Monday, December 30, 2013

Volgograd (the city formerly known as Stalingrad)

The immense 'Motherland' statue (279 feet/85 meter) at the top of the Mamayev hill. Over there some of the most intense fighting during WWII took place. The statue is the Russian version of the Statue of Liberty.

Volgograd (Волгогра́д), formerly known as Tsaritsyn (1589–1925) and Stalingrad (1925–1961), is an important industrial city in Russia and located on the western bank of the Volga River.

Population: 1,021,215 (2010).

Climate (daily mean): -7°C (20°F) Winter  ~  30°C (85°F) Summer.

Distance: Moscow 905 km (560 miles)  ~  Sochi: 690 km (430 miles).

The city reaches out for 100 km along the river bank which makes it one of the longest cities in Europe.

Modern Volgograd is a large scale industrial centre with industries like fuel, metallurgical, chemical, oil, engineering industry, tree and food industry.

Volgograd with the future 2018 World Cup Football stadium. 

The Battle of Stalingrad (August 1942 – February 1943) was among the bloodiest battles in the history of warfare. It is probably the most strategically decisive battle of the whole war; it was a turning point in WWII.

Volgograd city map

The city is close to the unique Volga-Akhtubin floodplains, the last pristine stretch of the Volga river valleys. The lakes make up to 30% of the park’s territory and count over 200 species of birds.

next episode: new year

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Happy Christmas!

Gene Tierney, December 1953

next episode: recap

Saturday, December 21, 2013


Daguerréotype, 6th plate, ± 1850

I call her Martha. Look at her dress!

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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Maya Codices

Facsimile on display at the Universidad Museo Nacional de Antropología, Mexico City (photo by Travis)

Maya codices are folding books from the Maya civilization, written in Maya hieroglyphic script. The folding books are the products of professional scribes. The Maya developed paper (which they called ‘huun’) around the 5th century, it was more durable and a better writing surface than European papyrus.

There were thousands of books in existence at the time of the Spanish conquest in the 16th century, but only three have survived to modern times since they were destroyed in large bulk by the conquistadors and priests. In particular, all those in Yucatán were destroyed by Bishop Diego de Landa in July of 1562. He wrote:

"We found a large number of books in these characters and, as they contained nothing in which were not to be seen as superstition and lies of the devil, we burned them all, which they (the Maya) regretted to an amazing degree, and which caused them much affliction."

Mayan hieroglyphics in the Dresden Codex.

Alonso de Zorita wrote that in 1540 he saw numerous such books in the Guatemalan highlands that “...recorded their history for more than eight hundred years back, and that were interpreted for me by very ancient Indians.” When found, such books were destroyed.

There are only three remaining codices whose authenticity is beyond doubt. They have been named for the cities where they eventually settled. These are:

The Madrid Codex, (112 pages, 6.82 meter)
The Dresden Codex (74 pages, 3.56 meter)
The Paris Codex (22 pages, 1.45 meter)

The Madrid Codex on display at the Museo de América in Madrid.
Due to its fragility a faithful copy is displayed (photo by Michel Wal).

I've seen (a copy of) the Madrid Codex during my visit of Madrid. It's the longest of the surviving Maya codices. The content mainly consists of almanacs and horoscopes that were used to help Maya priests in the performance of their ceremonies and divinatory rituals. The codex also contains astronomical tables, although less than are found in the other two surviving Maya codices. A close analysis of glyphic elements suggests that a number of scribes were involved in its production, perhaps as many as eight or nine, who produced consecutive sections of the manuscript. It is likely that the codex was produced in western Yucatán between 1250 and 1450 AD.

next episode: Martha

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The World Upside-Down

The World upside down

The convention that North is at the top on most modern maps was established by the Egyptian astronomer Ptolemy (90-168 AD) and was adopted by other cartographers.

The World upside down and centered on Indonesia

In modern times, reversed maps are made as a learning device or to illustrate Northern Hemisphere bias.

next episode: Maya

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Steven van der Hagen

18th century drawing by Aert Schouman after a lost painting made by Paulus Moreelse in 1619
(Netherlands Institute for Art History). 

In 2010 I wrote about Steven van der Hagen, a Dutch admiral born in Amersfoort with a very interesting life story. Commenter Marnix de Paula Lopes, a direct descendent (!), pointed out to me that the accompanying picture was not the correct one. He is writing a book about his ancestors, and was kind enough to direct me to the better picture shown above.

Steven van der Hagen King John III of Portugal, 1535. To spare time book printers used the same print multiple times.

One of the revelations in his book will be that here might be a connection between the family of Steven's mother and one of the main founders of the Dutch Republic, Johan van Oldenbarnevelt (they share the same coat of arms). Marnix's website is filled with interesting historical info in both Dutch and English.

Public beheading of fellow Amersfortian Johan van Oldenbarnevelt (age 71), by then the most important politician in The Netherlands, on behalf of the Prince of Orange, at the Binnenhof in The Hague, May 1619. 
He is leaning on his walking stick, three museums claim to have this cane in their collection.

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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Gabrielle Ray

Gabrielle Ray

Gabrielle Ray announced her retirement to marry the wealthy Eric Loder in early 1912. She did not appear at the well-attended scheduled ceremony at St Edwards Roman Catholic Church in Windsor because of Loder's failure to sign the prenuptial contract, but the marriage took place soon afterwards. Loder strayed, however, and the couple divorced in 1914.

The broken marriage was difficult for Gabrielle, but in 1915, she returned to the stage to play a few roles and for nearly a decade she appeared occasionally in provincial variety tours and pantomimes, finally leaving the stage about 1924.

After this, she struggled with depression and alcohol abuse, and her health declined. In 1936, she suffered a complete mental breakdown and was institutionalized for nearly forty years. Gabrielle Ray died in 1973 at Holloway Sanatorium in Egham, Surrey, England, at the age of 90.

more pictures of Gabrielle can be found here

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