Tuesday, 7 June 2022

line of demarcation

Signed on this day in its namesake town on the Douro river in 1494, the Treaty of Tordesillas (Tratado de Tordesilhas, see previously) divided the so called New World—those lands new to European explorers—between the Spanish and Portuguese Empires along a meridian in the Atlantic judged halfway in between the Cape Verde island group (then a crown colony of Portugal) and the lands claimed for Castile and Leon by Christopher Columbus, modern-day Cuba and Hispaniola) with points east going to the latter and westward to the former. The Treaty of Zaragoza in 1529 defined the antemeridian to address the other side of the globe in order to settle conflicting claims to the Moluccas Islands, an Indonesia archipelago historically called the Spice Islands. Though blessed-off by the pope, newly discovered peoples viewed this claim with disdain and other European powers did not sign on and generally ignored the treaties, Francis I (albeit representing one of the worst future colonisers) declaiming, “The sun shines for me as it does for others. I would very much like to see the clause of Adam’s will that denies me my share of the world.” The signatories considered the arrangement null and void by 1750, notwithstanding competition and their general decline as global powers, swapping rights Brazil and the Philippines.

Thursday, 5 May 2022

gรฉodรฉsie

Celebrated astronomer and geologist Jean Baptiste Joseph Delambre on this day in 1792 undertook his commission to precisely define the metre, a universal measure defined as one ten-millionth of the distance from the North Pole to the equator, organising an expedition to measure the length of the meridian arc (distance—the two cities being on the same line of longitude) between Dunkirk and Rodez, by Toulouse in the south of France, mathematically extrapolating from that value, and then from Rodez to Barcelona’s Fortress of Montjuรฏc. The survey mission took six years beset by technical set-backs, bouts of yellow fever and the French Revolution, including several unfortunate incarcerations by Royalist elements. Precise measurements were taken with a device called a repeating circle ( cercle rรฉpรฉtiteur ), invented by machinist Etienne Lenoir originally for Jean-Charles de Borda and improved for Delambre and team. Finally in 1799, the metre was formally defined as 0.514074 Parisien toise (from the Latin tender—that is the span of the outstretched arms, six feet) or three feet and eleven lignes—a historical unit that was approximately one twelfth of an inch and still used by watchmakers to size casings and in button-manufacturing.

Tuesday, 3 May 2022

el tres de mayo de 1808 en madrid

Considered by many to represent the first modern work of art for its departure from convention stylistically and in its message, the 1814 commission for the provisional government of Spain by Francisco Goya, The Third of May, depicts and commemorates resistance to the forces of Napoleon during the occupation and Peninsular War over access to the Mediterranean—the French garrisons originally invited under the pretence of jointly conquering and dividing Spain and award the Spanish prime minister the principality of the Algarve and not realising the ruse until it was too late. Picturing in media res the suppression of the junta uprising against the soldiers of the First French Empire, the rebels and their ranks facing the firing squad on Prรญncipe Pรญo hill portrays war as bleak and unheroic—in vast contrast to the usual posed compositions of charging victory and unflagging patriotism—and inspired Pablo Picasso’s Guernica and Massacre in Korea among other revolutionary and edifying works of art.

Sunday, 27 February 2022

8x8

glass menagerie: more microbiological models from Luke Jerram—see previously 

instant city: a 1971, tented utopian experiment on the northern coast of Ibiza  

dearc sgiathanach: superlative winged pterosaur found on the Island of Skye 

kye marn: incredible papier mรขchรฉ Carnival masks from Jacmel, Haiti 

the wags, jubilee plus christmas gambols: nautical song composer Charles Dibdin, forgotten eighteenth century superstar—via Strange Company 

a strange game—the only winning move is not to play: the rise of gamification in all systems and how to avoid getting caught up in it unawares  

ัะฝะต, ะฑะตะฝะต, ั€ะตั: a Russian counting rhyme, like yan, tan, tethera  

angiogenic properties: materials scientists development bioactive glass (also used to repair broken bones) that repels virtually all germs

Saturday, 11 December 2021

obturador

The twelfth century Visigoth cathedral of Palencia, dedicated to San Antolรญn of Pamiers sustained damage from the catastrophic earthquake and subsequent tsunami that struck the Iberian peninsula with

reconstruction efforts to the roof and cornices delayed until 1908, under the leadership of local architect Jerรณnimo Arroyo, who replaced one of the lost gargoyles anachronistically with the figure of a cassocked man lugging around a camera of the times. This was in homage to a documentarian called Luis Rodrรญquez Alonso, who were among the first to chronicle the region using the new medium. The rather austere gothic exterior betrays the rich interior treasures, including over twenty chapels, ornate retablos and a painting by El Greco of the martyrdom of Saint Sebastian, contains another easter egg, this time dating to a 1995 renovation to the achivolt above Puerta de los Reyes: at the apex, the two bas-relief creatures facing one another are not demons or dragons but rather xenomorphs from the then contemporary instalment of the Alien franchise.

Tuesday, 30 November 2021

balmis expedition

The operation officially named Real Expediciรณn Filantrรณpica de la Vacuna, the Spanish healthcare mission under the leadership of Doctor Francisco Javier de Balmis set sail on the Marรญa Pita from a port in Galicia on this day in 1803 and would vaccinate, using the technique developed by Edward Jenner, untold millions against smallpox, calling in the Canary Islands, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Mexico, China and the Philippines, even offering surplus to the colony at Saint Helena on the return route, despite animosities between Spain and Britain at the time. Undertaken to make amends for the Old World diseases that ravaged North and South America and to attempt to wipe out the contagion that proved fatal for nearly half a million individuals annually in Europe only, the complement and crew included twenty-two orphaned boys designated as successive carriers of the cowpox virus (there being no refrigeration or other means to isolate and transport the vaccine), which would help recipients acquire immunity to the deadlier version.

Wednesday, 27 October 2021

ferrocarril

Reminding us of the escalator that ascends from the valley to the summit of St Moritz and other similar locomotive attractions, we could appreciate this bit of colourful infrastructure to revitalise an older resort hotel on Gran Canaria without completely razing the existing building. Studio Lopezneeiraciaurri was commissioned to renovate the complex and included a yellow funicular to transport guests up and down, turning this relic from the 1970s into the most modern property around and serving to help us realise that experiential and novel people-movers have an established history as tourist draws.

Wednesday, 13 October 2021

designgroep

Named after the tarot card, the psychedelic design collective based in Amsterdam, The Fool, and influenced by the hippie community of Ibiza (see previously), whose costuming for stage and album cover art include iconic outfits for Procol Harum, Cream and the Beatles, as seen in televised broadcasts of “All You Need is Love,” the Magical Mystery Tour and Sgt. Pepper’s inside graphics plus the largest mural in the world for a performance of Hair at the Aquarius Theatre. Much more at Messy Messy Chic at the link above.

Wednesday, 4 August 2021

dama de elche

Discovered just south of the eponymous private estate on this day in 1897, the intricate limestone bust known as the Lady of Elx is a fourth or fifth century BC Punic-Iberian artefact depicting the Carthage goddess Tanit, the equivalent of Astarte—Romanised as Juno Caelestis. Possibly used as a funerary urn, the originally sculpture would have been polychromed and the coils of her elaborate headdress are called rodetes and once featured on the one peseta bank note.

Saturday, 29 May 2021

santa bona

Early eleventh century Augustinian nun venerated on this day, Bona of Pisa, helped conduct pilgrims on their journeys and is considered the patroness of tour guides, couriers, flight attendants as well as her well-touristed home town. Her father a Crusader in the Holy Land, Bona made no fewer than four sojourns there to visit him and see to his well-being and after being taken hostage by pirates and necessitating a ransom and rescue by her compatriots, redirected her focus to the route of Santiago de Compostela, undertaking the arduous trip ten times and leading others along the way.

Saturday, 1 May 2021

smoking dogs

Admittedly we were unaware of this motif and the religious iconography behind it and were rather blind to the profusion of details of sedate hounds in the corners and margins of high Renaissance to the early modern period of Spanish colonial paintings portrayed apparently as fetching a fat joint. Thanks to Strange Company’s Weekend Link Dump for educating and disabusing us of this trope which rather references the hagiographical tradition built up around Saint Dominic and the Dominican Order. The eleventh century Juana de Aza (Blessed Jane or Joan of Aza), it is related in some of the earliest accounts, was near to term in her pregnancy and dreamt, prophetically that a dog carrying a lit torch (not a marijuana cigarette unfortunately) leapt from her womb to set the world aflame. A monk of the Abbey Santo Domingo de Silos called Dominic interpreted this dream for Jane, who decided to give her son that name. Establishing his first brotherhood of six followers in a donated house in the city of Toulouse, Dominic adapted his organisation to urban living and the promoting the education and pastoral care of people where they live rather than being cloistered communities apart. I don’t think I cannot in the future be tempted to look for pyromaniacal dogs in future artworks on this subject.

Tuesday, 20 April 2021

7x7

one man’s trash: a preview (plus whole film) of a documentary about spelunking in New York City’s garbage  

dare mighty things: Martian rover Perseverance (previously) conducts first test flight of its airfoil drone

distant drums: the ‘Wilhelm Scream’—the stock effect of a man being eaten by an alligator  

personnage: the almond and pebble that inspired Joan Mirรณ’s sculpture  

palace of culture: a choreographed tour of Lithuania’s Socialist Modernist architecture  

moon unit: Space X awarded NASA contract for lunar lander for the upcoming Artemis mission  

pegged: artist Helga Stentzel (previously) creates a clothes-line polar bear to raise awareness for climate change

Saturday, 27 March 2021

tenerife airport disaster

Prompting strict enforcement of standardised instructions, safety protocols and English as a common-working language for air traffic controllers and flight crews, the deadliest accident in aviation history occurred on this day in 1977 when two Boeing 747 passenger jets collided on the runway in foggy conditions on the Spanish island. Five hundred eighty-three people were killed. Members of the Canary Islands Independence Movement had planted a bomb at the larger Gran Canaria airport and called in the threat, this terrorist incident causing planes to be diverted to the smaller regional Los Rodeos airport in the northern part of Tenerife, causing the taxiway to become congested and arriving and departing planes sharing the single runway had to wait their turn in deteriorating weather conditions. A mutual misunderstanding tragically caused the KLM and Pan Am flights to start at the same time.

Sunday, 14 March 2021

virtus, unita, fortior

Though the tiny condominium of the Principality of Andorra had existed for centuries under the current shared rule between the head of state of France and the Bishop of Urgell as co-princes (chartered in 1278 but created in the ninth century by Charlemagne as a buffer march from Islamic Iberia), its constitution (la Constituciรณ d’Andorra) was not formally codified and adopted until February 1993 and accepted by popular assent on this day, celebrated thereafter on its anniversary—though the document did not carry legal weight until its promulgation when it was published and the register was made available to all citizens, around sixty-four thousand at the time.

Wednesday, 6 January 2021

the governor and company of the merchants of great britain, trading to the south seas and other parts of america, and for the encouragement of fishery

Though not the only joint-stock venture to hedge its liabilities and ultimately prove ruinous for investors, the South Sea Company (official long form above), founded as a public-private partnership—with the support of the government hoping to offset some of the national debt incurred during its involvement with the War of the Spanish Succession and its own colonial activities—in 1711, was the most spectacular economic bubble, bankrupting thousands of investors and speculators who had underwritten the enterprise. Originally incorporated as a substitute revenue generating operation when a national lottery scheme run on behalf of the Crown failed to turn a profit (the jackpot winners were deprived of their prizes), the public was instead invited to purchase shares of a chartered company with a monopoly over trade with Spain and Portugal and would in time collect dividends from the profits. The stock price was inflated by those late-comers not wanting to miss out (taking out loans to take part) on an opportunity and rife mismanagement, including a not insignificant amount of business in the trafficking of enslaved individuals from Africa to Central and South America—and though huge sums of money were trading hands, the company failed to be profitable and engaged in increasing debt for equity swaps until the price increased in a frenzy from £100 to over £1000 in the course of a few months in 1720, falling just as precipitously at an even faster pace. A decade after its founding, on this day, with recriminations rampant and with the aristocracy, the merchant classes as well as the working poor duped and financially broken, the Committee of Inquiry on the South Sea Bubble came forth with their findings, revealing fraud and corruption at all levels. Amazingly the newly appointed First Lord of the Treasury, Robert Walpole, was able to restore public confidence in the financial market and the company continued—this time focusing its efforts on whaling—until the reign of Victoria, finally dissolved in 1838.

Sunday, 20 December 2020

clan of the cave bear

Recent research into a cave complex at Atapuerca in northern Spain that sheltered ancient humans and their ancestors suggests that four hundred thousand years ago, when winters were quite harsh in the region and there was not access to fish stocks like the modern Sรกmi, Inuit and other peoples who live in unforgiving environments have to tide them over hibernated to get through the season. In depth study of human and Neanderthal fossil remains show that like our ursine cousins, there are signs of annual disruption to bone growth, indicative of a metabolic state of dormancy, in survival mode. This sounds like a good strategy to me.

Sunday, 29 November 2020

saturnin

Identified as one of the seventy-two disciples at the Last Supper—the image of the head table is the one we are most familiar with—Greek bishop and martyr dispatched by Pope Fabian, himself famously elected to office after a pigeon alighted on his head during the conclave, to Toulouse as one of the apostles to the Gauls to re-establish Christian communities after Emperor Decius ordered their dissolution, is venerated on this day on the occasion of his death in 257. Attributing the silence of their pagan oracles to the constant presence of this meddlesome priest—their altars at the capitol (le Capitole de Toulouse) passed by congregants daily on their way to the Christian church, they seized Saturninus, who refusing to sacrifice to their gods, tied him to a raging bull and to be dragged through the streets until the rope broke. A similar fate befell one of Saturnin’s pupils, Saint Fermin, who died in Pamplona. Symbolically this martyrdom is an inversion of the mysteries of the cult of Mithras, involving the ritual slaughtering of a bull. Called tauroctony, and this tautology thereof is enshrined in many of the names of streets, squares and churches of Toulouse.

Friday, 27 November 2020

aurora borealis shining down in dallas

Via Nag on the Lake, we are directed towards the musical stylings of Italo-Hiberno Pop performers Adriano Celentano and Raffaella Carrร  (previously) with their 1974 club hit Prisencolinensinainciusol (see also), whose lyrics are nonsense words meant to sound like English meant to prove that audience would embrace anything catchy and with a good beat. The accompanying video is pretty epic as well.

Friday, 20 November 2020

20-n

A fateful date similar to Schicksalstag, the above is a symbolic abbreviation of employed to denote a range of events that occurred on this day for Spain. In the first year of the civil war, founder of the fascist party Falange Espaรฑola Josรฉ Antonio Primo de Rivera was put to death in Alicante on 20 November 1936 but was later idealised and venerated by the Francoist dictatorship. Thirty-nine years later to the day, in 1975, Generalรญsimo Francisco Franco (*1892). Like its German equivalent, the day is eschewed in the main to avoid associations but a 2011 general election fell on this date as did the assassination of Basque nationalists in 1984 and 1989.

Thursday, 8 October 2020

7x7

blood pudding: British public reject Magnus Pike’s (see previously) modest proposal as taboo  

urban jungle: artist employs banana fibre cocoons for the Milan of our over-heated future  

a fungus among us: Public Domain Review explores fungi, folklore and fairyland

object lesson: a 1937 experiment with remote learning to contain a polio outbreak 

those speedy clouds: Alvin and the Chipmunks cover Phil Glass’ Koyaanisqatsi—see previously  

maybe i’m immune: James Corden performs a soulful parody of the Paul McCartney ballad 

 the cask of amontillado: Spanish navy upholding tradition of ageing wine at sea, transporting a buttload of sherry around the world