Wednesday, 30 September 2009
Tuesday, 29 September 2009
Monday, 28 September 2009
It's off to Ohio tomorrow. So there is a bit of preparing to do. Rozie needs fed and watered, and tidied and packed; and Dulcie needs to be instructed, so that she can get down to her calculating (and, no doubt, recalculating).
Everything went smoothly: I must be getting good at this. I even went so far as to reveal to Dulcie both Ohio destinations, and all three Pennsylvania ones. That should give her lots of time to make mischief. Perhaps there will be a Canadian diversion in the middle.
At the lunch counter, I had my day thoroughly spoiled. A truck driver sat beside me. I only knew he was a truck driver because he told me. He surveyed the scene, and launched into a conversation. He had a real, attention-grabbing, show-stopper of an entrée.
There was a plentiful supply of nubility on display, particularly among the serving staff. You could just imagine it was one of that kind of owner or manager.
Anyway, our truck driver catches my eye and launches: "How would you like to be twenty-one again?", he says. Twenty-one? No, not never: twenty-one was the worst year of my life! "Not much", I say, "these years have been hard earned. I wouldn't give them up easily. Anyway, being twenty-one was awful. I'd be gaping at these girls, wondering which one I could pull, and knowing it was going to be none of them."
I could see he wished he hadn't asked. Or, at least, not asked me. He must have had a better twenty-one than I had. Mind you, that wouldn't be so difficult: almost everyone on the planet must have had a better twenty-one than me.
I wonder if he'll use that conversation-starter again? Probably not with grumpy old men, anyway.
Later that night, (Well, they don't really have "later" on a Sunday in this part of the world), I was watching the NASCAR racing. Now that the football (American, that is) season has started, baseball has been edged off the screens, and I have decided that NASCAR racing is the next best thing.
I think American Football has a lot in common with cricket. It's lots of shuffling about, setting up to do something, and when they've managed to lull you into a false sense of boredom, they do something you miss. It's what action-replay was invented for.
NASCAR, on the other hand, is magnetic, it's a sort of ballet with death. They're travelling inches from each other in really confined spaces at frightening speeds. It has all the old motor racing spirit of mad daredevils. The fact that the cars look, superficially, like normal cars, gives me the feeling that I could be doing it.
American footballers wear skin-tight pants, probably to stop the other side getting a hold of them. Perhaps it attracts an audience of ladies, who, I'm told, like to look at gentlemen's bottoms. Although they don't seem to me to be those kind of bottoms. But what do I know about that?
Sunday, 27 September 2009
Saturday, 26 September 2009
Friday, 25 September 2009
Thursday, 24 September 2009
Wednesday, 23 September 2009
Tuesday, 22 September 2009
Monday, 21 September 2009
Sunday, 20 September 2009
[N0099] [[N0096] N0100] [N0101]
It's well spaced out (because they thought it was going to be huge), with splendid new library, a small Town Hall, and its own fleet:
[N0114] [N0110] [N0111] [N0117]
It has, of course, a Centennial Park, and a pretty welcome. Some of the original town is still there. As is one of the original parks:
[N0113] [N0134] [N0127] [N0107]
It was hard to find the James River. I had to go all the way to Natural Bridge Station, cross the river, drive along the other side, and eventually pretend I was going to rent a canoe (I figured they must have some access to the river). But it was worth the effort:
Friday, 18 September 2009
Thursday, 17 September 2009
Wandering through old records is fascinating, and I can do it for hours. Of course I can hardly see afterwards, so I try to be disciplined and limit the time I spend. Anyway, I want to go round the music shop and mooch for a bit when I've finished.
The clerks who copied out court records back in the 1800s did not always have quite the quality of handwriting one might expect. Previous searchs have left me unable to decypher significant words. Usually seals are rendered just as a set of squiggles. But the clerk here relieved his boredom by making an attempt to draw the corporate seals on the original documents. And the documents carrying the seal of the Rockbridge Company produced a surprise: it carried the motto "Let Glasgow Flourish", which has been the motto on the coat-of-arms of Glasgow, Scotland for 400 years.
Even more, the street names they chose included "St Vincent Street", "Argyle Street", and "Clyde Place". I formed the adventurous view (I confess this was later that night) that someone knew the names of the streets in the centre of Glasgow, and they chose all the ones which weren't royalist or imperialist. If you look at a map of the centre of Glasgow, that leaves very few. I explained the absence of Sauchiehall Street by an inability to spell it. And, of course, if they had known all of Nelson's victories, they might have excluded St Vincent as well. But their map also calls one of the pools in the James River "Loch Lomond", and one of the parks "Kelvin Grove". The only one in present-day Glasgow VA is Kelvin Grove, which survives as a street name.
So I think it is reasonable to claim that this place was named, at least partly, after Glasgow in Scotland. Although the deed selling the land is signed by Mrs Johns as "Elizabeth Glasgow Johns".
Later that night, as well as inventing part of an early meeting of the Rockbridge Company, we had a long dicussion on the multi-dialect etymology of "redneck" and "white-van-man". Of course, we reached no conclussions: that would just spoil things.
Wednesday, 16 September 2009
There is a history of Rockbridge County, written in 1920, and, surprisingly, a history of Glasgow, written about 1990. There appear to be two basic parts to the story: how it got its name, and how it got to be a city.
How it got its name is steeped in the Scots-Irish settlement of this area, and undoubedly goes back to a man called Arthur Glasgow, born in Scotland in 1750, a descendant, apparently, of an Earl of Glasgow. He acquired land in what is now Glasgow from the McNutt (or McNaught) family, who came from Ulster (so you can see the confusion about the spelling of their name) via Nova Scotia. The McNutts seem to have been granted huge tracts of land in Nova Scotia and Virginia.
Arthur appears never to have lived there, but he willed it to his son Joseph in 1822. Joseph, having been married in 1815 (one of the few dates in history everybody in Britain knows), built a very grand house on it in 1823. This, basically, is where the name came from.
His daughter, Elizabeth, inherited it fully when her mother died in 1868, when, in the American south, the times they were achangin'. She lived there till she died in 1902, but she sold all but a fifty-acre buffer zone to the Rockbridge Company early in 1890.
How it got to be a city is where the Rockbridge Company comes into it. We are now twenty years or so from the end of the Civil War. The Southern gentry have survived the ravages of the regulators and carpetbaggers, and have picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and are preparing to start all over again. The "Southland" is to be industrialised. There are huge profits to be made from land turned into cities. The process is really very simple: you buy some well-chosen land, 'plat' it (that is to say, get it surveyed into identified lots, lodged at the local courthouse), then sell it off in small lots on the promise of a city full of workers and consumers.
The Rockbridge Company has more than its fair share of Southern gentlemen. The President is General Fitzhugh Lee, former Virginia Governor and nephew of Robert E., the Vice-President is Major M Martin, and there is a board stuffed with local worthies. And a Scottish Surveyor finds a place at the confluence of two navigable rivers, with not one, but two railroads (one, I think, going North-South, the other East-West), a canal in the offing, and large landowners willing to sell. And so they arrived at Glasgow.
The petrol poured on this flaming brew is huge amounts of European credit looking for a fire to land on. There are any number of local attorneys keen to provide the hosepipes.
Everyone is full of praise for everyone else. They spent money like it was going out-of-fashion, unaware that it actually was going out-of-fashion. The parallels with the present last few years is uncanny. The only differences are that it was European Credit, rather than American, and a Scottish surveyor, rather than a Scottish Bank.
They planned it out on a huge scale. They built a 200-room hotel (in the middle of nowhere!) with electric lighting, huge fine-wood-staircased entrance hall, furnished throughout with the best. The grand opening gala had dignitaries from all over the States and Europe. The Duke of Marlborough, no less, arrives with tens of thousands, looking for willing pockets to stuff it in. They had banks of telephones to do the dealing. The champagne flowed free and fast. Everyone was making money.
Then Baring Brothers, unkindly, tossed in the match. And in minutes, the receivers were there. In no time at all, the US Treasury had to protect the currency, ending up in the Great Panic of 1893. European credit fled, and there was nothing left but a smoking ruin.
Why did they do it on such a scale? The answer is probably like today: because they could. Where did all the money go? Well, craftsmen undoubtedly got paid well, but no doubt lawyers and landowners got paid weller.
And it left the curious feature that since it was conceived on such a huge scale, it now exists startlingly spread-out for such a small place.
Later that night I went round the pub, and it was all in darkness. Perhaps it's happening all over again.
Tuesday, 15 September 2009
But I mainly got to find a music shop, so I could get some music, and some nylon strings for my banjo. The nice lady in the shop had plenty of banjo strings, but she'd never heard of nylon ones. I guess they use guitar strings: I'll just have to find out which ones.
On the way back to Buena Vista, I noticed a sign on the side of the first shop on the main street. It said "Welcome to Buena Vista - 6002 happy citizens, and 3 grumpy old grumps". I surmised that that must have been stimulated by a particular incident in the shop: or perhaps three particular incidents. Perhaps next time pass, it will say "6001 happy citizens, and 4 grumpy old grumps"
Which reminds me of something that happened the first day of the festival. I had stocked up on beer from the local supermarket, and when I was putting them in the cooler, I noticed that they were entirely the usual can, except for a little red strip which read "totally alcohol-free". Which put me in a state of shock for a while. But I gathered them up and took them back (they were no use to me) and asked if I could exchange them. The clerk was kind enough to let me. At the end of the transaction, I thanked him for being so kind, and as I went out the door, he said "y'all come back, now". And I realised, for the first time. that I was south of the Mason-Dixon Line.
Later that night, I was bemoaning the fact that there was nowhere to hang out in in Glasgow, except the Moose Club (or Lodge). The man sitting next to me said "I'm a Moose, I'll bring you a form: for $35 dollars, you can hang out in Glasgow. It's a small world, isn't it?
I had promised to run someone home after the festival, so they could stay till Sunday. Having had so little sleep, of such poor quality as I get in the saddle, I wasn't looking forward to it, but she had arranged a break for more music and a BBQ half way. The BBQ was at the fine antebellum house of the bookshop owner at Buchanan (the first syllable as in Bunter). We had a discussion about Ellen Glasgow, a Pulitzer Prize-winning local novelist from the late nineteenth century. She is from the same family after which Glasgow VA is named.
They had an Old-Time group playing all afternoon, having stopped on their way home from Buena Vista (the first syllable as in Beauty).
We spent some time talking to a local couple, she originally from Georgia, he from New York. They had lived a long time in Boston. She complained that "yankees" heard her accent and assumed she was stupid. I told her that wasn't so bad, "they hear his accent here, they'll think he's going to rob them". I stiffled my guilt about the lovely southern belle in the Irish bar near the Second City Theatre in Chicago.
I had booked into a very reasonable motel in Buena Vista, and when I finally got back, I was quite exhausted. So later that night, I restricted myself to a lovely hot bath and ten hours sleep. There are a very few things which, in the right circumstances, are better than beer.
Monday, 14 September 2009
It all finished with "Will the Circle Be Unbroken?", and a vow to go on for another twenty-three years.
The local newpaper photographer offered to take a photo for me.
But, I suppose, like learning any language, you have to start with an overwhelming mystery. Asked about tuning in some piece, he said (something like) "it's a fretless banjo with nylon strings in a double-C tuning let down to an A, so really it's a double-A tuning, I suppose" (I loved the "I suppose"). And: "It's one-finger left hand, with hammering on". And so on.
I got to see a fair bit of how they do the 'claw-hammer' style, but it's very hard to see at all: their fingers hardly seem to move. I bought a DVD. Let's hope it shows it in slow motion.
Then there was a flat-foot dance lesson. That's a lot of fun, although some people seem to use it as a trance-inducing technique. It's also a 'boys-showing-off' style.
And then it was time for the big event of the day.
I myself am now trapped in a catch-22: the immigration people won't extend my stay because I haven't got a ticket home at the end of that extension, and I can't buy a ticket until they tell me if I can stay. If there is any parallel, I think I must be the Soldier in White.
The Rockbridge Festival had plenty of fringe activity during the afternoon, with quite a few jam sessions going on. It seems musicians come from all over just to play with each other. The structures of the music seem to allow them to do that. And they seem to enjoy the "no, I do this way" pauses that happen some times. More 'apprentice' players stand a little way off, where they can hear the band, but the band can't hear them, and join in.
My father used to love to tell a story about Mendelssohn who, asked, after playing one of his pieces at some soiree, what it meant, said "I'll tell you what it means" and proceeded to play it again. "That's what it means", he said.
The musicians here seem to approach explanations in much the same way. Almost all the discussion and explanation seems to involve playing bits.
Later that night I extend my knowledge of American beer technology: The big bags of ice from the supermarket are emptied into the cooler, and the six-pack is then buried in the cubes. Expecting the bag to hold the water after the ice melts, so that, for instance, food can be kept in there as well, is not how it works. I dispose of the salt, etc., and practice this a little bit before the main event of the evening, which is a dance.
At the dance, I find myself being dragged, almost literally, into the company of grown-up ladies, so that we might form into dance sets. To my astonishment, one of the group is herself a good dance caller (I only find out the following evening quite how good). This is the first time I have ever been to what I would call a "square dance" in the company of someone who not only knows what she is doing, but can anticipate what I need to be told so I can do it. I was terrific fun.
After the dance, there were jam sessions going on all over the place. I managed to co-ordinate listening to different groups with passing the cooler a regular intervals. Until I just had to climb past the cooler into the back of the van and go to sleep; with the music still playing around me.
[I failed to find out the setting I had left on while trying out my new pocket camera which stopped the flash from working, so the pictures are a bit too 'arty' for putting up here]
Friday, 11 September 2009
Thursday, 10 September 2009
Tuesday, 8 September 2009
Monday, 7 September 2009
Sunday, 6 September 2009
Saturday, 5 September 2009
Upham got his information, apparently, on his geologing travels, simply by talking to people. I can confirm that that is a very pleasant way of doing things. And shows what people remembered when Upham was doing his stuff.
But the "scotchman" (the Scots object to that, by the way, I'm not sure why) was actually one Hugh McGowan, born in Glasgow in 1813, and emigrating to Nova Scotia in 1830, just when Glasgow was descending into a public health nightmare. By fits and starts, he made his way to southern Minnesota, ending up as the first white settler, in 1855, in what became Glasgow Township. This is asserted in his obituary, which appeared in the Wabasha Herald of February 13th 1896, when these events would still have been in living memory.
So this Glasgow, which I nearly missed, and has no physical or institutional existence, really was named after Glasgow Scotland, by an emigrant.
Wabasha hosts the National Eagle Centre. If you want to sit up close to a real, live eagle while it crunches through a baby chicken, this is the place for you. They have several Bald Eagles (which aren't bald) and a Golden Eagle. They are awesome birds.
It is common, out in the country here, to see big birds floating in circles on the thermals.
The Centre is right on the Mississippi. There is a viewing platform, for watching out for wild eagles. As I stood out on it, a 'tow' came by. I'd heard a lot about them, but this was the first one I'd seen. It was immense. Twelve huge barges lashed together, with a tug at the back, pushing them (despite their name). It must have been 50-60 feet wide, and several hundred feet long. I expect it was the maximum size the minimum lock would hold. I forgot about the eagles.
While I was spinning through the reels of Wabasha Herald editions, I somehow managed to stop at February 22nd 1893. It recorded, in a very short paragraph, "The decline in Reading Railroad stock has caused a commotion on Wall Street". This 'commotion' turned into the great panic of 1893, which put paid, it is said. to the prospects of Glasgow, Virginia, becomong the great railroad town of the south.
Glasgow VA is where I am going next week.
Friday, 4 September 2009
I took a tour round GLASGOW township, but, in truth, there is not much to see. Gravel roads and isolated farms:
Wednesday, 2 September 2009
They had arrived in Wabasha county in 1855, very shortly after Wm McCracken, who is credited with turning the first sod. This ranks McCracken as 'the pioneer'. McCracken was born in Scotland on 15th August 1815, a month after the Battle of Waterloo. But if one looks at the names of the group who arrived then, it is reasonable to guess that many were Scots.
The history books have it that it was called Glasgow because there were many "Scotchmen" there. When the railroad came through, the depot got called "Dumfries". The 1940's map shows a place called "McCracken".
Trouble is, it's a township. A bit like a congressional or parliamentary constituency, it's not actually a place at all, it's just the enclosure of some lines on a map.
Americans are very apologetic about their history. They don't think they have very much of it. It unnerves them a little when I point out that they have exactly as much history as the rest of us. They just seem to have lost more of it.
But their discomfort causes them to cherish what they have. When I got to the headquarters of the Minnesota Historical Society,I couldn't believe my eyes. Well, to be precise, I thought Dulcie had got it wrong. This is no converted church hall. I half expected to have uniformed guards poking their guns up my bottom again.