Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Historic St. Marys City, Maryland--Part I

We went on a quick trip to St. Marys City, Maryland. It was the first capital of colonial Maryland. The colony was established as a haven for English Catholics, though the Calvert family wanted to create a place where Protestants and Catholics could live together in harmony (a radical idea in the 1600s). The initial colonists landed on St. Clement Island nearby. They established St. Marys City on the peninsula between the mouth of the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay. The city grew and housed the government until a Protestant take-over of the government. They moved the capital to Annapolis. St. Marys had no other industry to keep it going so it more or less vanished. Archeology in the twentieth century has found the sites of various buildings and many restorations have happened. The area is now an outdoor museum with several buildings re-created fin seventeenth-century style.

We parked at one of the visitor centers and were promptly greeted with an overview of the area.

Reading about the past

We followed a trail to where the main sites and re-enactors were. We visited on a Friday, so demonstrations were scheduled throughout the day.

Old-style fence

Recreation of a native village

A native who is still hanging around

We weren't sure if these were works in progress

We walked past the print house and the smith's ordinary (which had suspiciously modern roofs) to the docents in the town center.

Printer's and Smith's

The docents were making candles of various sizes. Some of them (the docents, that is) looked like summer interns and were not as skillful at candle making. They dipped the wicks in hot wax and let them cool a bit and dipped again. This process seems laborious. At least they were working with bee's wax, which is the sort of candles the rich would use. Poor people used the cheaper (but smellier) tallow candles, made from rendered animal fat that the butcher couldn't sell.

Talking about candle making

John Wick

The docents taught us a few of the games that children (and adults) would play back in the 1600s. Quoits is a type of ring toss with rope rings and wooden pegs. Hoop and stick was a dexterity game trying to keep a hoop rolling along the ground using a stick to add momentum.


Hoop and stick

Trying a different style

The docents then had a presentation on medicine in the colonial period. The only pharmacies back then were herb gardens. Medical practices had a mixture of folklore and fact. One practice was to make a small cloth pouch with herbs for smelling in case you ran into some foul situation or needed a little refreshment on a hot day and didn't have any water. My son was selected out of the audience to help make a bag.

The medicine cabinet

Looking for good herbs

Rubbing them to get the oils out

Nearby is Cordea's Hope, a house that is set up as an old market (the Target or Walmart of its day). The interior had lots of items that would be available for purchase. Almost all would have been brought from Europe. The American colonies sent back raw goods, tobacco, and furs, and received housewares and other items that would make life more like the old country.

Cordea's Hope

Warning label!

The main counter

Imports from the old country

Tool section

A chandelier!

Archeologists discovered the location of Leonard Calvert's house. He was the first governor in the colony of Maryland. The house was built around 1636 out of wood. The house was large enough that it became the government's meeting house when the property was purchase by the government in 1662. After they built the brick state house nearby, John Baker bought Calvert's home and turned it into a public inn. He and his wife Elizabeth added the brickwork. Modern brickwork sits over the original to mark the site and protect the original brick.

Location of the Calvert House

A replica of an inn is nearby--Van Sweringen's Inn. We were not able to go inside.

Van Sweringen's Inn

A nearby plaque commemorates Mathias de Sousa, the first black Marylander. He came with the initial colonists on The Ark and The Dove as an indentured servant (one of the nine indentured servants onboard). He was free of his indentures in 1638 and took up fur trading and sailing. He even served in the Maryland legislature in 1642.

De Sousa plaque

We continued our visit by going down to the water and seeing a recreation of The Dove, the smaller of the two vessels that carried the colonists to Maryland. The boat is more of an approximation of what The Dove would have been like since the records are spotty and getting a custom-made old-time ship is not cheap. The shipwrights used the typical plans for a seventeenth-century pinnace as their guide.

Dove-like vessel

Going aboard

Dinner set

Captain's cabin

Crew bunks

The front deck

View ahead

The docents were going to fire the small cannon on deck. Such cannons were not used for combat since they were too small and too inaccurate for sea combat. The guns were used by merchants as a way of signaling to other boats or to towns when they were arriving in port (letting the locals know to come and buy the best of the merchandise).

One-pound gun

Bilge pumps

I tried to get a picture of the gun going off but was too slow. Naturally, we watched from far away on the pier near the shore. 

Clouds or smoke?

More of our visit in the next post!

Monday, August 15, 2022

Book Review: Natural and Divine Law by Jean Porter

Natural and Divine Law: Reclaiming the Tradition for Christian Ethics by Jean Porter

Contemporary natural law theories are a bit like contemporary existentialism. Both accommodate many different opinions, even diametrically opposed positions. Existentialists, taken as a whole, run the gamut from atheism to agnosticism to theism. Natural law theorists include those who want a completely medieval understanding (Aquinas being the paradigmatic thinker), those who want a Biblical though contemporary focus, and those who want the theory built entirely on rationality and human nature without dependence on Revelation (the Finis/Grisez crowd). Porter's theory strives to be in the second group. She looks to the traditional Christian foundation from the eleventh and twelfth centuries but also wants to engage contemporary thinkers while still retaining a strong (though more contemporary) Scriptural basis. 

She begins her argument by looking at the historical context of Christian natural law thinking, which indeed hit a high water mark in the 1200s with thinkers like Thomas Aquinas. The period was hardly a stagnant and fundamentalist time for academics. The society had changed substantially during the period from AD 1000 to 1300. Governments were become more centralized (i.e., the highest legal authority was not necessarily the lord of the manor or the town magistrate). People's lives were more mobile both physically and economically. Travel was much safer and more possible than in previous centuries. With the rise of the middle class (the guilds and the merchants), people had an easier time changing from peasant farmers or nobility to other ranks in society. The rise of the mendicant orders (primarily the Franciscans and the Dominicans) and of the universities brought new ideas and new challenges. The time was very fruitful for intellectual development. Natural law theory, taken from the Stoics and the Church Fathers, developed as a way to look at moral and social issues. The main groups of legal theorists were (1) the civilians (who came at issues from a secular government perspective), (2) the canonists (who focused on church law), and (3) the theologians (who looked to church tradition and Scripture). The time had a lot more diversity which Porter sees as a strength unacknowledged in our day.

As she looks at the medieval history of natural law, she compares their thoughts with those of contemporary thinkers like John Finis, Germain Grisez, Karl Barth, and Stanley Hauerwas. The instances of similarities and differences are fascinating and show how the tradition of natural law is worth studying and had insights that are useful for modern thinkers. What laws and obligations are natural to humans and what are social constructs? How can an understanding of human sinfulness (i.e. defects in human nature) be accounted for in Natural Law theory? How does that change what is considered "natural"? Modern Christian ethicists debate about what is the distinctive Christian basis for ethics--is it the radical equality of "love your neighbor as yourself" or the "do no harm" focus on non-violence (a more contemporary understanding). Both are true but which is primary? The issues Porter grapples with are contemporary and engaging.

The one challenge with the book is that it presents a high-level overview of natural law theory and how it has been applied in many different ways. She considers how it could be applied in other situations, occasionally without committing to one solution or another. She endorses the overall system, but like in the big tents, she allows for possible solutions that don't all fit together. In the conclusion, she writes that her argument has been to show the relevance of natural law theory to Christian ethical thinking and hopes that others will use this as a launching point for a deeper and finer understanding of who we are and what we need to do, especially with modern issues. So the lack of decisiveness is deliberate, but I also found it a little off-putting.

Recommended, this is a good scholarly look at the ideas without being brutally academic and difficult to read (or requiring a substantial foundation in the theory before being read).

Friday, August 12, 2022

Movie Review: The Sun Also Rises (1957)

The Sun Also Rises (1957) directed by Henry King

Jake Barnes (Tyrone Power) is an American ex-pat living in Paris in the early 1920s as a reporter. He along with a lot of friends fought in World War I and didn't go home. They live a bohemian lifestyle though he is less debauched, perhaps due to a war injury that's left him impotent. His WWI nurse, Brett Ashley (Ava Gardner), took a liking to him at the hospital and still shows up occasionally in his life. They both know their relationship will never work but she keeps coming back after having flings with other men, often in other cities. Now she's engaged to an Englishman (Errol Flynn) who is more jealous and drunk than anything else. Brett catches the eye of Jake's friend Robert (Mel Ferrer), who starts following them around like a lovesick puppy. Jake can't stand the situation and heads off for his usual July holiday in Spain with writer buddy Bill Gorton (Eddie Albert). They go fishing in the mountains before heading to the Pamplona festival, with its drinking and bullfights. The rest of the Paris gang shows up in Pamplona, leading to more drinking and painful interpersonal encounters.

The movie has the feel of a literary prestige picture, like Gone With the Wind or The Best Years of Our Lives. It's a Technicolor Cinemascope production that captures the running of the bulls and the drama of the bull fights (without the gore) and the romance of little Parisian bars. The characters look larger than life. But they don't quite convince. As the Lost Generation, they should look like they are living life to the fullest, but the emptiness of their existence is all too apparent. I have not read the book by Ernest Hemingway so I don't know if the story is meant to be this bleak. The actors are good but they look a little old for the roles and the tone is off.

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Book Review: Mother Teresa: Little Acts of Love by S. Srinivasan et al.

Mother Teresa: Little Acts of Love script by Shalini Srinivasan with illustrations and cover by Atula Siriwardane

This short biography of Mother Teresa of Kolkata gives a good look at her childhood in Albania and her vocation as a nun who served the poorest of the poor. She grew up in an environment of faith and decided in her teens to be a missionary. She heard a priest talk about his work in India and decided to go there. The order she joined sent her to Ireland to learn English. Her work initially focused on helping children, educating them and helping them to better their lives. She felt the call to work in the poorest neighborhoods and got permission to leave her convent and start a new order. She spent decades working with the neglected and destitute, believing the greatest poverty is to be alone and unloved. Her order set up hospices, schools, and other places to serve the local community. Mother Teresa's order has spread over the world.

The book is part of a large comic book series called Amar Chitra Katha, dating back to the 1960s and dedicated to the heritage and history of India. My local library just acquired dozens of the books, so I thought I would try one. I liked it a lot. It shows the basics of her life and her impact on India, with references to her impact on the rest of the world. 


Wednesday, August 10, 2022

TV Review: The Jim Gaffigan Show Season Two (2016)

The Jim Gaffigan Show Season Two (2016) created by Jim Gaffigan and Peter Tolan

The Jim Gaffigan Show is about a stand-up comedian who lives in New York City with his wife and five children in a two-bedroom apartment, so it's very much like Gaffigan's actual life. The first season is fairly hilarious so I was happy to see the second season (along with the first season) show up on hoopla, a streaming service from public libraries.

The second season follows the same idea as the first season, finding typical life situations and exploiting the comedy potential, like going to couples therapy with your priest or visiting the museum with five uninterested kids. A few episodes have Gaffigan playing his father from the 1970s (Ashley Williams (who play wife Jeannie) is Jim's mom in the flashbacks). This season leans heavily into self-deprecating situations with mixed results. Some moments are hilarious, like Jim trying to audition as himself in a show about the life of his best friend. Some moments are winsome, like remembering his relationship with his dad. Some are a little too painful, like Jim audition for the role of an ugly guy as a bit part in a movie. The roster of celebrity cameos (everyone from Macaulay Culkin to Alec Baldwin to Will Ferrell) is impressive. I liked most of the season but it was not as funny as the first.

Mildly recommended.

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Geocaching July 2022

I found a cache on the first day of July because I had to kill some time between dropping my daughter off to make some vacation Bible school decorations and picking up books at the library. I found The White Band Cache... which indeed has a white band around the container. The timing was perfect, I got to the library just as it opened and picked up a big stack of reserved books.

View from The White Band...

As a follow up, I found The Red, White and Blue Cache... which was placed on July 1, so it is a very recent cache. The hiding spot was typical and it got another day filled in on my caching calendar.

Another view from the cache

On a trip to Virginia, I found Hokies in Blackstone near an agricultural school that's part of Virginia Tech. The find is right by the sign.

VT in the hinterland!

Not far away was Smiling back at you hidden in a location that is "not quite an LPC but more of the big brother to them." An LPC is a Lamp Pole Cover, the liftable covering at the bottom of a lot of parking lot lights. It's a very common hiding spot. This particular hide was much trickier and required a tool to get out of its spot.

No cover for this post

In Blackstone proper, I found amongst all the trache. A little side road has a section where people dump junk. The cache is hidden among the junk! The find took a bit of creative searching.

A spot for CITO (Cache In, Trash Out)

My last find on that day was Don't Stop Believing.... near a small, independent ice cream and fast food shop. The cache is hidden in the parking lot. The owner knows about it and I had a nice, short chat with him as I was making the find.

Outdoor dining area was Ground Zero

On the way home, we stopped off briefly in Richmond and visited the grounds of the Capitol. We found the virtual cache The Doctor Will See You Now. Virtual caches are location that do not have a physical hide. Typically, cache finders have to take a picture or gather some information that can only be found at that location. This particular spot, a statue of Doctor Hunter Holmes McGuire, is in a nice, tree-shaded area. Dr. McGuire was personal physician to General Stonewall Jackson. After the American Civil War, he lobbied for medical care for the indigent and for former slaves. He helped in rebuilding Richmond and founded the University College of Medicine there.

McGuire Statue

Back home I found Down by the tracks, a mystery cache that had an interesting solution to find the final coordinates. The find was a little harrowing because it is located in a business park with a lot of business going on during weekdays. I should have gone on the weekend or after hours but I needed to fill a hole in the calendar.

Tracks are definitely visible from here

Just off of Main Street in Laurel, Maryland, is a series of caches that are tough until you get used to the cache owner's style. I've found plenty by him, so When You Need One #5 was a quick find for me, which was nice since the temperature was in the low nineties!

Not a good location for a hide, ya think?

Fore!!! is a mystery cache near a mini-golf/driving range/batting cage complex. The hide was nice but the container was rusted shut, so I did not sign the log. Hopefully the cache owner will be able to replace it.

A view from the cache area, I guess I should have included the complex

Out shopping, I found A Rock In A Bag... which is just like the name says. The location had two rocks to choose from, neither of which was the right rock (because they weren't in bags!).

Choices, choices...

I found another one of the Random Acts of Kindness caches, RAKMD27:call your grandparents.call them! Maybe the cache owner is a grandparent? I had two of the kids with me, so they finally made it into a picture.

Showing their enthusiasm!

While on a visit to Historic St. Mary's City (the original capital of the colony of Maryland), we found the virtual cache Church Point. It's down by the water from the historic area and the college.

The church point

The next day we took a boat to St. Clements Island (where the first Maryland colonists landed in 1634) and found another virtual cache, Ever changing island. The island went through many different changes, from an initial settlement to a lighthouse location to a tourist destination to its final (so far) purpose as a historical site.

The re-created lighthouse

This month featured the hundredth cache of 2022 and now only has two calendar days of non-caching.