ALCStudies Journal

Advanced Labor & Cultural Studies Web Site & Blog

Category Archives: Travel

Winners

 

If you are dismayed and wringing your hands over the recent demonstration of democracy in America on November 8th, it might be good to keep in mind a quote by Benjamin Franklin. When Franklin exited the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787, a lady in a group of citizens asked him, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” “A republic, if you can keep it,” Franklin replied.

Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy , which BBC Radio broadcast in the late 1970s/80s, provides this additional helpful insight:

From Fit the Seventh

Narrator: There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable.

There is another theory mentioned, which states that this has already happened.

Adams’ advice in HGG is something that DeTocqueville and Franklin, themselves fellow travelers in this existential universe, might subscribe to:  Don’t panic, and carry a towel.

— DA

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Old Soldiers And Young

With no apologies to General MacArthur, old soldiers do die. So do young ones. They are still doing so, whether or not we decide their cause is just.

20160529_165133I came across a marker for Jacob Blough in a cemetery near Johnstown PA  — before thunder and lightning made me leave before I ended up there too.

Blough fought in the American war for independence with the Pennsylvania militia. He lived until 1810. Seeing his gravestone made me ponder the following:

  • Did he see action? If so where?
  • How did he feel about fighting against his former countrymen on the British side; perhaps killing them and watching his own comrades die for the sake of freedom?
  • Did he ever question the cause of American independence? Or did he believe in it wholeheartedly and without doubt?
  • What kind of life did he have after his service? Did he find a job and family and happiness?

I also wondered what we would think of Blough if he fought for independence today. Would we consider him a terrorist or a freedom fighter? Or both? Could I fight and die for the cause beside him? Or would I reveal myself as a coward? Or a fanatic? Which is worse? — DA

Tendency of the Times

From THE INTERNATIONAL RAILWAY JOURNAL
(A MAGAZINE DEVOTED TO THE INTERESTS OF RAILROADS, STEAMSHIP LINES AND THE TRAVELING PUBLIC)

May, 1903

‘What is the tendency of the times? It is to cease less effort. It is to over-work, over-application, under-enjoyment, under-thinking. The tendency is to make ourselves the machines of business and trade, to always, subordinate our higher capacities and talents to the main purpose of living.

‘A great deal could be said along this line of thought. Every man knows he is a slave — a slave of circumstances, a slave of environments, a slave to ambition, and a slave to the highest inspiration within him. Everywhere is effort unremitting, ceaseless, unsatisfactory. We work every day in the year in a sense, we work while we rest, we work at rest.  Our rest is a mere form of work; it is a delusion; we imagine we are resting when we are simply deceiving ourselves; we make a toil of rest. Our whole civilization is built on one strain to accomplish, to do, to progress, to make the most.

‘But, after all, are we not losing sight of any chance? Our railroad trains run every day in the year, our ticket offices are open from morning to night, our mills, shops and factories run from early Monday morning until Saturday, and merely rest long enough to permit the heat of friction to evaporate. Our stores are crowded, our business offices are open early and late, telephonic and telegraphic wires are kept hot with the babel and gabble of trade, our streets are crowded with rushing pedestrians, our street cars are crowded to suffocation with anxious travelers, our theatres are jammed and packed with excited spectators, who imagine they are enjoying a relaxation. Excursion trains are flying, Sundays and Satur days, to afford people an opportunity to take their eyes away from desks, counters, kitchens, ceilings and floors and from trade and commerce, and from all the pesky and demoralizing influences that go to fill lip our lives.

‘Everything is strenuous. We are tearing our lives to pieces, straining our bodies, thinking of nothing but what pertains to the immediate present, grasping and struggling like idiots, and complimenting ourselves that we live in the greatest country in the world and in the greatest age. We imagine we are scientific, progressive, enlightened, and are doing everything just right. We are tearing through life as though death was something to be reached as soon as possible. Fortunately, however, religion and custom and necessity have made it necessary to slow down once in seven days. But that slowing down is hypocriti cal. We slow down in order that we may start up again with renewed energy, and we tear through each successive week as though life was made up of struggle, and as if there was no room for anything else. We work and we worry and we strain and stretch and imagine that by taking one day of rest we are doing our whole duty to ourselves.

‘Perhaps we are right, but it does seem to the quiet observer that a great deal of this strenuous life is strenuous nonsense. We are forgetting humanity and the purpose of living; we are putting too much ammunition in our gun. In some respects the tramp has more sense. While this example cannot be com mended, yet we might learn a valuable lesson from him. From his standpoint, he gets more out of life than a good many of the rest of us. Where is it to end? For what purpose all this rush ? Why this ceaseless struggle ? These are hard questions to answer.

‘We are told that machinery is increasing the production of things in general; but the more machinery, mills and factories that we build the harder we seem to have to work to get our pound of butter, our loaf of bread, our coat and hat and our street-car fare. When the register of wills makes note of our purse, the amount he finds does not seem to warrant the 30, 40 or 50 years’ struggle to leave it. What we need to learn is to learn how to live, without sacrificing all that is noble and great within us. It is a truth that we subordinate our higher selves to our lower selves. We subordinate the end to the means. We think more of the going than the getting there. We forget that the real purpose of life is development and not dollars.’ — DA (Courtesy of Google Books)

 

Fellow Travelers and Other Strangers

You’d think experiencing hardship and prejudice due to your ethnic identity or nationality would make you more tolerant or sympathetic to a group of people in your midst encountering these. Especially if the differences between you are slight — so that the world sees you as sharing more similarities than differences.

The Irish have had more than their share of hardship and tragedy — from invasion by Cromwell in the 18th Century to rebellion and the more recent Troubles. As Yeats wrote:

Out of Ireland have we come.
Great hatred, little room,
Maimed us at the start.1

Ironically, now the Irish themselves – some of them, anyway — lack sympathy with a group among them who call themselves the Travelers.

The Travelers are not Gypsies, or Roma. They are a distinct group that has existed for hundreds of years throughout Ireland and Great Britain. (One group made its way to South Carolina.) They have strong family connections, and have made their their living traditionally as itinerant tinkers, traveling from town to town repairing small items. Sometimes by stealing. They are a small group, ethnically distinct by one definition; maybe not so much by another. They use their own language, Cant, which at times their hosts proposed to outlaw, as was tried with Welsh and Gaelic. Given their small numbers, the Travelers seem not worthy of much attention by international groups and individuals (government officials, reporters, ‘advocates’). One thing’s clear: no one in Ireland seems to want them in their backyard.

Bridget O'Donnel and her starving children, 1849, Illustrated London News

Bridget O’Donnel and her starving children, 1849, Illustrated London News

In October the New York Times reported a fire that killed ten people in a Travelers’ encampment in Carrickmines, Ireland, near Dublin. The dead included five children and a pregnant woman. The town – with a name redolent of Irish labor and suffering – contains a fragment of an ancient castle built to protect the invading English from marauding Irish tribes. (It was subsequently used as a piggery.) Encampment, summons up associations ancient and more recent — from Celtic nomads, to the Irish monks setting sail to the Shetland Islands and Scandinavia and (possibly to America) in curraghs, to Famine ships carrying human cargo, and now Syrian refugees fleeing to Hungary and Germany.

Following the destruction of the fire in Carrickmines and shock of their fellow Travelers’ deaths, the survivors sought a new location to settle. Those in the surrounding community who at first expressed sympathy refused to extend that sympathy to allowing Travelers a place to live. Local residents in Dublin  blocked access to a temporary location being prepared for them.

No doubt the situation is complex. How do you create a inclusive community with those who stubbornly refuse to assimilate – who are in fact perceived as a threat? But this has always been the case. In America the dance of assimilation bred as much intolerance as tolerance as each group of immigrants made its way. The Irish showed little sympathy to Italian and Slovak immigrants. Neither group sympathized much with African Americans’ struggle for freedom and equality. 19th-century illustrations by Thomas Nast depicted Irish immigrants as violent, apelike savages.

Political cartoons during the Red Scare of the 1920s characterized Eastern European and other immigrants as bomb-wielding radicals and Bolshies. In the 1950s McCarthy-era rhetoric charged ‘fellow travelers’ as consorting with communists bent on the destruction of American democracy – which some were. It’s a short leap to the terrorists of today.

My own family, illiterate coal miners who ranged between Edinburgh and Belfast, arrived in the U.S. before the First World War. They traveled to Indiana to mine coal and then to Pittsburgh, where my grandmother was born in 1909. She was the first in her family to attend college and became an elementary school teacher – a vocation my own daughter follows.

The Irish have always been travelers, great fighters, and great laborers, willing to take the dirty, dangerous work that others would not, and live in dirty, dangerous places. I have seen their handiwork and witnessed their graves on my own travels cycling and canoeing the Erie and C&O Canals.

In 1844 I arrived upon the fateful shore.
I left the land that was no more
To work upon the railway2

Erie Canal Graves

Cemetery at Adams Basin on the Erie Canal (Photo by the Author)

The truth is we are all travelers, making our way existentially and physically through the world, seeking a home. It’s clear from recent events that some pursue their journey less benignly than others.

Articles in the Irish Times have highlighted entrenched attitudes about the Travelers: among these that they are antisocial criminals, that they are uneducated. Money allocated to create settlements for Travelers remains unspent to opposition from their fellow Irish. One resident near Dublin said, “They just don’t live the same way we do….That’s not a slant on them. It’s just a fact.” “We just don’t want them here,” and, “No one in the country would accept this.”

These 21st-Century words echo those heard and published during the 19th Century. The Great Famine of the 1840s and ’50s, The Great Hunger – An Gorta Mor — killed thousands and sent millions fleeing to American, Canada, New Zealand and other countries. In Great Britain the general attitude was good riddance to their strange ways and tragic lives – contributed to by Britain’s own poor laws and policies of discrimination dating from Cromwell’s day.

inbusinessAs Cecil Woodham-Smith writes in The Great Hunger:

The wretched, ragged crowds provoked irritation, heightened by the traditional English antipathy toward the native Irish. … “No attempt was made to explain the catastrophe to the people; on the contrary, government officials and relief committee members treated the destitute with impatience and contempt.”

No doubt my ancestors and their acquaintances were among those discriminated against. In America they were met with political cartoons and rhetoric emphasizing their antisocial behavior, their ignorance, profligacy, religion, language, criminality and otherness.

Now we witness refugees fleeing Syria and the Travelers in Ireland seeking a home. Questions of Illustrated London Newsimmigration policy arise once again in the long-winded rhetoric surrounding the windup to the U.S. Presidential election, fanned by the horrific scenes perpetrated on Friday November 13th in Paris.

Nevertheless, I am struck by the minute degrees separation that alienate rather than bind us as human beings. In the 1840s The Illustrated London News published accounts uncharacteristically sympathetic to the Irish. One article quoted an eyewitness to their suffering who declared Everything has been tried but a little sympathy and kindness. But how do you maintain sympathy for someone you’re afraid, rightly or wrongly, is trying to kill you? — CDL

Seeing, Perceiving, Possessing

What’s the difference between a drawing and a photograph in rendering experience? In On Photography  Susan Sontag writes about the photograph appropriating the object and becoming more real than the object itself.

I spent Labor Day camping in a nearby wilderness area. On a whim I took the sketch pad and pencils along with my Android phone. I usually leave the phone in the car, preferring my solitude without actual or virtual interruption.

I camped in a small field off an old logging road. As I set up camp, I found I brought the fly and body from two different tents, so I rigged up the fly by itself with the poles. When I went to start my stove, the pump leaked. (Thanks, MSR). So I built a small fire to cook the salmon I bought along and boil water for Ramen noodles. As I finished eating, a thunderstorm rolled in. I crawled under the open fly and put the tent netting over me to keep out the bugs. I fell asleep to the flash of lightning and rain pouring down.

Next morning I woke to mist on the field but no rain. I found some fairly dry standing dead-wood under the trees. With the help of a little stove fuel, I built another fire and made coffee and breakfast. As sun burned the mist off and dried the grass, I folded my disparate tent parts. Rusted fencing surrounded the trunks of several trees in the field. One gnarled specimen with leaves like a cherry had small iridescent red berries on the branches. I grabbed my pad and made a sketch of it, then took a photo with my phone.

chokecherrieswpid-20130903_110740.jpg

I looked this up in Thoreau’s Wild Fruits . The closest I came was chokecherry, but I’m not sure that’s accurate from my previous experience.

I spent about least twenty minutes making a sketch and adding some color, before getting impatient. I’m an amateur artist, and a photograph takes just a few seconds. If what you are looking for is an exact representation or facsimile of what is seen, a drawing (at least mine) will always come up short.

On my return, I walked along a rock face beside the trail with a tree growing from it. I stopped to make a sketch, then took several photos.

cliffsidetreeswpid-20130903_121940.jpg

The static image is snatched from the ebb and flow of life.  A person or object comes into view; we point and shoot. The next day or years later (examined perhaps by strangers), the photograph is isolated from context and experience, dependent on memory or meaning imposed by the viewer. Digital photography and other forms of replication seduce us into capturing and sharing experience indiscriminately, without even knowing its significance. Drawing (or painting or sculpture or music) requires an artist attending mindfully and working within the limits of his or her skill and perception in conveying a representation of light and color, structure and space, tonality and rhythm.

Film captures both sound and motion. Artfully arranged, these render experience that reflects (or projects) what we desire to see as much as what exists. Encountered immanently (up close and personal) with all its flaws and vicissitudes (bugs, smoke, missing tent parts and failed fuel pumps), the real often proves inferior to the image. Ask anyone who has seen a Disney nature film or met a movie star or celebrity in person. Our own expectations and others’ of how life works are set more and more by the artificial (and wholly unrealistic) criteria set by others’ imagination.

Technically, you are not supposed to alter or leave anything behind in the wilderness where I camped. Someone built a couple of rock towers (cairns) in the middle of the stream. I puzzled a bit about how to suggest water flowing in drawing these. I finally added a couple of curved lines to suggest ripples. Does it work? I’m sure a practiced artist wouldn’t think twice about this.

streamrocks wpid-20130903_132322.jpg

Behind me in the image was a good-sized fire circle. I use existing ones myself sometimes when camping. I don’t really mind them unless someone cluelessly (or deliberately) leaves glass, cans bottles and other items behind.

The Pennsylvania Conservation Corps built a number of wooden bridges on the trails in the 1990s. The bridges bounce a little and creak when you walk on them. They smell like old wood and creosote. Your footsteps sound hollow when you walk across. At high water you can hardly hear because of the rushing of the stream beneath.

footbridge

wpid-20130903_145157.jpg

You don’t get any of this from a photo, drawing or Youtube. You have to go out and experience it for yourself. In our zeal to share experience virtually and instantly with others, are we losing the ability to live life ourselves? – CDL

New Book at ALCStudies

Advanced Labor & Cultural Studies has published a book of photos and journal entries from my 2011 canoeing and cycling trip on the Erie Canal. Some of these photos appeared previously in a 2012 calendar. Additional photos and accompanying commentary appear with new and original text. This book will appeal to readers interested in history, culture and mindful, self-powered pursuits. Please see the following description. This book will be provided as a premium for donations of $75 and above supporting our projects. Or, click the image to preview and purchase directly at LULU.com. Thanks. — CDL

Between Labor Day and September 11th 2011 Chuck Lanigan canoed and cycled a portion of the Erie Canal between Lockport and Rochester New York. He took photos and kept a journal of the towns, individuals and experiences he encountered on the way. This book presents stories often overlooked among the interstates and our preoccupation with virtual experience in the 21st century.
Please click to preview or purchase.
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