Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Bibles and Buggies

September 9-10

I drove from Easton to Ronks, in Lancaster County, in a couple of hours.

It could have been a few minutes quicker perhaps, if I had followed the original Google Maps directions. Toward the end of the Google route, you have to leave the highway and make turns on roads that aren’t part of any established route.

You can take that kind of shortcut if you know the area. But then, you wouldn’t need to consult Google Maps. 

It’s what happens when you let a computer make decisions. 

I took Google’s advice for the start. I went north on Third Street to U.S. 22 West, which later merges with I-78 for a while. You travel about 25 miles from Easton and take the exit at Fogelsville for U.S. 222 south. 

This could take me back to Reading, so I used the bypass. U.S. 222 meets one of my favorite highways, U.S. 30, a few miles west of where I was going.

Some of the signs got a little confusing, so I stopped for gas and directions. The lady at Speedway said, yes, I was on the right track to the Lincoln Highway in Ronks.

The highway is almost like Pigeon Forge, Tenn. But here the emphasis is on Amish. There’s Amish this and Old Dutch that, which probably have precious little to do with anybody Amish or Pennsylvania Dutch.

Ah, gang, it was a good morning.

The Sleep Inn is a hundred or so yards east of the Bible History Exhibits, which is the reason I came here.

I had no idea what the museum would be. Maybe it’s one of those places that tries to convince people that the story of the creation of Adam and Eve is sound history and that the world indeed is 6,000 years old. 

The museum is in a small house on the Lincoln Highway. I walked from the hotel and went into the entrance, where I met two small dogs behind a baby gate. They barked aggressively, as small dogs do. Maybe that’s small dog for hello. 

They serve as the entry bell, because a man came up from the backyard to let me into the museum. For eight bucks, he led me on an hour-long tour of the Old and New Testaments and church history.

And it was history, not propaganda. 

There was far too much for me to remember it all. Most of the exhibits are replicas, although there are some originals. 

There is a replica of the copy of Isaiah found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. The man showed how the scrolls were stored in jars in the cave where they were found in 1947.

One small scrap from the Dead Sea Scrolls, which is represented by a replica, is believed by some to be a fragment from the Gospel of Mark. That’s controversial, the man said.

There were replicas of cuneiform and hieroglyphic tablets, some actual size and some scaled down. The inscriptions included references to the Habiru, which is generally interpreted as a form of the word “Hebrew.”

Some of the replicas show figures, illustrating how people mentioned in the Bible may have dressed. One had images of three Patriarchs, including Israel, an alternative name for Jacob, with names written in Egyptian hieroglyphics.

The New Testament section included a full-size photo reproduction of the Shroud of Turin and replicas of several historical codices. One of the most important from a scholarly point of view is the Codex Sinaiticus, so called because it was retrieved from a monastery on Mount Sinai in the 19th century.

The codex, a hand-written text bound as a book instead of a scroll, contains the Septuagint, a pre-Christian translation of the Old Testament into Greek, and the oldest complete text of the New Testament. It is generally believed to have been made in the 4th century.

It was taken from the monastery by a German scholar named Tischendorf, who presented it to the Tsar of Russia. The codex is now scattered among several places, including Moscow and Berlin. A few pages have been returned to the monastery.

I had read about the codex several years ago in a book lent to me by Pyrrhus Ruches, a newspaper copy editor whose real occupation was the study of the former Roman and Ottoman Empires. He’s the only guy I ever knew whom you could stop on the street to ask, “What’s a Janissary?” And get an answer. 

I really did that one morning on University Place when Pyrrhus and I worked for Fairchild Publications.

Anyhow, to see the codex, even though in facsimile, was quite a treat. 

The church history section contains a complete facsimile of the King James Bible and a few leaves from an original. After the plays of Shakespeare, the King James, or Authorized, translation of the Bible is a crowning work of English literature, so I always approach it with a certain awe.

I’ve seen originals in the British Museum in London, but even so, it was fun to see it again.

The exhibit is illustrated by framed photos of places like Petra and Tel el Amarna, which are identified with locations in the Bible. The man said he had taken most of them himself.

He also mentioned taking his kids to a site in the Near East where they could dig and recover pottery shards. That surprised me.

But maybe it was like the spots in his museum’s backyard where kids can dig for replica treasures that he put there. 

He also has an olive press out back. He explained the different pressings. Extra virgin (as Beatrice once put it, “squeezed only a little bit”) was the first press with only one weight on the lever. Then he pulled a bottle of EVOO out of the press. 

That was used for special occasions, like religious observances and anointing kings. 

Second pressing needed extra weight and was used for every day cooking. The oil in that bottle had a little less color.

Last press would have impurities in it and so was used for burning. No bottle this time, just an oil lamp.

The big thing in the yard, though, is a reconstruction of a tomb. The practice was much the same as in present-day New Orleans. The body is laid out in a shroud for a year inside the tomb. Then the bones are transferred to an ossuary and placed in a niche in the wall.

What you see in the photo of the day would have been the interior of the tomb. The body wasn't left exposed to the elements.

It has been a long while since I was last in Lancaster County. It’s surprising how Amish it still is. I would have expected the big tourist trade to have driven them out.

They are here, though. You see buggies everywhere. They carry small electric lights, probably required by law.

There is also an innovation over the past 10 or 20 years of using scooters and bicycles with no pedals. 

I saw the bicycle in use on the Eastern Shore of Maryland a few years ago.  In Lancaster there were men pushing scooters, equipped with tires that you might find on a child’s bike and handle-bar baskets to carry packages home from the store.

The men wearing long beards, straw hats, and suspenders patiently push them along on the side of the Lincoln Highway, next to the traffic.

My favorite Amish sighting of the day was a young man, beardless and in his teens or twenties, driving a traditional black one-horse buggy up the shoulder of the highway. He was holding the reins in one hand because the other hand was holding what appeared to be a smart phone.

I have no idea what the story behind that is.

This is a tourist trap area, so the food and drink here are adequate, but so far generally undistinguished.

It’s Sunday afternoon right now, so I’m about to go exploring to see what I can find.

Be well, all.


Monday, October 2, 2017

Local History, Local Brew

September 8

I left early in the afternoon to walk to the county history museum. It’s here because Easton is the seat of Northumberland County. 

This section of town is very colorful. The route brought me to a walking street, a bright alley that is part of Bank Street.

It’s right by the back entrance to the Crayola Experience.

There is a bike rack that looks like the Three Wise Monkeys. Farther down are walls covered with pictures, rough versions of things like a Van Gogh self-portrait and the Mona Lisa, along with mosaics of what may be local sights.

Most of them are outside a gift shop called Grandma’s Backporch. The picture of the day shows part of it.

The main streets were festooned with flags—the current U.S. flag alternating with another that has reversed the field and the stripes. The Union is at the upper mast side of the flag, but contains the red and white stripes. The body of the flag is blue with 12 white stars in a circle surrounding the 13th.

[Editor’s note: It took Harry almost a month to track down information on the reverse flag. It wasn’t from the Revolution, as he had originally surmised. It is known as the Easton Flag and was the company colors of a local militia unit during the War of 1812.]

The Sigal Museum is small, but like most local museums is interesting. Many of the objects on display are identified with specific local people, including a Lenape umbilical cord pouch, which had been donated by a descendant of the lady who made it.

It looks like yellow silk with beading. It’s probably from the late 19th or early 20 century. I learned that, even if you try, you can’t see whether it still holds the umbilical cord or not. 

There is a lot about the Lenape, including a wigwam made of tree bark furnished with a rough bunk and tools that the people would have used.

Many of the worked stone tools in the exhibit cases were found along the Delaware and Lehigh Rivers. The area is a trove for arrowheads, spear points, and other Indian artifacts.

There is a wall devoted to the Walking Purchase. I had heard the term, but didn’t know much about it. It happened here.

It was a fraud perpetrated by William Penn’s heirs. After he died, his two sons because proprietors of the Pennsylvania Colony. They made a deal in 1737 with the Lenape to buy a tract of land to be determined by how far three men could walk in a day and a half.

The Penns brought in ringers, who didn’t walk at all but ran. Their claim was more than twice the size that the Lenape expected. It was a swindle.

William Penn is reputed to have dealt fairly with the Indians all his life. Maybe they expected his sons to be as honest.

The wall contains a panel with a video that runs from time to time. 

The Walking Purchase was one of the many sore points that put the settlers and the displaced Indians at odds during the French and Indian Wars in the 1750s.

The colonial governors of Pennsylvania and New Jersey met leaders of various tribes, including the Lenape, the Six Nations of the Iroquois, and others, to discuss peace terms. 

Pennsylvania agreed to the return of prisoners of war and to an additional payment for the Walking Treaty lands. With the payment, the natives had to leave for wilder territory near present-day Wilkes-Barre.

Other exhibits describe the waves of immigrant settlers, Dutch, Moravian missionaries, Scotch-Irish, and German.

There is a section on people from Easton and Northumberland County who have served in various wars. Much of it looks at the Civil War. Many of the artifacts, mainly swords and uniforms are identified with local residents.

Pennsylvania is very proud of its Civil War history. Small towns all over the state have built monuments to soldiers and sailors who fought for the Union. After all, it was Gettysburg, Pa., where the tide turned and the Confederacy’s inevitable decline began.

Easton’s Civil War monument is in the middle of the city center traffic circle. It has a bugler on top of a column. When I saw it the first time, there was a sparrow perched on the bugler’s cap.

One display at the museum is devoted to fraktur art, mostly display certificates suitable for framing. The documents were printed in old German fraktur letters and names were filled in by hand. Many of the ones on display recorded births.

One of my favorites was an area devoted to toys. A cabinet displays old cast iron miniatures and traditional board games. I remember playing with things like this.

A local lady had a hobby of furnishing dollhouses. She gave one to the museum. Besides the expected display of miniature furnishings and scaled-down wallpaper, this dollhouse is electrified and the walls have framed miniature portraits of the lady’s family.

Martin guitars have a section of their own. Martin is based in Nazareth, Pa., not far from Easton.

It seems that the company set a new standard for guitars. Originally it made instruments with 12 frets up the neck. A musician asked for a longer neck to allow more fingering of chords.

Martin came up with a 14-fret design that it called an Orchestra Model. It proved so popular that 14 frets became the standard for all the company’s guitars.

Museum hands were in the final stages of setting up an exhibit called “Cat’s Meow,” about the Roaring ’20s with a local emphasis. I didn’t get a close look at it, but it seems to focus on clothing and jewelry.

I took a short stroll among the mansions on North Third Street before I went back to the room for a breather.

Dinner was at Antonio’s a block up the street from the hotel. I went there for more craft beer.

Everything was bottled, and familiar to me, which is all right. But I made a small mistake. I started with Dogfish Head 60-Minute IPA. At 6 percent, it has less alcohol content than the 90-Minute, which was also available. 

The problem is that they are both so fine that they are hard to follow. 

My second beer was from a Philadelphia brewer, Yards. The brew was called Sons of Ben and billed as a “rowdy pale ale.” If I had taken it first, and by itself, it might have proved fine.

I ordered spaghetti with oil, garlic, and anchovies. There was no chance that it would be like the anchovy dishes Joanna and I had in Italy. But it seemed the salt would go well with strong beer.

The dish was OK, but I'm not sure that I’ll order it again.

The 60-Minute held up well with the anchovies, but they just wiped out the flavor of the Sons of Ben, rowdy or not. The ale wasn’t strong enough to hold up to the fish and sharp salt that almost burnt my tongue at times.

For dessert I had a Pennsylvania-brewed ale, Victory Golden Monkey. It’s described as a “Belgian-style tripel,” which gives it 9.5 percent alcohol, and is brewed with spices. It’s a U.S. attempt to copy Chimay. Like most Belgian spiced ales, one is enough.

All in all, a very good day.

So I’m back at the hotel and finishing this up.

Good night, everyone, and may you reserve your Dogfish Head for last.


Friday, September 29, 2017

Museum Quest

September 7

I need a safari jacket for our trip to Thailand next month, and an online search discovered that Cabela’s carries them. That seemed like a good reason to go museum-hopping in Pennsylvania.

After all, Cabela’s, with all the guns, knives, camping gear, and stuffed trophy animals, almost qualifies as a museum itself.

There are others I plan to visit along the way.

The store is farther into Pennsylvania than I remembered. It took an hour to get to the Delaware River Bridge on Interstate 78 and almost another to get to Cabela’s in Hamburg.

 I found the way to the store through a sprawl of suburban commerce. I passed the sign on the hill that warns fools like me to focus: “Attention DIP Ahead.

The parking lot is about the size of an airport, and it was almost empty. Great, I’ll have the place to myself. I took photos of some of the stuff outside. The bronze of the Indian and trapper running the rapids, for instance.

The store sits on top of a hill, so I snapped a couple of scenery shots. I don’t know why. They never come out right.

At the store entrance, a man came up to me and said the store had lost power and was closed. The whole area was out of power. That’s why the signals were out, and members of the local fire department were out directing traffic.

The man said they might have power back around 2 in the afternoon. 

Cabela’s is why I came to Pennsylvania. So what to do? Give up? Sit in a parking lot for two hours? 

So I took the only other practical option, which was drive to Reading. Daniel Boone grew up there, but I had never been to the city.

On the way into town, I passed a small point of ground with a large bronze horseman on it. Wrong state for Stonewall Jackson. Who could it be?

I found my way back and was introduced to a local Civil War hero. It was a monument to General David McMurtie Gregg. The name wasn’t familiar, but he had been involved in several important engagements.

He was a brigadier general in the U.S. Cavalry. His unit and Custer’s stopped an attack by J.E.B. Stuart at Gettysburg. He later led the cavalry at the Battle of Yellow Tavern, where Stuart took the bullet that killed him. 

The statue stands in a tiny park on Pennsylvania 61 in an upscale section of Reading. There are six plaques with his life story. The text is the same as the Wikipedia entry on Gregg.

He was born somewhere else in Pennsylvania, but settled in Reading because it was his wife’s home town. He died in Reading in 1916.

In wandering in search of the main business street (always a good place for a walk) I passed lots of corner stores and service businesses with signs principally in Spanish. I felt right at home.

Parts of the city look remarkably like Paterson, late 19th and early 20th century wood frame row houses that have seen better days. 

Still, the place is charming if you like the graceful forms of Federal architecture. Like Georgian, it uses the Golden Rectangle for many of its proportions.

Downtown seemed to be centered around Penn Street.

For about two blocks, Penn is a commercial boulevard. Two lanes each way separated by an island. Still room for angled parking and wide sidewalks. A mix of old and new buildings, mostly occupied.

This was an important thoroughfare in Colonial and Federal times too. Signs commemorate early settlers and Revolutionary War heroes who used to live on what is now the street.

A repurposed bank building sits on the site of an 18th century pub called the Federal Inn. The sign on the sidewalk says George Washington and his staff stayed there when, as president, he led troops to put down the Whiskey Rebellion.

There is even a monument from 1904 that celebrates the Temperance monument.

Plenty of evidence along the street today reassures me that this was a bit of long-gone history, thank Goodness. It was too early to take a sample at any of the bars, but their presence was reassuring nonetheless.

There is also an imposing Neoclassical library, columns and all. After the security guard saw my photo ID, he unlocked the men’s room for me.

Meanwhile back in Hamburg, the signals were working and the firemen gone.

It didn’t surprise me that there were no safari jackets in the store. I’ll buy one online.

Knife selection OK but nothing too attractive, so I’ll wait till my next time in Tennessee, maybe in a few months. Even the Buck knives are made in Red China now.

The stuffed animals are everywhere, and amazing. There are musk oxen on top of a rack of men’s clothes. The central feature of the store is a large fake mountain covered with specimens that range from pumas and elk to brown bears and turkeys.

Needless to say, a shot of that is the photo of the day. My apologies to the vegetarians, but remember, I come from a long line of deer poachers.

The fish aren’t stuffed but alive in the pool. Maybe that touch was a nod to feng shui. Our hotel in Montreal in the edge of Chinatown had a pool full of fish, too.

Easton is surprising, too. 

When I checked in at Days Inn, the lady handed me a map of the neighborhood. The hotel is two blocks from the circle at the center of town. There is more in a six-block radius to eat, drink, and see than I’m going to have time for. 

I may not move the car until I leave town.

There are bars, a museum or two, an artists’s alley. Think New Hope combined with Lambertville. It’s a great place to spend a long weekend.

First destination was a four-block walk to a place I’d not heard of: Bachman Publick House, which dates back to 1753. I went there first in the hope that it was still a public house.

The sign outside really cheered me up. It said the place was keeping the colonial traditions alive. What kind of ale would they have? 

But no, that’s not the case. It’s a museum where re-enactors portray colonial people doing colonial activities. And it was closed when I got there.

But there is no shortage of alternatives here. A small alley leading off the traffic circle is occupied by a half-dozen beer and food joints. 

Pearly Baker’s presented an array of Pennsylvania brews. The food was strictly bar. For me, a great, very rare hamburger and some Brussels sprouts, which were too sweet and too tough to be really good.

Weyerbacher Double IPA, brewed in Easton, has a light fragrance and a bit of sweetness, maybe from the 9 percent alcohol content.

Yards Cape of Good Hope is another double IPA, at 9.7 percent. It’s a cask ale, which means it is carbonated when it is fermented, not force-carbonated at the tap. This may have been the best of the night, and had very good bubbles for a cask ale.

Lancaster Hop Hog was on nitro instead of CO2. It makes for a very smooth drink. Nitrogen gives Guinness stout its characteristic effervescence. The Hop Hog had a faint fragrance but some good hop bite. 

It had an almost smoky flavor at the back. Strange, but good.

Evil Genius Stacy’s Mom Citra IPA has a sweet fragrance and an unusual flavor, not nutty, not too bitter, a touch of sour (maybe from the Citra hops), and almost savory like a grain, but not barley sweet. Who the hell is Stacy’s mom?

Penn Brewing IPA is very fragrant—like drinking perfume, Joanna would say. It’s delightfully bitter, and the flavor seems to have almost a touch of sour, but not quite.

The last three ales ranged from 6 to 7.5 percent alcohol

So I managed to walk home and conk out.

Good night, everybody.


Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Oh Canada, au Revoir

August 2-4

We got back just fine, and on time. We pulled up at Joanna’s house around 5 on Friday. We had another family gathering to attend on Saturday in central Jersey, so we’ve been keeping busy.

There were a couple of things that I forgot to mention about our stay in Vermont. 

Joanna and her sisters, as they often do, were gardening together, moving some small saplings and flowers to more advantageous places in the yard.

I’m no gardener. When I touch plants, they usually die.

Rocks, on the other hand, are safe enough around me. So I helped Jeff pile the rocks for a stone wall he is building next to the driveway.

He picked up the heavy ones with a forklift on the front of his tractor. They were used as the first course and pretty much stayed where they fell. I tried to jockey one into a better position and it didn’t even show I was there.

OK. Smaller rocks.

I did all right for a while. I was bending to put some medium-size rocks on the forklift. When I stood up, the world got a little strange. 

I’ve had this before. I grabbed onto the top of the lift for support while my head cleared. It must have been apparent that something was out of whack, because Christopher asked if I was OK.

That was it for me. They wouldn’t let me do any more stone work.

A very colorful moment occurred when several of us were sitting on the porch of the house next door. This is the original farmhouse from the early 19th century. 

It has been expanded and updated over the years, and Dave, Jeff’s brother, lives there in the summer. He goes back to Florida for the winter.

A flash of iridescent red winked at us from inside a small tree by the porch. The reflection of sunlight was so intense that it seemed the red spot was a lamp.

Dave told me it was a ruby-throated hummingbird. 

There is a hummingbird feeder near the tree. It has small flower-shaped access points where the birds can reach in and drink sugar water.

I have only seen hummingbirds once or twice before. They are tiny things. And when they hover, their wings beat so fast you can’t really see them. All you pickup is a transparent blur. 

On Wednesday morning in Montreal, Joanna suggested we go a basilica up on the mountain, St. Joseph’s Oratory.

It’s a trip of a few miles from the hotel, and the Metro doesn’t run up there, so we took a cab. Besides getting us there, the driver took us to the upper parking lot and saved us a lot of stairs. 

I don’t know how many stairs there are, but it may really number a hundred or more. And the middle of each flight of steps is reserved for people who want to make the climb on their knees.

I had heard about places where worshippers do that, but this was the first time I had actually visited one.

Joanna had been here back in the '70s so she picked up a brochure that told how this place got its start. It’s uncanny.

A kid with a hard-luck life was born in New Brunswick to a penniless French Canadian family. He didn’t go to school. He and his siblings were orphans by the time he was 12.

He worked odd jobs in Canada and the States, and one day showed up on the steps of a monastery, where he asked to join as a brother. The guy couldn’t read or write, so what were they going to do with him?

They made him janitor at the College of Notre Dame, which is across the street from where the basilica is now.

He took the name Frere Andre and worked as janitor for 35 years. During that time, he started to receive stray people. He listened to their complaints and their stories. 

He told them to pray to St. Joseph. Many did and some claimed to be healed of their bodily and spiritual ailments. 

Word got around and more people came to see Brother Andre.

Meanwhile, he made a practice of climbing the mountain across the street to say his prayers in a grove. One day he scattered St. Joseph medals on the spot and told the saint that he would like to build a shrine to him on the site.

He floated the idea around and got backing to build a one-room chapel there. He also apparently lived in it because there is a tiny apartment above the chapel.

The walls are covered with plaques thanking St. Joseph for his help. There is a collection of used crutches. One plaque said the donor had been cured of cancer.

There are more thank-yous, crutches, and canes inside the basilica.

I’ve seen this before—at St. Lucy’s chapel in Syracuse and at the altar of the Infant of Prague, for instance—and I love it because it puts us in touch with our pagan roots.

It doesn’t matter what you believe or disbelieve. The human brain is hard-wired for this kind of mystical poetry. The Neanderthals threw flowers into the graves of their dead.

The basilica has grown in stages. Originally it was a larger chapel, now called the crypt, and it may have been built before Brother Andre died in the 1930s. 

He is a saint in his own right and is buried in the crypt. His heart is in a reliquary a floor above.

We cabbed back for a breather at the hotel before we strolled out to The Keg, a steakhouse in Old Montreal. We had stopped for a couple of beers on Tuesday and knew the Guinness was good. It’s great with red meat.

Remembering how much fun it is to drink beer and watch people walk by, we opted for dinner at a table outside. We were doing all right, too, until that thunderstorm hit. 

We grabbed our plates and drinks and ran inside along with everybody else. I had to make two trips because we couldn’t carry the bread on the first run.

Thursday was museum day. I had been on the web site of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and learned that every Thursday people over 65 get in free.

The museum is fun even before you get inside. There is a large bronze bird made of machine parts that appears to be laying a huge egg. A vivid orange glass installation by Dale Chihuly is on the steps. 

The street next to the museum is closed to traffic and is filled with a maze-like installation of what may be enameled sections of angle iron in various colors. You can walk through it, as Joanna did. Kids run and skip through it.

On the far side of it was a man in slacks and a woman in a skirt playing catch with a football. It almost seemed like performance art. Maybe it was.

We went to the part of the museum that starts with the 17th century and moves to contemporary art.

I love the Dutch masters, and there were several, mostly new names to me. There were none of the grand-scale groups that are so much fun in the Rijksmuseum, but even so, the detail and subtle color of the small-scale landscapes were terrific, as usual.

There were a few Rodins, including a small version of the Thinker. Renoir was there and so was Monet.

One gallery was devoted to paintings influenced by observations of nature, a 19th century realist movement. An animated video of birds and tree limbs in the breeze was projected on the walls above the canvases.

Joanna said it reminded her of the Monet rooms at the Orangerie. We had read about them and went to the Orangerie to see them last April.

We walked back to the hotel and then went around the corner to Chinatown for dinner—great roast duck, fried rice, and choy sum. I love roast duck. Chinese roast duck, French roast duck. Fantastic.

I had two beers with it. They were bottles with a name I had seen in stores but not tried—Boreale, with a large polar bear on the label.

One was a stout that was very good. The wrong stout can be cloyingly sweet, but this was fresh and crisp. So was the second beer, a Boreale pale ale.

Right up there with the Guinness, they were among the best beers I had in Montreal.

Friday was moving day. We were out by 10. According to Google Maps, it’s a six-hour drive. We stopped a few times on the way, mainly to stretch our legs. 

So allowing for the stops we were right on time when we parked in front of Joanna’s house at 5 o’clock.

God bless and good night, gang.

And I’m going to remember: when somebody says “duck,” I’m going to answer “roast.”