CIAO ANITA!

ciao anita

WHERE I TOOK THIS PHOTOGRAPH: THE TREVI FOUNTAIN, ROME ITALY, January 2015

Every tourist in Rome comes to the Trevi Fountain because it is breathtakingly beautiful and because a tradition says that if you toss a coin into the fountain, you are guaranteed to return to the Eternal City.

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Pre-renovation  image from Wikipedia. Click for source

Last winter I returned to Rome and wandered over to the fountain to learn that there was to be no coin tossing into the Trevi’s waters.   The fountain (completed in 1762) was undergoing renovation – it  was dry and its gorgeous Baroque sculptures were covered in scaffolding.

On the upside, we tourists could walk a set of planks extending into the center of the fountain so that we could enjoy the remarkable sculptures up close.  It was a once in a lifetime bit of luck!TREVI3

WHO WAS BEING COMMEMORATED:  ANITA EKBERG

To make the experience even more meaningful, suspended from the scaffolding was a huge banner commemorating the gorgeous Swedish-Italian actress, Anita Ekberg, who had died that week at age 83. During the 1950’s-60’s, Ekberg was known for her incredible beauty and glamorous life. She had roles in many films and she dated many famous men including Frank Sinatra.  She married twice but never had children.

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MY REFLECTION

 Although the tribute was temporary, I loved that the Romans honored Anita Ekberg so quickly, with such a gorgeous, gigantic banner.  It was wonderfully perfect that Anita Eberg was commemorated at the Trevi Fountain because her most famous role was playing a stunning actress much like herself in a great Fellini film set in Rome, La Dolce Vita.  In one of the most iconic scenes in all of film history, Ekberg’s character “Sylvia” dances in the Fountain at night during the evening she spends with a super-sexy journalist played by Marcello Mastroianni.

Enjoy Anita’s frolic on Youtube!

 

 Note: This is a cross-post from our class blog on New York City College of Technology’s OpenLab, “Our Places; How We Commemorate”.

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Student Work – Yvonne Craig and Satoru Iwata and Roderick George Toombs

YVONNE CRAIG

by Deborah Rios

Yvonne Craig's image from Wikipedia. Click for source.

Yvonne Craig image from Wikipedia.

Deborah Rios

Deborah Rios

Movie and television actress, Yvonne Craig died on August 17, 2015 at age seventy-eight in her home in Pacific Palisades, California. Craig had succumbed to metastasized breast cancer which had spread to her liver. She was born Yvonne Joyce Craig on May 16, 1937. Craig was born in Taylorville, Illinois and subsequently grew up in Ohio.
After a brief stint with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, Craig commenced her acting career when she was discovered by Patrick Ford, son of film director, John Ford. Ford had cast Craig in the starring role of the movie, The Young Land. Craig also went on to do guest roles in television series such as Perry Mason, Mr. Lucky, and Star Trek.

During the early sixties, Craig had been dating Elvis Presley (the lucky girl) and worked in supporting roles opposite Presley in the films, It Happened at the World’s Fair and Kissin’ Cousins. However, Craig’s most memorable role was that of Barbara Gordon/Batgirl in the short lived television series, Batman. This role was considered a “pioneer” role since this was the first female superhero on prime time television. At a time where the second leg of the Women’s Liberation movement was taking stride, Craig’s role as Batgirl was a major contribution. From 1972 through 2011, Craig continued to accept television roles which included the voice role of “grandma” in the children’s television show, Olivia which ran from 2009 through 2011.

In addition to her acting career, Craig went into private business in the field of real estate. She also joined her sister, Meridel, in a thriving pre-paid telephone card business. Among her other endeavors, Craig wrote her autobiography entitled From Ballet to the Batcave and Beyond in the year 2000. Moreover, Craig was a philanthropist and a heavy advocate for union workers rights as well as an advocate for equal pay for women. She was also a supporter of education and donated her time to mentoring and tutoring under privileged students.

Craig is survived by her husband, Kenneth Aldrich, Sister, Meridel Carson and nephews Christopher and Todd Carson. There is no information as to the estate of Yvonne Craig

Citations

KATIE ROGERS, Yvonne Craig, Actress Who Played Batgirl, Is Dead at 78, N.Y. Times, August 19, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/20/arts/television/batgirl-dies-yvonne-craig.html

Yvonne Craig, http://www.yvonnecraig.com/news/2015/08/19/yvonne-craigs-official-obituary

Yvonne Craig http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0186051/bio?ref_=nm_ov_bio_ sm

SATORU IWATA

by Jasmeet Sahni

Satoru Iwata image from Wikipedi. Click for source

Satoru Iwata image from Wikipedi.

Jasmeet Sahni

Jasmeet Sahni

Nintendo President and CEO Satoru Iwata passed away at the young age of 55 after battling cancer for over a year. He was a Japanese born programmer and businessman. Even at a young age he was always interested in computers and leadership. In middle school he worked with a demo computer just by using telephone lines. In high school he displayed leadership skills serving as class, student council and club presidents. After entering high school, he would save money by washing dishes in order to purchase his first programmable calculator. Not long after, he went on to develop his own game in his junior year making simple number games. He is widely known for his unconventional ideas and changing the medium.

Sadly, in June 2014 a tumor was discovered during a routine physical, the tumor was removed yet resurfaced one year later. Unfortunately, Mr. Iwata died from complications with a bile duct tumor on July 11, 2015 in Kyoto Prefecture, Japan. Throughout his career, Iwata built a strong relationship with Nintendo fans through social media and regular appearances at gaming events. He respectively became the public face of Nintendo.

Mr. Iwata’s death was a major shock to all video-game entrepreneurs and users. Iwata brought a new feel to the Nintendo world, unlike his predecessor, Hiroshi Yamauchi who was infamous for being very harsh with his rhetoric, once saying people who play RPG’s (role-playing games) were “depressed people who like to sit along in their dark rooms”. Instead Iwata’s hands-on approach to business earned him admiration and respect from both developers and gamers.

Satoru Iwata was named one of the world’s top CEO by Barron’s Magazine, he was the first Nintendo President not related to the Yamauchi family through either consanguinity or affinity. In 2003, thanks to Yamauchi, Iwata pushed for development of a revolutionary product that would later be known as Wii. According to Iwata, the premise of the console was that “a Mom has to like it”. He is more notably known for helping create major games such as Kirby’s Adventure, Super Mario Bros, Super Smash Bros., Donkey Kong Pokémon Gold & Silver, Legends of Zelda, just to name a few.

Iwata believed “Above all, video games are meant to be just one thing; fun. Fun for everyone.” Even after he joined Nintendo, as the head of its corporate planning division in 2002, he saw Nintendo’s net sales fall by two-thirds, it was the first time in thirty years that the company saw its first operating losses. Iwate voluntarily halved his salary as an apology in both 2011 and 2014. As of April 2013 Forbes estimated Yamauchi’s net worth at $2.1 billion, he was the 13th richest person in Japan and the 491st riches in the world. Nintendo, alternatively, is worth $18.1 billion thanks to their timeless games and uniquely designed hardware.

Satoru Iwata’s death was a shock to the entire world. Due to his unconventional gaming ideas and strong relationship with Nintendo fans he will forever be known as an iconic and deeply admired individual. Luckily, through his games fans of his work such as myself are able to keep his memory alive. He is survived by his spouse, Kayoko Iwata.

Works Cited

Matt Peckham, “Why Nintendo President Satoru Iwata Mattered”. Times. Tech. Video Games (July 13, 2015)

http://time.com/3954934/nintendo-satoru-iwata/

Titiana Serafin, “Billionaire Nintendo Changemaker Hiroshi Yamauchi Dies”. Forbes (Sept 19, 2013)

http://www.forbes.com/sites/tatianaserafin/2013/09/19/billionaire-nintendo-changemaker-hiroshi-yamauchi-dies/

Rich Stanton and Keith Stuart, “Satoru Iwata changed the whole games industry and now leaves it in mourning”. The Guardian. Tech. Games (July 13, 2015)

http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/jul/13/satoru-iwata-games-nintendo-president

Nintendo. Game Credits

http://nintendo.wikia.com/wiki/Satoru_Iwata

RODERICK GEORGE TOOMBS

by Gina Delgado

Roddy Piper image from Wikipedia

Roddy Piper image from Wikipedia

Gina Delgado

Gina Delgado

Canadian professional wrestler, Roderick George Toombs better known as “Rowdy” Roddy Piper or “Hot Rod”, died on July 31, 2015 at 61 years old from a heart attack in his sleep at his Hollywood, California household. Piper had suffered from Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in the year 2006 but was reported cancer free at the time of his death. He is survived by his wife, Kitty Toombs, his four children; Ariel Toombs, Anastacia Toombs, Falon Tombs, and Colton Toombs.

Piper the most diverting, scandalous, and overbearing legend in World Wrestling Entertainment, cherished by millions of fans around the world was born in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan on April 17, 1954 and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba.  Piper first joined World Wrestling Entertainment in 1984 after receiving his first opportunity from National Wrestling Alliance in the 1970’s. His nickname, “Rowdy Roddy Piper” was known for trash talking, wearing a kilt, and his bagpipe entrance music.

Aside from his nickname, he headlined the very first WrestleMania in 1985 where he partnered up with Paul Orndoff against Hulk Hogan and Mr. T. and appeared in many television shows and movies such as “They Live” which was directed by John Carpenter. He was also World Championship Wrestling U.S Champion, Intercontinental Champion, and World Tag Team Champion. With all of his many accomplishments, Piper was inducted to the World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Fame in 2005 at Los Angeles, California. To this day, Piper’s legacy lives on and forever will be remembered from World Wrestling Entertainment professional wrestlers and fans.

References:

Steve Almasy, Roddy Piper, pro wrestling “bad guy” dies at 61, (August 1, 2015)

http://www.cnn.com/2015/07/31/us/wrestler-roddy-piper-dies/

The Associated Press, WWE Hall of Famer Roddy Piper dies at 61, (July 31, 2014)

http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2015/07/31/arts/ap-wre-obit-roddy-piper.html?_r=1

Nina Golgowski, Pro wrestler, WWE champion “Rowdy” Roddy Piper dead at 61, (August 1, 2015)

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/pro-wrestler-roddy-piper-dead-61-article-1.2311240

Marissa Payne, WWE legend “Rowdy” Roddy Piper dead at age 61, (July 31, 2015)

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/early-lead/wp/2015/07/31/wwe-legend-rowdy-roddy-piper-dead-at-age-61/

 

Happy Birthday Napoleon!

Jacques-Louis David (French, 1748 - 1825 ), The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries, 1812, oil on canvas, Samuel H. Kress Collection

The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries, 1812,by Jacques-Louis David, image from the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Happy Birthday Napoleon!  

Napoleon Bonaparte was born 246 years ago today.

Three years ago I wished Napoleon a Happy Birthday and began a series of posts about  Napoleon the soldier and politician, Napoleon the lover, and  Napoleon the estate planner.  I needed a break from the Napoleon saga but I couldn’t stay away from the man for long.  This post is about the return of Napoleon’s remains to France and how the French people have honored him with one of the grandest resting places on earth.

In his will, Napoleon asked that his remains be returned to France, so he could be buried on the banks of the Seine “in the midst of the French people whom I loved so much”.

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“I Wish That my Ashes Lie on the Banks of the Seine” by Jean-Pierre-Marie Jazet (1840) my photograph at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

Instead, his British captors buried him under some willow trees in the “Geranium Valley” on St Helena, the island he despised.

Soon after his death, on his birthday, Napoleon’s mother wrote an impassioned letter to the British government stating “The mother of the Emperor Napoleon demands from his enemies the remains of her son….” She ended her letter with this wonderful lineI gave Napoleon to France and to the world; in the name of God, in the name of all mothers, I beg you, my Lord, not to refuse me the body of my son“.

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Napoleon’s mother, Letizia Ramolino Buonaparte, click for source.

In addition, Napoleons’ executors sent a formal request for the release of the body. The British were like, sure, you can have him, but the French government has got to ask us, not just his family or friends.

For the next nineteen years, Napoleon’s body stayed on St. Helena because the French government under King Louis XVIII didn’t want Napoleon back – the king was afraid his return would encourage more revolution. Once Napoleon’s only legitimate son died in 1840, the king felt safer and finally asked for the return, suggesting it would encourage friendship between France and England.

Louis_XVIII,_the_Desired

King Louis XVIII, image from Wikipedia, click for source

The British agreed that the French could come fetch Napoleon’s remains, but there was no friendship created.  In fact, on the return voyage, the Frenchmen threw most of their furniture overboard so they could set up cannons in case the British attacked them at sea!

The return of Napoleon’s remains to France was a huge deal for much of the population, who called his return the “retour des cendres (the return of ashes) even though Napoleon had not been cremated. The French government agreed to spend a bundle on the return and they sent three ships and some important people to fetch Napoleon’s remains.

The expedition was headed by the king’s son, the Prince of Joinville,  who commanded the main ship, the frigate Belle Poule. He didn’t want to go because he felt that fetching the body was a chore for an undertaker, but he made the trip fun by stopping off and partying all along the way.

Prince Joinville took along several people who’d gone into exile with Napoleon on St. Helena.  They included Napoleon’s executors Bertrand (and Bertrand’s son who had been born on the island) and Marchand. The third executor, Montholon, couldn’t go because he was in jail for trying to overthrow the government in aid of Napoleon’s nephew,”Napoleon III”.

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Model of the Belle Poule, cllick for source

When the ships finally got to St. Helena, there was a ceremonial exhumation that began at midnight in the rain. Every second of the ceremony has been described in excruciating detail by several of those present. Napoleon had been buried in a series of coffins made of tin, lead, and mahogany and the delegation brought several more coffins to hold the original ones.

Once they dug up and opened the coffins, a doctor described Napoleon’s remains. His written description of the condition of Napoleon’s body continues for several pages. Here is a sample ” The chin itself had suffered no change, and still preserved the type peculiar to the face of Napoleon. The lips, which had become thinner, were parted; three incisor teeth of extreme whiteness appeared under the upper lip which was a little raised at the left side. The hands left nothing to desire, there were not altered in the slightest degree; although the muscles had lost their power of motion, the skin seemed to have preserved that peculiar colour which belongs only to life; the nails were long, adherent and very white”.

The doctor wanted to inspect the containers that held Napoleon’s stomach and intestines, but by then most of the French contingent were crying and they wouldn’t let him continue.
The Belle Poule and two other ships sailed for France in October, 1840. It took them more than a month to reach the French city of Cherbourg where they put Napoleon’s six coffins on a decorated steamship, the Normandie, and brought him to the harbor city of Havre.  There, they loaded him onto another ship, the Dorade that brought him up the Seine to Paris to be placed on a funeral barge.

The planners in Paris weren’t ready for Napoleon, and according to some, the final preparations were rather slap-dash.  When the barge arrived in Paris, Napoleon’s coffins were placed on an amazing funeral carriage. This carriage was 88 feet high, 88 feet long and 90 feet wide. It had so much stuff on it that it took 16 horses to pull it.

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My photograph of the funeral carriage from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

They pulled Napoleon into Paris on a really cold day. People lined the route – fans had camped out the night before for good spots (some even froze to death). They brought Napoleon to his final resting place of Les Invalides (a military hospital) where the royalty and politicians were waiting. There was a funeral mass with a choir of hundreds of singers from the French opera.   According to some accounts, the royalty in attendance on the day of Napoleon’s return acted badly, with disrespect for the Emperor – they were rightly worried about the return inciting new coup attempts.

Les Invalides was orginally built to house sick and old veterans. King Louis XIV later added a grand royal domed chapel where they put Napoleon’s remarkable sarcophagus.

L'Hôtel_national_des_Invalides

Dome des Invalides. Image from Wikipedia.

Napoleon’s tomb is breathtaking. There are beautiful paintings on the ceiling of the dome.

Image from Wikipedia

Image from Wikipedia

Napoleon’s gigantic brownish-red stone sarcophagus is mounted on a huge green stone pedestal in the middle of  a circular mosaic floor, surrounded by statues.  It is majestic.

Image from Wikipedia

Image from Wikipedia

Napoleon is not the only one entombed in the church.  Two of his brothers, (parts of) his son, and many generals and French war heros are there as well.

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My photograph of another tomb at Les Invalides.

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My photograph of another tomb at Les Invalides.

You can take a virtual tour of Napoleon’s final resting place at the Les Invalides website. The tomb is a massive tourist draw, despite the rather steep entrance fee.

In New York City, you can get a sense of Napoleon’s tomb by visiting Grant’s Tomb in which was modeled after Napoleon’s, but is not nearly as grand.

The Lavoisiers by Jacques Louis David

Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier (1743–1794) and His Wife (Marie-Anne-Pierrette Paulze, 1758–1836) Image from the Metropolitan Museum of Art

A while ago we spent another wonderful hour at the Metropolitan Museum of Art contemplating just one  painting.  This time, our guide, Kathryn Calley Galitz, Associate Museum Educator, focused on Jacques Louis David’s stunning “Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier and His Wife”.

You probably know that Lavoisier is considered the “Father of Modern Chemistry”, but there is a lot more to his biography!  Lavoisier was born to a very wealthy French family in 1743.  A little-known fact is that the famous chemist actually went to LAW SCHOOL and earned a degree in law although he never practiced.  Instead, he became a tax collector and commissioner of gun powder in addition to studying and writing about chemistry.

Lavosier married Marie-Anne Pierette Paulze, when she was 13 and he was 28.  She studied painting with Jacques Louis David and she sketched everything in Lavoisier’s laboratory.  Her drawings are in Lavoisier’s canonical Treatise on Chemistry.

mrs lav

My photograph as are the rest below.

David’s painting is unusual in many ways.  It’s size (8′ by 6′) is remarkable because it is so much larger than portraits of non-nobles during that period. Admittedly, the Lavoisiers were a celebrity couple but, it was  also very unusual to have a woman placed higher up on the canvas than a man. And check out Madame Lavoisier – she’s looking at her teacher, David, rather than her spouse!

David paid a lot of attention to accurately painting the scientific instruments – Ms. Galitz pointed out the mercury in one of the flasks that actually reflects other objects in the room.

The glass globe on the floor reflects the windows (to show off David’s genius, according to our guide).

lav glass

The Lavoisiers paid David an enormous sum for the painting. David had intended to show the painting in the Paris Salon (a prestigious art show) in 1788 but the French Revolution was beginning and Lavoisier rapidly fell out of favor. In fact. the painting was not seen publicly for 100 years after it was completed!

In 1794, Lavoisier was sent to the guillotine.

Execution of Marie Antoinette, but it must have looked much the same for Lavoisier, image from Wikipedia

Execution of Marie Antoinette, but it must have looked much the same to Lavoisier, image from Wikipedia

 David voted in favor of the death penalty for Lavoisier!

Madame Lavoisier’s father was guillotined the same day as her husband, but she was spared. She remarried another scientist, Benjamin Thompson (Count Rumfort), an eccentric physicist.  Apparently that wasn’t such a happy marriage.  Marie-Anne kept the name Lavoisier and hung the David portrait in her room for the rest of her life.

Alaskans and their Animals

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My photograph of Alvin Eli Amason’s “Oscar Scared Him With His Icon” at the Museum of the North, Fairbanks (all photographs below are mine)

When you ask New Yorkers to think of local wildlife, we conjure up the disgusting animals that thrive on the trash in our wonderful  pig-sty city of smells – nasty rats, roaches, bedbugs, pigeons, squirrels (rats with cuter tails) and the occasional rabid raccoon, escaped gigantic pet snake or sewer alligator.

Most New Yorkers would cheer on learning of the extinction of our icky fauna,  but Alaskans have an entirely different relationship with their wild animals – they seem to deeply love and respect their non-human beings.

 

I visited Alaska a few year ago and from the moment I arrived, I sensed the importance of animals to the Alaskans – they like to stuff and display the wildlife they kill.  The Ted Stevens Airport in Anchorage features several big dead animals whose ferocity has been preserved and captured forever in glass cabinets. And in fact, I think every one of the six hotels I stayed at (in Seward, Anchorage, Denali and Fairbanks) showcased taxidermied animals as part of the décor.

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A bear at the airport.

 

For sure, some Alaskans depend on their local wildlife for survival.  Even today, in the age of Costco and Amazon  (they do have them in Alaska), some Alaskans prefer or are forced to live on a “subsistence” diet, reliant on what they can kill and gather.  There is a lot of meat and fish in Alaska – salmon, halibut, whale (yes, some native Alaskans still hunt whale), moose, caribou, bear and more.

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 Michael Nakoneczny’s painting in the Museum of the North

If you want to learn more about subsistence hunting and trapping, I highly recommend the series the Last Alaskans which features several different families and individuals living a subsistence existence.

From my visit, I learned that native Alaskans have a rather beautiful relationship with the animals they hunt.  They thank the animal for presenting itself to be eaten. They won’t kill an animal that is too large for their needs because they don’t believe in waste and every part of an animal is either eaten or used for something else – shelter, clothing,  jewelry, and even furniture.

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 An antler chair at the Museum of the North, Fairbanks.

It is not just the subsistence hunters who love animals.  Even the Alaskans in the  “big” cities, esteem their animals.   In fact, on virtually every day of my vacation, stories about animals were featured on the front pages of the Anchorage and Fairbanks newspapers!  In NYC we get the “pizza rat”, but in Alaska, they report on a bear walking into a liquor store and a moose getting caught in a soccer net and they even print dog obituaries.

Alaska is a wondrous, stunning state with lovely people and an abundance of fascinating wildlife.  I feel very fortunate that I could go to somewhere so different than New York City and I must admit it made me sad that our indigenous animals suck so bad.

 

 

REMEMBER THE MAINE!

Since elementary school, I’ve remembered the saying, “Remember the Maine” without any idea of what it meant.  Finally, a few weeks ago after a visit to Arlington National Cemetery, I learned the story behind the saying!

The Maine was a U.S. “dreadnought” battleship that exploded in Havana Harbor on February 15, 1898.  More than 260 (of the crew of approximately 350) sailors were killed in the disaster.

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USS Maine entering Havana harbor. Image from Wikipedia, click for source.

The ship was in Cuba at the time because the U.S. was hoping to force  Spain out of governing Cuba so that we could take over. U.S. zeal to kick Spain out of Cuba was fueled by “yellow journalists” who hoped to sell more newspapers by stirring up anti-Spanish sentiment.  The journalists told lurid stories about how the Spanish mistreated the Cubans and the American public got really riled up at Spain.

How Spain viewed U.S. imperialism. Image from Wikipedia, click for source.

When the Maine blew up, most Americans assumed that Spain was at fault. A slogan popular at the time was “Remember the Maine, to Hell with Spain” and two months after the explosion the U.S. declared war (the Spanish-American War).   A few months after that, Spain ceded us not only Cuba, but Puerto Rico, Guam and the Phillipines!

Although the sinking of the Maine certainly contributed to the start of the war, it is unlikely that the Spanish intentionally exploded the ship. There have been many investigations into the cause of the explosion and none have proven that it was caused by the Spanish.  In fact, many believe that the Maine exploded because the coal it used spontaneously combusted.

Originally, the bodies of the sailors who died were buried in Cuba but in 1899, more than 151 coffins were disinterred and brought to Arlington National Cemetery for reburial.  There was a first memorial to the sailors that consisted of a big anchor and two mortars we took from the Spanish.

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First Maine Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery. Image from Wikipedia, click for source

Many people believed that there were still more bodies on the Maine so in 1910, the Maine was raised and more bodies and body parts were recovered. Eventually 34 more coffins containing remains were brought to Arlington where a second, grander memorial was built. The second memorial is powerful.  At its base is a “receiving vault” (used to store decedents when it was too cold to dig graves in the olden days) that is meant to look like the turret of a battleship.  On top of the vault is the actual mast from the Maine itself.

500px-USS_Maine_Mast_Memorial

Image from Wikipedia. Click for source

The remains of the sailors (whose identities are mostly unknown) are buried near the memorial.  Some of them are buried together under the same headstone.  It is heartbreaking to think of all of the young men who died on the Maine.  It is good that they are commemorated so beautifully.

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My photograph.

My photographs.

FUNERARY CANNIBALISM AND WHY I CAN’T DONATE BLOOD

This story begins in Papua New Guinea, which was thought to be an uninhabited island in the Pacific Ocean until World War II.  Then, the world discovered that there were tens of thousands of inhabitants there who still lived in the Stone Age.

Naturally. all kinds of scientists jumped at the chance to study these people who had never been corrupted by outside influences.  One of the scientists who arrived was Dr. Robert L. Klitzman whose lecture I greatly enjoyed at the Guggenheim Museum’s Works and Process program this week.

Nowadays. the mesmerizing Dr.Klitzman is a  Professor of Psychiatry and Director of the Masters of Bioethics Program at Columbia University, but when he was still a student in the 1950s, he went to Papua New Guinea to study an epidemic of a  fatal neurological disease that the locals called kuru.

A Disturbing Video of a Kuru Victim/  You Might Not Want to Watch This.

The doctor explained that kuru is caused by weirdly folded proteins called prions that are as fatal as some viruses.  One of the scary things about prions is that the diseases they cause can have really long incubation periods – prions can hang out in the human body for 20 or even 40 years before disease appears. Typically, kuru would start with a headache, followed by tremors and increasing weakness until death.  The victims were almost exclusively women.

Dr. Klitzman studied precisely how the prions were being transmitted because it had been discovered that kuru was caused by cannibalism, particularly the ingestion of brains  (loaded with prions) at “feasts” that occurred when members of a group died. He actually interviewed people about who had partaken of whom and what they had feasted on.

More women than men contracted kuru because women were always the ones to eat decedents’ brains but they also fed bits of brain to children.  Thus some men also contracted kuru because they ate brains as youngsters. Did they cook the brains first? Yes and you can read more about that here.

Cannibalism is against the law in Papua New Guinea now and no one has died of kuru since 2005. Good news for the women of the island!

Dr Klitzman explained that prions cause other diseases that kill brain cells and thus make brains look spongy (“spongiform encephalopathies”). Sheep get scrapie, so-called because the prions make them try to scrape off their wool.

Until 1996, cows (mostly in the United Kingdom) were getting “mad cow disease” from eating prion-packed sheep.

Humans who ate mad cows may get Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease, a fatal, incurable, degenerative, neurological malady.  So far, the only suspected cases of Creutzfeldt–Jakob caused by eating mad cows (over 100 victims) have occurred in the United Kingdom and Canada but the American Red  Cross is not taking any chances.

A while ago I went to a blood drive and was turned away because I had lived in England for more than three months between 1980 and 1996 and thus I may have picked up prions at tea.  Ironically, I first went vegetarian in London in 1986 after too many meals with meaty surprises like kidneys with the steak and ox-tails in the stew, but it may have been too late.   Scientists suspect my blood is dangerous and sometimes when I forget a student’s name, I wonder whether prions from an old Wimpy burger are coming back to haunt me.