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Friday, September 9, 2011

Allah, God, and Zeus Walked Into a....

An Islamic depiction of Socrates teaching his students.

Hunayn ibn Ishaq, Al-Kindi, Al-Razi, Al-Farabi, Ibn Sina, Al-Ghazali, Muhammud ibn 'Abdun, 'Abd'l-Rahman ibn Ismail, Ibn Bajjah, Ibn Rushd, these are all names that most of the West are unfamiliar with, but are some of the ones to which we owe a great deal.  They were responsible for safeguarding and spreading the knowledge that came from the Greeks, but which had been lost, due to lack of interest by the West.

Another depiction of Socrates and his students from a
13th century Arabic manuscript.

The Romans were an interesting culture.  Having co-opted their pantheon of deities from ancient Greece, and much of their literary culture as well, they went on to ignore it.  They were engineers of remarkable skill, great planners, and were able to govern a vast array of cultures peaceably during the Pax Romana, which lasted a little over 200 years - as we recognize today, not an easy feat.  

The School of Athens by Raffaello Sanzio, aka Raphael, 1509.  This is one
of four frescoes in the Stanza della Segnatura, Palazzi Pontifici, the Vatican.

But knowledge of Greek texts declined, and many were not translated.  The Byzantines were focused on conserving the early Christian writings.  After the death of Boethius in 525 CE, one of the last scholars who read both Latin and Greek, there seem to be a disdain for Greek texts, and the manuscripts were scraped and reused.  Eventually, they could only be found in monasteries.

When the Roman Empire fell, and the Middle Ages began, many of these texts of classical antiquity were thought to be lost.  But many of them had been translated from Greek to Syriac during the 6th and 7th centuries by monks and Greek exiles living to the east.  These were, in turn, translated and kept by Islamic universities and centers of learning.  The Muslims not only preserved those ancient Greek texts, but had written commentaries on them.  Though it was unplanned, their reintroduction of these texts ended up saving the Greek classics of philosophy and science, which became a cornerstone of the Renaissance.

The Islamic world, 622-750 CE.

But warming up to the Greek classics was a slow process.  They were adverse to classical learning, so translators could not get support from religious factions. Those under Abassid rule were more familiar with Greek ideas so were more open to translations.  They also stressed that Islam emphasized that gathering knowledge was important.

The Lapidario, circa 1250, done by Alfonso X el Sabio.
This is the translation of text on medicinal rocks and gems,
thought to be from a Chaldean manuscript but reveals
knowledge from the Hellenistic Greeks.

Nestorian and Jacobite Christians had kept some ideas alive, and had translations of Greek texts made into Syriac.  These Syriac texts were then translated into Arabic.  Islam had been born in a Hellenistic world, and the remaining Hellenistic schools were the forerunners of translations.  When the Abassid capital was moved to Baghdad, it became a center for Greek translation work.  There is some argument among scholars that Greek literature was ignored, but some argue that eventually all was translated.

A Syriac manuscript from the 11th century.

During the Middle Ages there were several points of contact between the Islamic world and Europe.  An important one was in Toledo, Spain, then a major cultural center.  After the Reconquista, a long period of wars after which Christian forces took over the Iberian peninsula, the Muslim libraries remained intact, and a translation center was established where books in Arabic would be translated to Hebrew or Spanish, then from Spanish to Latin.  

The Cathedral of Toledo,
a translation center in the 12th century.

There was another point of contact in Sicily, which had been conquered by Muslims, then reconquered by the Normans in the 11th century, but it retained its Muslim influence.  In the 1100s, under the rule of Roger II, it became a major center of culture, attracting scholars, scientists, artists, and artisans from all over. Latin Normans, Byzantine Greeks, Muslims, and Jews all formed a society that worked together on shared interests.

Arabic painting made for the Norman kings, circa 1150.
In the Palazz del Normanni in Palermo.

And then there were the Crusades, those religiously sanctioned military campaigns, which focused on interactions between the Levant and Europe, and culture was exchanged in between death and destruction.  Although the wars were supposed to be waged against the Muslims, some campaigns were aimed toward Greek Orthodox Christians, pagan Slavs, pagan Balts, and Mongols - whoever was getting in the way of the Church.

A Christian and a Muslim playing chess, painting circa late 1200s.

The Latin West, however, was still suspicious of Greek pagans, and it wasn't until the 12th century, when universities started to develop, that these "new" ideas were examined.  A few western scholars became interested, and scholars from Spain and Sicily were welcomed in European courts.

St. Jerome in his study by Domenico Ghirlandaio,
1480.  From the Church of Ognissanti, Florence.
Jerome was against the translation of pagan texts.

In this way, from the accumulated knowledge of the Muslim world, the once lost knowledge of the classics was transmitted to Europe once again.

All images courtesy of Wikipedia.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

El Pueblo de la Reina de los Ángeles

Downtown Los Angeles with the San Gabriel Mountains.

This past Sunday was the 230th anniversary of the California city now simply known as Los Angeles, or L.A.  September 4, 1781 was the date recorded by Felipe de Neve, the Spanish governor of California, as the official date of the establishment of El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Ángeles, or the Town of our Lady the Queen of the Angels.

The Plaza, 1869.  The Plaza Church is on the left.

Popular belief states that the original name was "El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora La Reina de Los Ángeles de Porciúncula" ("The Town of our Lady the Queen of the Angels of the Porciúncula" - Porciúncula meaning "little portion").  But scholars studying official documents of Governor de Neve, Commandant General la Croix, and Viceroy Bucareli, have confirmed it was the simpler name.

Statue of Felipe De Neve, the first governor
of California, in Los Angeles Plaza.

California was first claimed for Spain by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo in 1542, who sailed and explored the coast.  But attempts to establish colonies were not made for over two hundred years.  In 1769, Gaspar de Portolà explored what was known as Alta California by land.  With him were two Franciscan priests, Fray Junipero Serra and Fray Juan Crespí.  They established the first Spanish presidio (military garrison), the Presidio of San Diego, and the first mission, Mission San Diego de Alcalá.

Junipero Serra statue at the San Fernando Mission.
Every California child knows his name.

As they traveled further north, they found a river running south from the northwest.  Fray Crespí named it "El Rio de Nuestra Señora de los Angelese de Porciúncula", or "the River of Our Lady Queen of the Angels of Porciúncula".  The Porciúncula was the church in the little Italian town of Santa Maria degli Angeli (Saint Mary of the Angels), where St. Francis of Assisi lived.  Fray Crespí found a spot along the river that was suitable for a mission or pueblo.

The Porciúncula where the Franciscan movement
began.  It is in the Basilica of Santa Maria degli
Angeli about 2.5 miles from Assisi, Umbria, Italy.

Fray Serra, in 1771, had established the Mission San Gabriel Arcángel by the San Gabriel River.  Due to a flood, the mission had to be relocated.  Governor de Neve recommended to Viceroy Bucareli the new site, but in 1781 King Charles III ordered that a pueblo be built instead.  The king wanted secular pueblos to be centers of commerce and agriculture to supply the military presence.  Fray Serra and Fray Crespí, however, ignored him and developed ranching and trading centers of their missions, producing items that competed with those of the pueblos.

The Los Angeles River today,  looking north from the Union Station area.
1863 waterwheel on the Zanja Madre taking water to the brick reservoir in the
Plaza.  It was in use until the early 20th century.  Zanja Madre means "mother
ditch", and it was an open, earthen ditch dug by the community within a month
of the founding of the pueblo.  It was the original aqueduct bringing water
from the Los Angeles River.  This is not far from the above picture.

Governor de Neve had maps and a plan drawn for the new pueblo, the Reglamento para el gobierno de la Provincia de Californias, and this is recognized as possibly the first time a town had been planned before anyone got there.  Gathering people was more difficult.  He was unable to get families from Soñora, so he had to go to the Mexican state of Sinaloa.  There he found eleven families of mixed heritages. These 44 people left the San Gabriel Mission escorted by two padres and a military detachment, and went to the new site on September 4, 1781.

Page one of the Nuevo Reglamento (click link to see it all).
Courtesy of the William Clark Memorial Library/UCLA

The pueblo was granted a cabildo, or town council.  The first municipal officers were appointed by Governor de Neve, and then were elected by the people.  The first alcalde, or municipal magistrate, of record was José Vanegas.  Subsequent alcaldes reflected the mixed population of the pueblo.

The Plaza Church, circa 1890-1900.  Image courtesy this site.
The Plaza Church, La Iglesia Nuestra Señora Reina de los Angeles, today.

The primary purpose of creating a pueblo was to cement Spain's claim on the territory.  Russia was settling in the north, and Spain was worried about France and England.  It would also help keep the presidios supplied (they were supplied by ships).

The San Gabriel Mission circa 1900.  The trail in the foreground is
 the El Camino Real - the highway that linked the missions and pueblos.

In 1847, all of Alto California was surrendered to the United States, ending Mexican jurisdiction of the area they settled.  Since then it's been a battle for the descendants of these settlers, as the pressure for them to "return home" has been applied.  Yet every year the Los Pobladores 200, descendants of the original founders, march from the Mission San Gabriel to Olvera Street.  The "Historic Walk to Los Angeles" takes about three hours, and commemorates the nine mile journey made by their ancestors to make a new beginning.

Unless otherwise noted, images courtesy of Wikipedia.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Magic Lantern Creates Magic Moments

Image courtesy of photobucket.

Years ago my husband and I decided to drive from Southern California to Georgia to spend the holidays with my sister-in-law and her family.  (I LOVE my sister-in-law.  In fact, the family joke is that if my husband and I ever part, I get his sister.) I hadn't been to most of the southern states, so we planned to take a week or so and mosey on over to her house.

The Crossroads, in Clarksdale, Mississippi, where Robert Johnson sold his soul
to the devil in exchange for mastery of the blues.  Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

One place we both wanted to spend a couple of days was in the Mississippi delta to get a blues fix.  Clarksdale is the site of the Delta Blues Museum and Ground Zero Blues Club, and where countless blues musicians lived or played, including Muddy Waters, Son House, John Lee Hooker, and Robert Johnson.  We chose to stay in Clarksdale at the Shack Up Inn.

The Shack Up Inn is a complex of buildings on part of the old Hopkins Plantation. The guys involved in creating the Inn moved some old shotgun houses that had belonged to sharecroppers, or that were tenant houses, onto the property.  In the folklore of the South, ghosts and spirits were said to be attracted to shotgun houses because there are no hallways, just one room after the next, and the front and back doors are aligned.  They were called "shotgun" because rumor had it if you fired a shotgun through one door, the pellets would come out the other door.  Therefore, some of these shacks were built with the doors misaligned to deter any ghosts or spirits from entering.

Kitchen (above) and bedroom (below) of the "Legends" shack
that we stayed in for two nights.

Once the shacks were positioned, the owners sought to decorate them with authentic articles, and combed garage sales and thrift stores all over the area.  One thing that they had found that once belonged to a local library was a magic lantern. Magic lanterns are image projectors.  Originating in the 17th century, they became quite popular in the first half of the 20th century.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

There is much debate about who invented it, and even Athanasius Kircher, the German Priest, is given credit since he wrote about a device that sounds like one in his book Ars Magna Lucis et Umbrae in 1646.  But most scholars and historians give credit to Christiaan Huygens, the Dutch mathematician, astronomer, and horologist, and the man who first came up with the theory that light consists of waves.  The first ones were used mainly by magicians for visual illusions.  They eventually became the instrument of religious charlatans and quack séances.  In the end they were used as a form of entertainment, soon to be replaced by cinematography.

Magic lantern image of the Lahore railway station from 1895 by
William Henry Jackson.  Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

The magic lantern that was at the Shack Up Inn was in the living room of the "Legends" shack that we lived in for two days.  The second night we were there we went into the lobby to ask a question, and ended up staying for a couple of hours and chatting with one of the proprietors and his friends (including a woman who had been an archivist at Graceland and had known Elvis pretty well).  The proprietor asked us how we liked the "Legends" shack and told us a story about some women who had once rented it.

The living room of the "Legends" shack where the magic lantern was kept.

It seems two older women, sisters, stayed there with their daughters, who had brought them back to visit the area where the sisters had grown up.  One of the sisters picked up the magic lantern, saw the old library's "property of" stamp on it, and recognized it as the one she had continually viewed as a young girl and frequent patron of the library.  This apparently caused a stampede of memories, which influenced a similar flood in her sister, and their daughters heard things from their mothers that they never knew, and probably never would have heard, if not for that magic lantern.  In the morning, when checking out, the daughter told the proprietor that they had been up all night, talking, reminiscing, and sharing, and there were tears in her eyes as she thanked him for a unique and treasured experience.  He gave them the magic lantern.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

There were tears in his eyes as he told us the story, and tears in mine as well.  I have always remembered it, never having had any similar experiences with any of my family before they died.  Old, used, discarded, the magic lantern still had some magic left in it.

Website for the Shack Up Inn.
All images of the Shack Up Inn courtesy of their site.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Return of the Know Nothings

"Uncle Sam's youngest son, Citizen Know Nothing", 1854.
The Citizen Know Nothing figure is probably an idealized
type rather than a real person.  By lithographer, Sarony & Co.;
published by Williams, Stevens, Williams & Co., NY.
Image courtesy of LOC.

America - the land of opportunity.  Send us your huddled masses.  But only if they are white, Christian, and Anglo-Saxon.  We are a land of hypocrisy.  Our current political situation is abysmal, scary, and depressing to those of us who really believe that all people are equal and deserve the same rights and opportunities.

Image courtesy of LOC.

But we have a history of this hypocrisy.  It seems that even among white folk, some are better than others.  Back in the mid-1800s, there were too many of the wrong kind of whites moving in - Germans and Irish Catholics.  They were considered a threat to the U.S.  There was one conspiracy theory that the Pope planned to control the U.S. through personally selected Irish bishops.

Thomas Nast anti-Catholicism cartoon from Harper's Weekly,
1875, showing Catholic bishops attacking public schools.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Nativism is a term used to convey the favoritism of certain established inhabitants of an area over newcomers or immigrants, so essentially it means opposition to immigration.  It also means xenophobia.  It does not refer to Native Americans or indigenous peoples, but in the U.S., it means those born here, and ideally descended from the inhabitants of the original thirteen colonies.  In other words, WASPs (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants, for you youngsters).  The term is not used by nativists themselves, but is a derogatory term used by the opposition.

Know-nothingism in Brooklyn.  "None but citizens of the United States can be licensed
to engage in employment in this city."  Brooklyn Board of Aldermen.  From Frank Leslie's
illustrated newspaper, vol. 51, Jan. 15, 1881, p. 340.  Courtesy of LOC

In 1849-1850, Charles B. Allen founded a nativist society called "The Order of the Star-Spangled Banner" in New York City.  It was a secret society, members bound by oath, protesting the immigration of Irish, Roman Catholics, and Germans into the U.S.  To join, one had to be male, 21 years of age, a Protestant, and willing to follow the order without question.  If they were asked about this secret society, they were to say that they "know nothing," hence they became known as the Know Nothings.

Know Nothing Polka dedicated to Everybody by Nobody
1854, Bernard F. Reilly, Boston.  Courtesy of LOC.

In 1843 they became the American Republican Party.  It spread to other states and became a national party in 1845.  In 1855 it was renamed the American Party. Membership was limited further to Protestant males of British heritage who were over the age of 21.  They campaigned for laws that never passed, in particular they wanted a long wait time between immigration and naturalization.

Sheet music cover, 1854.  Raccoon, pumpkins, and cornstalks are
indigenous to the U.S., symbolizing the xenophobic orientation
of the Know Nothings.  Image courtesy the LOC.

Nativism has always been a movement of the dominant culture.  (What?  You've heard that the U.S. is a melting pot and favors multiculturism?  Founded on freedom of religion and the separation of church and state?  That is true.  But the Know Nothings were aptly named; they didn't know.)  In 1834, a nativist mob attacked and burned down a Catholic convent in Charlestown, Massachusetts.  A year later in Philadelphia - the "City of Brotherly Love" - lives were lost in a series of assaults on Catholic churches and community centers.  The Know Nothings killed 22 people, injuring many more and destroying property in an effort to keep Catholics from voting in the Kentucky governor's race in 1855. In Maine, they tarred and feathered a Catholic priest in 1851, and in 1854 burnt another Catholic Church.  (That Catholic priest, Johannes Bapst, later became the first president of Boston College.)

Again, "Native Americans" refers to white people born in the U.S.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Although they had some political success in New England (how much influence they wielded is unknown due to their secrecy), very few prominent politicians joined, and few party leaders later had careers in politics.  They were credited with electing the mayor of San Francisco in 1854, and the governor of California in 1856.

Former president Millard Fillmore and VP candidate Andrew
 Jackson Donelson (nephew of Andrew Jackson) ran on the
Know Nothing ticket in 1856, but only won 23% of the
vote and carried one state.  Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

The party grew, taking in many from the defunct Whig party.  The name gained wide but brief popularity, and entrepreneurs sold Know Nothing products such as candy, tea, soap, and toothpicks.  However, by 1860 they were no longer a serious political movement.

Know Nothing Soap, advertising label for soap manufactured in
Boston, 1854, L.H. Bradford & Co., lithographers.
Image courtesy of the LOC

Their platform was simple and included:  severe limits on immigration, especially from Catholic countries; holding political office was restricted to native-born Protestant candidates of English or Scottish heritage; an immigrant could not be made a citizen for 21 years; only Protestants could teach public school; and restricted use of languages other than English.

Know Nothing party platform, courtesy of Duke University.

Their spirit was revived in the KKK, and in the American Protective Association, a society that was not a separate political party but sought to control existing parties, and which stated that the "subjection to and support of any ecclesiastical power not created and controlled by American citizens, and which claims equal, if not greater, sovereignty than the government of the United States of America, is irreconcilable with American citizenship."
Poster courtesy of Northern Sun
So, let's sum it up.  Anti-immigration - check.  Xenophobic - check.  Anti-freedom of religion - check.  Pro-WASP - check.  Sounds like anyone in the current political scene?  One lump or two?

Monday, September 5, 2011

Japan and the Oldest Companies in the World

Money!  Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Tokyo Shoko Research, a Japanese survey firm, searched their database of 1,975,620 companies to see which ones have lasted for a century.  They found 21,666 companies that have.  To be on the list, a company's name or brand must remain, at least in part, since its beginning.  Any changes to their name must be verifiable.

"Onigawara" a depiction of evil by potter Seishichio Sumikawa, circa 1775.
It serves as a guardian protecting guests in the Hoshi Ryokan - one of the oldest.

A similar survey conducted by the Bank of Korea found 3,146 companies that are over 200 years old in Japan, 837 in Germany, 222 in the Netherlands, and 196 in France.  The oldest companies go back almost 1,300 years, and 89.4% of all the companies older than a century employ 300 people or less.  There's a lesson here on sustainability for big businesses.  Only one in five businesses started today will last five years.

Traditional breakfast at a ryokan.  Three of the oldest companies in the
world are ryokans.  Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Kongō Gumi Company Limited, a Japanese firm specializing in building temples, was the world's oldest continually operating family business until it was purchased by Takamatsu Corporation in 2006.  At the time of the takeover, it had over 100 employees, but due to heavy investments in real estate, the subsequent bubble economy bursting, and the fact that fewer temples are being built, its debt was insurmountable.

Kongō Gumi in 1930.  Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Still, it had an amazingly long run, starting in 578 CE, when an engineer hired by Prince Shōtoku to build a Buddhist temple decided to start his own business.  The firm had a hand in building many famous buildings, including Osaka Castle. There is a ten-foot 17th century scroll that traces 40 generations from the company's beginnings.  Its last president was Masakazu Kongo, the 40th member of the family to lead the firm.  One of the things contributing to its long success, according to him, was not strictly following the principle of primogeniture.  Rather than the oldest son inheriting the business, the best person was selected.  In at least one case, the 38th president, the best person was a woman, Masakazu's grandmother.

Osaka Castle.  Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Out of the current top ten oldest companies in the world, six are in Japan.  Three of those are hotels.  In particular they are ryokan - traditional inns that served travelers on the nation's highways.  They are seldom found in cities, and became popular in the Edo period (1603-1868).  They are usually found in scenic areas and tend to be a bit pricey.  The Kyoto-based Ikenobo Kadokai is sometimes listed as the second oldest company, but it is an association promoting ikebana, Japanese flower arranging, with chapters all over the world, rather than a company.  It did begin in 587 CE, however with classes.

Exhibition of ikebana in a Kyoto subway station.  Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Of the three ryokans, one began in the year 705 CE, and the other two in 717 CE. Nissiyama Onsen Keiunkan, founded in 705, is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest hotel in the world.  Located in Hayakawa, Yamanashi Prefecture, after the Guinness achievement was awarded in February it was expected that Keiunkan would have a huge increase in guests.  Unfortunately, the great Japanese earthquake of March 11th resulted in cancellations.

Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan - the world's oldest hotel and company.

Keiunkan is said to have been founded by Fujiwara Mahito, son of Fujiwara Kamatari, an aide to Emperor Tenji in the late 600s.  Some parts of the complex remain unchanged since the hotel was first built.  There is a hot spring there that was dug in 2005, almost a mile underground. It provides 430.5 gallons of 125.6 degrees F water every minute.  Keiunkan executives hope to pick up another Guinness world record for the hot spring with the largest volume of water.

Keiunkan's hot spring.

Hoshi Ryokan, in the Awazu Onsen area of Komatsu, Ishikawa Prefecture, was founded in 717 CE.  It was the previous record holder in Guinness for oldest hotel. Founded by a Buddhist disciple whose master dreamed of the spring's location, it has been run by the same family for 46 generations.  The legend is that Taicho Daishi, the great Buddhist teacher, hiked up to the top of sacred Mount Hakusan. While he was asleep the mountain deity appeared to him and told him of an underground hot spring with restorative powers.  The deity urged him to unearth the hot springs for the people of the nearby village.

Hoshi at night, courtesy of their website.

He went to the village of Awazu, uncovered the hot spring, and some of the locals who were unwell were immediately cured when they used it.  He instructed his disciple, Garyo Hōshi, to build a spa business there.  Some 1300 years later, and Hōshi's family is still running it.  As people with illnesses visited the spa, they made donations.  These funds were used for expansion, which grew as the number of visitors increased.  The ryokan now has 100 guest rooms, two indoor hot springs, and two outdoor ones.

One of the spas at Hoshi, also courtesy of their website.

Sennen-no Yu Koman is another ryokan that began in 717 CE.  It is in Toyooka, Hongo Prefecture.  It is in the center of a well-known onsen (hot springs) area. There are two types of hot springs.  There is also a private one, and one of the guest rooms has an open-air hot spring.

Sennen-no Yu Koman.  Image courtesy of www.japanhotel.net.

One of the lessons from these ongoing, very long-term businesses is first of all to pick a stable industry.  Construction is always a needed enterprise.  Inns and hotels have been necessary for travelers and therefore an indispensable business endeavor as well.  Japanese companies also tend to put their employees and their well-being first, ahead of concern for any shareholders.  Team spirit is legendary, and companies function as a social organization, similar to a family.  Of course, if it was easy, there would be many more businesses with such long histories.