoke, often mixed. The orange trees grow along the streets, like mountain ash in Anchorage, or small fruit trees in the Midwest – except that they have oranges on them that fall to the ground, and no-one bothers to pick them up and eat them. [Update – one of Anthea’s classmates had the same thought – he did pick one up and found it to be extra-bitter and unpleasant. So that’s why they lie where they fall. But they make good marmalade. A later note, from Rome, 2013 — those same trees were planted in Rome because people wouldn’t strip the trees of their fruit.].

What about knees? you ask, because Jim and I, especially Jim, left home with some major questions. For Jim the answer is, “Doing great so far, thanks to the wonders of drugs (anti-inflammatories).” For Teri, the answer also is, just fine. I’m very cautious about steps and steep slopes – the mostly-healed broken and wired-together kneecap still doesn’t work perfectly. We racked up four or five hours of walking during out first day in Athens, so we’ve passed the first test. Tomorrow we’ll see more.

Lycabettus Hill and the Acropolis from near the top of Filloppapos Hill.

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March 30, 2010 — Seeing the ancient Greeks in New York


New York, New York, what a wonderful town
The flowers are up, and the rain is down . . .

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Manhattan street in the rain.

That was the scene in Manhattan yesterday, with sheets of rain driven by a cold wind. The umbrellas were inside out, the puddles deep, and the taxis not nearly frequent enough. Nonetheless, we did the town.

When we landed at Newark near midnight on Monday and taxied to the gate, my impression was of vast plains of concrete, shiny with water that reflected row upon row of lights. When we took the shuttle to our hotel, the impression remained – more desert stretches of concrete, water, lights, and little else. No wonder people in the rest of the country think that Alaska is their personal wilderness treasure!

In the morning, the trek from hotel to Grand Central gave a more varied picture of the landscape – what we could see before clouds and rain obscured it. It was a non-trivial trip: shuttle to airport, AirTrain to the other side of the airport, and an hour and a half on the bus through Lincoln Tunnel and into the city. Of course, the last two miles took a third of that time; the other 18 miles were slow, but not mostly motionless. My commute in Anchorage is about seven minutes from driveway to office; people do this New York commute twice a day.

We met a friend from Anchorage who has moved to Connecticut – for less snow and ice, and to be closer to her kids in Manhattan. She suggested that our initial plan of wandering around Soho and the Village should be traded for something more indoors. So we hailed the first of several cabs and headed south to Chelsea Market at 15th Street and 9th Ave.

New York cab in the rain.

The way you hail a cab is to stand out in the street, just even with the parked cars and lean out to wave. Sooner or later, one pulls over, lowers his window (didn’t see any female cabbies), and (sourly) says, “Where to?” At which you say your destination, and he motions for you to get in. Later in the day, we were at the corner of 83rd and Madison (which runs north) trying to get to Grand Central (south). Every one of six or more cabbies who stopped, said, “I can’t go that way; going uptown.” The New Yorkers assured us that they are not supposed to say that, but none of them hesitated for a second (we eventually went over to Fifth, south-bound, and found one). The other important thing to know is that when you are at a spot with dozens of soaking wet people all trying to get a cab, you have an advantage by positioning yourself upstream, or maybe even at a corner where the cabs are turning onto the street you want to take. I thought – briefly, and a bit ashamed – about studies showing how selfish people are, and then got right out there and waved.

Cabs in New York are not like cabs in Anchorage or Juneau. They have little TV screens for the back seat that show ads, the weather, snippets of shows, with a crawl for breaking news. When you arrive at your stop, the screen shows your fare, along with a choice of tips pre-calculated – 15%, 18%, and 20%. You punch in the tip you want, and cash or credit. If it’s credit, you swipe your card, and a receipt prints out that the driver hands back to you. You accept the receipt, offer a silent thank you that you’ve survived another trip, and scramble out while the driver argues with the next set of passengers standing at his window.

Chelsea Market, like Pike Street in Seattle and many other reclaimed areas, was full of upscale food stores, a book store, kitchen supplies, and little restaurants and delis. We ate brunch and bought chocolate. I looked through a few tempting shops, but thought of trying to zip my bags closed with even one more pack of gum, and resisted buying. Chocolate was OK – we ate it on the spot.

Then we caught another cab, during the day’s one brief rainless hour, and headed for the Metropolitan Museum, to see the Greek statues there before we see their companions in Athens. After a couple of months of intensive reading – Greek history, maps of Athens, dozens of accounts of what to see – the beige marble statues struck me differently. They looked so familiar, suddenly, because everything in the West since then shows their influence. Many of the actual statues there were Roman copies of Greek statues that had vanished centuries earlier, and in the European statuary court, the influence of the Greeks spoke from every limb and drapery. We looked at small figurines from 2400 years ago, models of comic actors – they could have been made yesterday. Swirled glass vases? Their counterparts are being made today. It was as if time vanished because so little has changed in all of those centuries.

A reproduction of a relief of Demeter, the Greek grain goddess, and Triptolemus in the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Because the Eleusinian prince Triptolemus was kind to Demeter when she was looking for her lost daughter Persephone, Demeter taught him the arts of agriculture. She gave him a winged chariot drawn by dragons so that he could travel the world spreading her gifts of grain and farming, and made him a demi-god.

Other relics of early Greece came from another world entirely. The orange and black vases? Even though the lady with the bound-up dreadlock ponytail had a most contemporary hairdo, her clothes and face and gestures told an entirely different story than she would recount today. The men on the vases with their shields and helmets and short draperies lived in a time completely at variance with ours. The gold jewelry too, although some pieces were familiar from the museum reproductions, was breathtaking in its intricacy and perfection. So perhaps it was just the statutes – a head of Zeus looking very much like a boy friend from the late 1960s; Triptolemos in a panel with Demeter and Persephone closely resembling a kid I used to babysit – in their three dimensions that echoed today.

After the Met, we sat and drank coffee with Jim at an elegant chocolate shop (Voisges) that was run by an Indiana boy from Goshen (not far from Teri’s hometown of Buchanan in the southwest corner of Michigan). So we traded stories of northern Indiana, and how he loved chocolate and sought out the best chocolate maker he could find to work with. Getting the cab from there to Ali Baba near Grand Central was when we really got soaked, drenched, soggy – it was nearing rush hour and we trekked from one unrewarding cab-hailing spot to another. One friend said that the cabbies had decided to end their shifts at 4:30 or 5:00, despite the city’s best efforts to get them to change at 3:00 or 7:00, or something less disruptive of everyone’s lives.

All in all, it was a nice transition from daily life in snow-bound Anchorage to sunny Athens where we will join Anthea tomorrow. Here’s her latest blog, for anyone not keeping up with her on Facebook:

“Miláo, miláte, milái –  I speak, you speak, he/she speaks. – How awesome is today? Today I don’t have class until 2, and then it’s a class on ancient Greek theatre and the cult of Asclepios, followed by my first Greek lesson. That is a lot of awesome today.

. . .   Yesterday, Rachel, Dani and I walked to Syntagma Square to pick up Dani’s friend and our fourth roommate, Lauren. We took the tram home — which meant buying metro tickets from a ticket kiosk. I went first, since everyone looked uncertain. (I was uncertain, too, but . . . nobody else speaks any Greek.) “Ena?” [One.] I tried, and gave the guy a €2 piece — and got a €1 piece and a ticket back. Success! “Efcharisto!” [Thank you.] Rachel followed my lead, with similar success. When Dani and Lauren went up, they looked uncertain, and as I was coaching from the sidelines, the man in the kiosk was laughing and prompting them. “Ena,” holding up one finger. “Ena.” One.

Moments like that give me a little firework burst of delight in my chest, the same display that goes off when someone asks me a question about a play that I can rattle off the answer to. I know something useful, and I know how to apply it. I try to keep those fireworks inside, because I hate coming across as a know-it-all, but the triumph is there anyway.

Just a little bit of prep has made such a difference — and it’s still not nearly enough. I wake up every morning thinking in English, and the sound of people conversing in something other than English is a much needed part of my morning routine. I am not where I was; this is not home.

Except the truth is, it’s just not home yet. Maybe, by the end of my time here, I’ll be able to write a whole blog post in Greek — very simple Greek, but Greek. That’s when I’ll know I’ve arrived.”

We’ll be back in a day or two with the best from the ancients.

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March 29, 2010 — Getting ready for Greece

The island and city of Poros, taken from the ferry — what we were looking forward to seeing.

. . . Just getting to Greece is an adventure. Here are the first few installments of our travelogue for the Athens trip, which I’ve been jotting down for the past couple of weeks. It’s Saturday night right now. On Monday morning we’ll be leaving Anchorage, and on Wednesday, we’re off to Athens. Anthea’s safely there; she’s got an actual blog: – “Adventure and Routine” is the most recent. Look on the right-hand side of the page for the earlier posts.

If you’re dying to know the best vintner for retsina, we’ll do our best to track it down. But if you need to know about the Greek Mafia, we’re not your best choice. Myself, I’m looking forward to a few sips of Metaxa brandy.


March 13, 2010
The Carns family is heading east – Jim, Anthea and Teri, that is. Regina set foot on her seventh continent last August, when she spent nearly two months studying light and algae on the Antarctic ice. We are leaving her to her Ph.D. studies of glaciology and astrobiology in Seattle (although she will have been to Death Valley and Hawaii for spring break in late March and early April, so her travel itch will be slightly mollified).

Anthea decided on Athens for her study abroad semester. The program is run by AHA at the University of Oregon, and because student visas for Greece are a nightmare to acquire, the organizers have designed an 87-day program to fit snugly within the 90-days maximum time allowed in Greece without a visa. Classes start on March 23, and end on June 19, in between capturing many of the major Greek holidays and events – March 25, Independence Day; April 4, Easter; May 1, Labor Day; the opening weeks of the summer theater and music festivals. And the weather is better than at most other times – the end of March may be cooler and a bit rainy, but April and May bring wildflowers covering the mountainsides, and by June the beaches will begin to be covered with tourists.

The program offers full semester credit, and the friends who told Anthea about it (University of Alaska drama professors who taught there in 2005, and again last fall) assure her that she can expect to be writing at least a paper a week. Classes include “Modern Greek,” “Monuments”– that is, field trips to as many of Greece’s antiquities as can be squeezed in to 87 days, “Myth and Journey” – a writing class, and “Theater and the Healing Arts in Ancient Greece.” It’s a respectable curriculum that assures that Anthea will see as much of Greece as anyone taking the Great Tour in the 1800s, and will come away with perhaps more of it firmly ingrained in her memory and psyche than most.

Jim and Teri decided that this was an opportunity not to be missed. We both spent a decent chunk of the 1970s abroad, but having married in 1981 and proceeded to do the parent adventure, we haven’t left the northern hemisphere in thirty years. Time to find some traveling shoes and a passport and head out, we thought, and Anthea agreed that we could take her out to dinner a few times while we are in Athens. So the household has been accumulating guidebooks on Greece, dictionaries, new shoes, new backpacks, long lists of things like flashlights, duct tape, and notes for the esteemed house sitters.

Our days, the past few weeks, have been spent scouring pictures of the Athens riots for clues about the weather – “See? They’re all wearing jackets and scarves along with their designer sunglasses – must be chilly.” We squint at the guidebook photos – “Look – they all say dress modestly, but everyone in these café pictures is wearing shorts or short shorts, tank tops or less, and sandals.” Clearly the guidebook photographers are concentrating on the summer crowds, leaving out the less appealing winter weather and trips to monasteries (skirts required for women, if they let you in at all). We have taken a set of Greek lessons from a wonderful teacher who has tutored us in ordering food, being polite, how to count, and how to read all of the letters – epsilon, alpha, omega, and pi – that we know from math books and signs on fraternity houses (surprise – almost none of them are pronounced the way we are accustomed to).

We’re leaving behind a city buried in snow from the past few weeks. The driveway on March 13 is hemmed in with banks that are six feet high now, and extend ten feet back to the fences on either side. At 7:00 a.m., the light is just seeping in from the east; at 8:00 p.m., there will be a little color left in the west. We’re leaving behind snow boots, heavy coats, winter hats, and packing swim suits. We’re leaving behind a lot, having decided – even Anthea – to go with carry-on only. This is hard on the Carns family – only a couple of books each, not so many gadgets, not the extra thermos . . .

Jim showing off the snow in our driveway on March 28, 2010.

Much of the time has been spent making travel arrangements. Getting from Anchorage to Athens is expensive and time-consuming, involving at least two plane changes no matter how much you are willing to pay. And we weren’t willing to pay  much, so our trips are staged. Anthea leaves on Wednesday, March 17 for New York, where she’ll spend a few days with drama students from Carnegie in a Manhattan apartment with a Riverside address. Then she wanted a taste of London, so she gets there on March 22, spends just about 24 hours, and boards a plane for Athens. We booked a hotel for her at Heathrow last night – it’s Yotel, and provides seven square metres (about ten feet by six feet) into which are squeezed a bed, a bath with shower, a “luxurious mattress with organic cotton cover” (according to the website), and a heated mirror (huh?) – all for about $95 for seven hours (they charge by the hour). But it’s in Terminal 4 at Heathrow, with direct and free bus access to Terminal 5, so it’s reliable and convenient. She’ll meet up with three of the other students from the program on the flight from London, and they’ll be able to get from the Athens airport to their school as a group – reassuring when you know little of the language.

The parental units leave on March 29 for a day and a half in New York, and then a Lufthansa flight toAthens via Milan. The interesting part about the intercontinental legs of these flights is that British Airways is scheduled to go on strike on March 22, and Lufthansa workers are talking strike at some undefined time in the near future. And JFK, from which Anthea leaves (if she does) announced soon after we had booked her flight that all planes out of JFK for the next four months are likely to be substantially delayed because of construction on its major runway. Will the Carns family even get to Athens? Probably, but quite likely not on time. Will they get back from Athens? Also probable, but the timeliness is equally doubtful.

Another exciting feature of the trip is that Greece is in turmoil over its financial situation. At the best of times, apparently, the Greeks are likely to strike – today the transportation system, tomorrow the garbage collectors, next week the police or hospitals or hotels. They demonstrate their dissatisfaction with wages, benefits, hours, and life in general on a frequent, albeit random schedule. But these days they are more upset than usual, giving us many opportunities to see Syntagma (Constitution Square) from the vantage point of thousands of demonstrators. The photos on the Internet show squads of riot police with heavy black body armor and big clear plastic shields.

Beaches are a major feature of Greece. Swimming, according to one guidebook, is quite safe. There is the occasional shark. There’s a fish whose razor sharp fins can kill. And the occasional infestation of stinging jellyfish, which are usually harmless, but . . . The sea urchins the litter the sands in the shallow waters? Well, if you do step on them, you’re sure to get spines in your feet, and must use a lot of patience and olive oil to get them out. Other than that, swimming is great.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

I’m still reading guidebooks by the dozen, but it occurred to me today that for answers to important questions – like whether there are Starbucks and McDonalds outlets in Athens – the Internet was the place to be. And sure enough – there are, at last count, 39 Starbucks stores in the Athens area, and 48 McDonalds in Greece. McDonalds notes that it has special foods for the Lenten season in Greece, including shrimps, veggie burgers and spring rolls. Don’t ask me how spring rolls became a traditional Greek Lenten food – we will try to solve that mystery once we’re there.

Friday, March 26, 2010
True countdown time. I got back late last evening from an overnight trip to Juneau for work, and put in a hectic day at the office trying – but not succeeding – to finish everything.

Jim’s been having trouble with his left knee for most of a year, and recently added a difficult hip to his repertoire. After several ups and downs, the recent one being yesterday and today, he finally got a doc who understood that the purpose of this was to get him to Greece and back with as little pain as possible. So he has more drugs, and better ones, and now is feeling like he might get there.

More in the next few days.

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April 4, 2010 — Athenian Easter

 April 4, 2010: Athenian Easter and other notes from Jim and Teri

A street in the Plaka, the old section of Athens. At the top of the Acropolis is the Parthenon. The trees are just getting their spring leaves, and the sun is warm.

Jim’s notes: Jim summarized his view of our travels thus far, and his perspective is the focus of today’s news:
“We have only been here a few days at this point. We are in sight of the Acropolis and just a short walk from the Acropolis museum and its Metro subway stop. We only get to stay in this apartment a week, and then we move to another place not too far from the Parliament building. We will stay there a week, and then take a 5-day side trip to Israel. And then we return to our original apartment in the hostel for the last few days of our stay.

View of the Parthenon from our studio apartment. Granted, there’s a fair amount of urban clutter between us and it, but it’s the Parthenon. We can see it from our balcony. It’s worth a pinch or two to be sure that we’re really here.
So far we have been to the Epitafios ceremony on Good Friday (Big Friday in Greece) and followed the crowd of worshipers up one of the main streets as we all marched,  carrying candles, behind the ceremonial bier of Jesus. We have seen the guards in front of the Presidential Palace changing places in a extraordinarily stylized march. That was kind of cool.

File:Evzone Presidential Palace Athens Change 1.jpg

Changing the guard, Wiki photo.

We have seen a host of beggars, North African street vendors (sunglasses, “name brand” hand bags, and splat toys The vendors spread their wares on a sheet and stand around waiting for a sale. The splat toy vendors throw their toys against a square board in a slow rhythm that has a certain meditative quality. Nobody says anything and they periodically roll their wares back up in the sheet and move to a new spot. There are dozens of these guys and I haven’t seen a sale yet.

4146492552_d5d6b0782d.jpg (500×384)

Street vendors, Flickr photo.
We have ridden the subway (one stop). We have seen the 1896 Olympic stadium, always empty, and a fine marble and limestone structure. In fact we walk past it every time we go to Anthea’s apartment.

Anthea looking up at the Parthenon and the Acropolis from the Olympic Plaza.
The streets are about as far from a rectilinear grid as is possible, and we have to pay close attention to keep from getting lost, even when we are walking from Anthea’s apartment to our own, which we have done daily. It’s nice when we can spot the Akropolis and get our bearings.

Anemones and yellow hawkweed, with new grasses, at Kerameikos (the ancient cemetery for Athens).
Ah but the weather is fabulous. After five months of winter, it is good to jump straight into summer.

Teri’s notes: A few other notes on Greek Easter. After the midnight bells and guns and fireworks and chanting broadcast for blocks around, actual Easter Sunday was very, very quiet. Jim and I walked the mile and a half (so Google says – it’s all uphill and takes us about 45 minutes, so I’m inclined to call it at least two miles) to Anthea’s and attended the Catholic Mass at a little church in her neighborhood. We recognized bits and pieces of the liturgy – especially the Alleluias, which despite having a different pronunciation were set to melodies we know well.

Fake lamb on a spit, advertising the spits and grills (on Athinas Street, the day before Easter).

Roasting a pair of lambs on spits outside a cafe, Easter Sunday, Athens.

We got back to our studio at noon, passing a nearby café where a man sat turning a lamb on a spit. The smell of roasting lamb filled the neighborhood for the rest of the afternoon and into the evening – we went by the café several more times, and each time someone was turning a lamb on the spit. Once it was an old lady; another time an old man. I asked at 6:30 how many lambs they had done today; the person on spit duty at the moment said that it was the third or fourth, and they would be doing at least a couple more.

Greek Easter eggs, all dyed red.

Another featured food of the day was dyed hard-boiled eggs. These are solid colors, most often a traditional deep rich red. There were red eggs nestled in the middle of round loaves of bread, red egg shells on the sidewalks, red eggs handed to us by the Greek family dining next to us in the taverna this evening. I don’t know that they are meant for eating – most have been out of refrigeration for hours or more, and I didn’t see anyone indulging.
Jim stayed at the apartment for the afternoon, still catching up from jet lag, and I went back to Anthea’s apartment where all of the students (and two of the teachers) in the group were watching the 1981 “Clash of the Titans.” Part of the course studies, sort of. Tomorrow the group plans to watch the remake that just came out, and we may join them. The 1981 version appears to have been shot largely in Arizona. It features lines for the gods that would earn a thunderbolt for corn if the gods cared (Laurence Olivier played Zeus, for heavens’ sakes, and Zeus didn’t strike him down or sue him for mis-portrayal), and a robotic owl that rivaled anything Disney ever produced for cuteness.

Clash of the Titans

Bubo, Athena’s robotic owl in “Clash of the Titans (1981).”
It was another gorgeous day in Athens – mid-60s with a sweet breeze, and the golden-brown Parthenon on the Acropolis hill against a deep blue sky at random moments as we walked along. It’s beginning to seem like this could go on forever, but by June and July and August, it will be 100 degrees and merciless. Luckily, we’ll be in Anchorage by then, enjoying mid-60s with a sweet breeze – possibly a brown moose silhouetted against the deep blue sky. It’s not exactly equivalent, which makes being in Athens all the more fun.

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Tower Bridge to Greenwich — November 25, 2011

On Thursday evening, plotting out our Friday doings, I picked up 25 London Walks. We wanted to take the boat to Greenwich, but this book suggested walking the distance — between four and five and a half miles, it said, from Tower Bridge. That sounded well within our ability, so we set aside Westminster Abbey for yet another day and got ourselves to Tower Hill at 11:30. When we arrived at the Greenwich pier at 3:00, we had logged six and three-quarters miles. The difference in part was the fact that the description of the walk was written around 2000, following as much as possible a walk that Samuel Pepys liked to take in the 1660s. In the intervening decade, someone has spent substantial chunks of money to finish the work of marking out and putting up signs for a path all along the south side of the Thames. Places where the author had to cut inland  in 2000 and take a fairly straight route now follow the edge of the river more closely, which means that the whole route is more intricate and longer — but also, almost entirely along the river. [For the record, my research says that the Thames Path runs about 180 miles from the origins of the river to its mouth; this was only a small part of the trail.]
The Thames is a big river, brown and rolling, and as we got closer to the ocean, grew waves and whitecaps, and began to look much more like a trapped sea than a river. A fresh wind blew off it all day, and the sun warmed its chill. The trail, on a Friday midday, had a few bicyclists and joggers, here and there someone pushing a child in a stroller, and maybe two dozen other pedestrians in the six-plus miles. Most of the distance the paved path ran between the sea walls and expensive apartment buildings, many of them modern. Old landmarks, a few parks, and some detours punctuated the stretches of uninhabited (as far as we could tell) blocks of glass and brick.
The Thames Path where we picked it up just south of Tower Bridge on a street called Shad Thames in the old city of Southwark, the site of much of the shipping and some industry in the 1800s and earlier.
A baker putting bread into the oven in his narrow shop on Shad Thames.
The north side of the Thames, east of Tower Bridge. An actual barge is speeding past; most of the boats on the water seem to be cruise boats and ferries for people.
An attempt to keep the riff-raff out. We saw signs for “anti-climb” paint elsewhere too. It is described as a thick oily coating that keeps intruders from getting a grip.
A churchyard in Rotherhithe with old gravestones and new children’s playground equipment juxtaposed. Rotherhithe Street is the longest in London, all of two miles.
A very odd and recent statue of a Pilgrim and a boy reading the “Sunbeam Weekly” — which apparently has the story of the Mayflower’s sailing. It commemorates the fact that the Mayflower set out from an inn near by on its way to pick up the Pilgrims bound for the New World. The plaque for the statue says that if someone from the New World (that would be us) puts a small object in the Pilgrim’s Pocket (visible on his hip) that person will have new and interesting changes in his or her life. So we put in 2 pence (Jim) and a binder clip (me), and will report on the outcomes.
London is full of history, but also of large numbers of big new buildings. These are on the north bank of the Thames.
The west entrance to Surrey Dock Farms along the Thames Path. It’s described as a two-acre working farm, with bees, gardens, animals, a blacksmith shop, cafe, and so forth. Similar beautiful and intricate gates appeared several other places along the path.
Violets, a spring flower, blooming in the Surrey Farms herb gardens on November 25, 2011. I had read that London has had exceptionally warm weather and that the spring flowers were blooming — here’s proof.
Old locks mechanism at South Lock, near Deptford. These locks appeared to be abandoned, but there were others at work further on.
Cormorant on an old boat docked out in the river, doing a mating display for its intended.
A mulberry tree that was bearing fruit in the 1660s, and still is today. It’s in the (large) garden, Sayes Court, that belonged to Pepys’ friend John Evelyn.
The etched glass door window of the Dog and Bell in Deptford where we shared a half-pint of Fuller’s Black Cab ale, a very tasty, very dark brew. We will miss the Annual Pickle Festival competition tomorrow evening, to which the locals will bring homemade breads, pickles, art and photography, and cakes for judging and awards. The pub is 186 years old, according to its website, and between the pool table in the back, and the several small rooms, the garden out back, and old wood bar in the narrow front room, it epitomizes the classic English pub.
A fine old car on a back street in Deptford.
A strange set of statues in Deptford commemorating Peter the Great, Tzar of Russia, who visited London in 1698 and 1699. He spent a good part of that time living in Deptford at the home of Pepys’s friend, John Evelyn while he was studying English ship-building. Accounts of the time suggested that the Tzar and his household destroyed a great deal of the furniture, broke windows and generally wreaked havoc — perhaps more from high spirits than maliciousness? One blog says that the dwarf is in the group because Peter was fascinated by people with “genetic anomalies.” []
A sign at a bridge going into Greenwich.
The river lapping up against a beach of brick and pottery shards, with shells and stones, at Greenwich.
Jim standing in front of the marker (white sign on the wall behind him) for the Prime Meridian, 0 degrees of latitude. He is standing with one foot in the western hemisphere and the other in the eastern hemisphere.
A view of London, looking upriver from the Greenwich Observatory hill.
Old and new in Greenwich. Most of the main street in Deptford appeared to be working-class Vietnamese and other immigrant cultures. The Vietnamese restaurant in Greenwich was more upscale.
Tower Bridge, about 4:25 p.m., from the front of our boat that took us from Greenwich to the Embankment at Westminster (well, sort of to Westminster; it was still a half-mile walk to the Tube station).
The London Eye at 4:50 p.m., from the Victoria Embankment on the north side of the river. Dark already.
And that was most of our day. We went to dinner at a nearby Greek restaurant, and came home to research the news that a general strike of 3 million workers is planned for Wednesday, November 30. It’s expected to severely affect air traffic because all of the people who staff the immigration booths at the airports are joining the strike (the basic transportation workers are not striking, however, because everyone else will need to travel to the sites of demonstrations). In theory it shouldn’t affect our travels because we leave about noon on Tuesday, and are outbound, not in-bound. But  . . . we are hoping for the best.
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