January 16 – Russian Winter Festival

Posted on January 16, 2018

I live in the U.S. I am still so-so-so-so-so-so angry that Russia meddled with our elections, mostly by pumping the internet and social media full of misinformation and propaganda.

Yet I understand that the millions and millions of Russians, and the hundreds of years of Russian history, are not all swept into one category of People I Am Angry At.

Winters in Russia are, for the most part, long and dark and cold. Russians can lighten the season by celebrating winter - and they do. There are light displays, ice carving contests, ballets and musical performances, and more. Many people travel to Moscow or other Russian cities to see the winter sights and performances.

There are Russian Winter Festivals in other places too. London, for example, has an annual Russian Winter Festival. As a matter of fact, there is a giant chess game with ice-sculpture pieces run between London and Russia!

The Moscow festival runs from around mid-December to mid-January. Because Russian Christmas is celebrated in early January, not in late December, and New Year's Eve and Day fall on January 13 and 14, the tail end of the Russian Winter Festival is also the tail end of the holiday season. Check out some of the sights:

January 15 – Great Molasses Flood ( - Wait! Molasses??)

Posted on January 15, 2018

On this date in 1919, a wave of molasses rushed through a neighborhood of Boston at about 35 miles per hour!

Today's historical anniversary is unexpected - and it certainly lends itself to puns like "It was a sticky situation!" - and both of these things make it seem kind of funny.

But it was a disaster. And a lot of people were hurt. And some people died! It was definitely NOT funny.

What was the Great Molasses Flood?

The Purity Distilling Company had a factory in the North End neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts. It had a really large storage tank that held about 2,300,000 U.S. gallons of molasses. The tank was about 50 feet (15 m) tall and 90 feet (27 m) in diameter.

And "was" is a really good word to use here, because the molasses tank - just collapsed!

Witnesses must've thought it was an earthquake, at first, because they felt the ground shake and heard a long roaring rumbling sound. But then there was a huge crashing sound, a sort of thunderclap, followed by a machine-gun-like sound. The latter was the sound of the rivets shooting out of the collapsed tank.

The molasses created a wave 25 feet (8 m) high! It damaged the girders of the elevated railway, tipped a railroad car sideways for a moment, and swept away and crushed several buildings. A truck was picked up and swept into the harbor. 

When the molasses slowed, an area of several square blocks was flooded two to three feet deep, and uninjured people kept wading into the sticky mess to pull out those that were injured. 

The first responders were cadets from the Massachusetts Nautical School; they were soon joined by police, Red Cross, Army, and other Navy personnel. They worked for four days to search for and rescue victims, using a non-crushed building as a sort of makeshift hospital. 

When all was said and done, about 150 people and many dogs and horses were injured, and 21 people and several horses were killed. 

Cleaning up the property damage took even longer. A fireboat was used to spray salt water onto the molasses, and workers shoveled sand over molasses to try to absorb the stuff that didn't immediately wash away.

And when I say "wash away," where do you think "away" was? The Boston Harbor was brown because of molasses the rest of the winter, all spring, finally dissipating in the summer. 

Of course, not all of the molasses was washed into the harbor. All those rescue workers, cleanup crews, and sight-seers inevitably tracked molasses out of the disaster zone, into nearby streets, onto public transportation, and pretty much all over Boston. Everything from subway platforms to seats in trains and streetcars, from pay telephone handsets to doorknobs in homes -  for a long time, almost everything was sticky.

Bostonians claimed that, even decades later, on hot summer days the Boston neighborhood smelled like molasses!

I found it interesting that, even the past few years, people have studied this disaster to learn from it. In 2014 a study was published with a modern engineering analysis of why the storage tank collapsed, and in 2016 a team of students at Harvard University collected data from the historic disaster, building a scale model of the affected neighborhood, and studying the behavior of cold corn syrup on the scale model.

January 14 - Happy Birthday, Berthe Morisot

Posted on January 14, 2018

There was an entire circle of painters hanging out together in the 1800s, in Paris - and together they pushed one another and the world of art and even the general public to new ways of seeing the world.

And for their troubles, they earned harsh criticism - one might even say, in some cases, open hatred - from (1) the art establishment, (2) art critics, and (3) art lovers all over the world.

Of course eventually this group of painters, who became known as Impressionists, were hailed as great and marvelous - even by (1) the art establishment, (2) art critics, and (3) art lovers all over the world.

Three of the Paris-based Impressionists were women, although you wouldn't know it from the painting of Impressionists above. Today's famous birthday, Berthe Morisot, was one of "les trois grandes dames." She was born in France on this date in 1841.

Morisot's life is interesting partly because she did not suffer from poverty - like so many artists do - or even as much sexism as one might expect. She was raised in a family with financial security, and the family moved to Paris when Morisot was very young. As a part of her bourgeois education, Morisot received training in art, and she became a registered copyist at the Louvre. It was very much recommended, back then at least, that young artists learn to draw and paint by copying the masters.

Morisot met many artists and art teachers, and her work was accepted and shown in the famous Salon de Paris when she was just 23 years old. This Salon was THE art establishment I mentioned above - the people who rejected the early works of artists that ended up becoming Impressionists.

After a decade of showing work at the Salon, in 1874 Morisot switched to show her work with the new, independent exhibitions being put on by the Impressionists, many of whom had faced rejection by the Salon. This first Impressionist exhibition was called Salon des Refusés, or Salon of the Refused. It also featured works by such now-familiar names as Monet, Renoir, Pissarro, Cézanne, and Degas. 

Another of the Impressionists was Édouard Manet...and Morisot married the brother of this artist, a man named Eugène Manet. Morisot had a little girl - and she ended up painting her child many times. 

Morisot usually created artworks that were small in scale, and she sketched as well as painted with oils, watercolors, and pastels. 

One of the most revolutionary aspects of Morisot's work was that she painted what she herself experienced in daily life. This "ordinary" subject matter was not typical before Impressionism and later art movements.