Sunday, November 28, 2021

the importance of being Virginia

I finished reading The hours, by Michael Cunningham, which is a postmodern triple refraction (or maybe a fractured triptych?) of the theme of the novel Mrs. Dalloway and the life of its author, Virginia Woolf. As I haven’t read Mrs. Dalloway I am not really qualified to review this spin-off, but I’ll take the opportunity to convene all the books I’ve read that are in one way or another related to it or to Virginia Woolf. I had the idea when I read the scene where her sister, Vanessa Bell, comes visiting with her children, and I had to juggle a very complex network of memories of the same characters from other books. So here goes:

K, the art of love by Hong Ying (2002)

I loved this book way back when, should read it again. One of the main characters is based on Vanessa’s son Julian Bell (who appears in The hours as a child). The book was censored in China and studiously ignored in the UK.

Exploring bohemia by Virginia Nicholson (2003)

another favourite of mine, this is a non-fiction account of the unconventional lives of Virginia, Vanessa and the rest of the gang. This Virginia is Quentin Bell’s daughter, so the earlier Virginia was her great-aunt.

moving on from people to places, this 1950s book simply called

Bloomsbury

covers all the streets and many of the houses and historic residents, but hasn’t got much time for the bohemians of the Bloomsbury set.

Charleston by Quentin Bell and Virginia Nicholson, photographs by Alen Macweeney

This gloriously illustrated book about the Sussex countryhouse gives a very good idea of their interior decorations and art works. Should have reviewed this but didn’t obviously.

Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf

I saw this play many years ago, memories are very vague, but I seem to remember Virginia was no more than a figure of speech in this one.

A room of one's own

I read this one, but again, memory is fading …

Maybe I should continue my studies with this new, annotated edition of Mrs Dalloway:

Thursday, November 25, 2021

school's out at Reichenstein, 1886

Every picture tells a story, No. 13

Returning to the in-laws in Silesia, here is Wilhelm Geppert, the baker from picture number 8 in his school days. We're not quite sure which one he is, but the streak in the top right corner may be a deliberate mark, and the boy closest to it has the right sort of head shape. He is too blurred for more detailed analysis, but let's pretend it's him.

To try and identify him we used his wedding photo (1912):

His name is on the back of the photo, too, with the beautifully handwritten inscription:

Als Andenken an meine Schulzeit
Reichenstein, d. 26.Juni 1886

So something to remember his school days by - sounds like his school days are over, but the scary thing is that he's only eight years old at the date given - he was going to turn nine in September. The four years we now call primary school may have been all the schooling he got.

Reichenstein (today: Złoty Stok) was in the Kreis Frankenstein and mainly known for its gold mine dating back to medieval times.

This photo is also on flickr.

Every picture tells a story series so far:

  1. string quartet Wuppertal Elberfeld 1927
  2. greetings from Adamsweiler
  3. Gastwirthschaft Ferd. Weirich
  4. quartet times three
  5. Neumühl 1923
  6. Tangermünde railway station 1889
  7. a singing lesson
  8. bei Wilhelm Geppert
  9. a bakery at Lorsch 1900
  10. Consumgeschäft von Julius Düsselmann
  11. Hanna and Ruth
  12. a young chemist
  13. school's out at Reichenstein, 1886

Twitter thread

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

cantigas de santa Maria revisited

As it's the 800th birthday of Alfonso X el sabio today, I've gone a bit wild on twitter and made a thread with some cantiga videos (only ten cantigas, not all 420, you'll be pleased to know).

I'm running out of time now, but at some point I will also have to spend some serious time obsessing with the two manuscripts that are now available online (since July or so).

The best thing I rediscovered in today's youtube raid was this video from Triskilian:

Monday, November 22, 2021

all about Allium

a rare excursion into food related botany with this feature sweeping up genome studies of garlic and onion, along with the recent discovery of a new Allium species. All in all, a surprising amount of really challenging science to be found around the plants in the Allium genus, which also includes leek, chives, and lots of ornamental plants.

Read all about garlic et al. in my latest feature:

All about Allium

Current Biology Volume 31, Issue 22, 22 November 2021, Pages R1449-R1452

Restricted access to full text and PDF download
(will become open access again one year after publication)

Magic link for free access
(first seven weeks only)

Chives, unless they are eaten before they get the chance, produce decorative spherical umbels similar to the larger ones of many ornamental Allium species. (Photo: PublicDomainPictures/Pixabay.)

Thursday, November 18, 2021

a young chemist

Every picture tells a story, No. 12

Richard was behind the camera in the last instalment, now here's the photographer himself, from the same stash of negatives, so presumably also from the time between 1930 and 1933. Not quite sure what's happening here, but he seems to be conducting chemical experiments at home. He was studying chemistry, maths and physics for a teaching degree. He appears to be having a good time, too. And a sense of mischief. (And no safety specs. Don't do that, kids!)

Another photo of a simlilar home-experimenting situation, this time looking more serious:
He went on to marry Ruth from episode 11. Although they took geographically very different routes before doing their last terms of university at Bonn, they were both born in small towns in Lorraine, and three of their four parents had lived in Alsace. (As Nazism got from bad to worse, they visited Strasbourg in the spirit of "while we still can".) And they each had one railway grandfather.

This photo is also on flickr (and a few others, too).

Every picture tells a story series so far:

  1. string quartet Wuppertal Elberfeld 1927
  2. greetings from Adamsweiler
  3. Gastwirthschaft Ferd. Weirich
  4. quartet times three
  5. Neumühl 1923
  6. Tangermünde railway station 1889
  7. a singing lesson
  8. bei Wilhelm Geppert
  9. a bakery at Lorsch 1900
  10. Consumgeschäft von Julius Düsselmann
  11. Hanna and Ruth
  12. a young chemist

Twitter thread

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

elusive memories

Impressions of

Dans le café de la jeunesse perdue
Patrick Modiano

Rummaging around the library I inherited I discovered a few books by the 2014 Nobel laureate for literature Patrick Modiano, including this one both in the French original and in a German translation:

I loved the French title and the German cover art, so went on to read the original. It is very short, with chapters from different perspectives describing the comings and goings of people who remain enchantingly mysterious, plus, it’s Paris shrouded in darkness and a haze of nostalgia, so what’s not to like. I disapproved of the ending though. And I'm wondering if, by not saying much at all about the characters, the author lets me do all the work. I mean I do love his elusive protagonist, Jacqueline, but I realise that I may be projecting my own expectations onto a blank canvas here.

After enjoying the misty mysteries of this one, I also read Du plus loin de l’oubli, which turns out to be very much the same, with some of the characters possibly overlapping (hello again, Jacqueline!), except that now part of the story (?) is moved to London, which somehow put me off a bit. So I guess I know the pattern now, and I don’t have to read the third one I found, which is called Pour que tu ne te perdes pas dans le quartier.

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Hanna and Ruth

Every picture tells a story, No. 11.

Ruth Düsselmann, the little girl on the steps of shop in Luisenthal grew up, and here she is in her student days in Bonn, sharing a giggle with her friend Hanna Dissmann (left). The photo was taken by fellow student Richard Groß, who may have known Hanna before he met Ruth, but he ended up marrying Ruth. Both Richard and Ruth were studying natural sciences for a teacher degree, so I'm guessing Hanna did too, but not sure. I did meet her once or twice half a century later, but didn't ask her any personal questions. Ruth arrived at Bonn University in the summer of 1930, Richard in the winter before, and they both graduated in 1933 (in a hurry as they were worried that their favourite profs would be chased away by the Nazis), so I am guessing the photo dates from between 1930 and 1933.

In these last five years, as various forms of 21st century fascism began to spread and eat away the progress we made over the previous decades, I often thought of my grandparents and what it must have been like for them, in their 20s, to see their world being pulled away from under their feet. I'm looking at these photos for a glimpse of who they were before shit happened - all I got to know as a child was the version after shit happened.

Richard was a keen photographer and left mountains of photos and negatives when he died. This is one of a bunch of photos I found as negatives of which I made small prints back then, in the late 1980s, so this is now the second time I am attempting to rescue this from oblivion. Here is another one from the same film, now trying to look serious:

There will be more photos from his vaults to be rescued for sure.

This photo is also on flickr.

Every picture tells a story series so far:

  1. string quartet Wuppertal Elberfeld 1927
  2. greetings from Adamsweiler
  3. Gastwirthschaft Ferd. Weirich
  4. quartet times three
  5. Neumühl 1923
  6. Tangermünde railway station 1889
  7. a singing lesson
  8. bei Wilhelm Geppert
  9. a bakery at Lorsch 1900
  10. Consumgeschäft von Julius Düsselmann
  11. Hanna and Ruth

Twitter thread

Monday, November 08, 2021

citizen science then and now

Back in the happy days before Brexit and Trump became a thing, I regularly attended Earthwatch events and wrote stories about their exciting research projects around the world which are made possible by recruitment of volunteers who pay for the privilege of taking part. That activity faded away as the relevant contacts at the organisation kept being replaced by new people, and I lost touch at some point. Towards the end of the phase, I suggested writing a book to be released on the 50th anniversary of the organisation, splashing out on all the wonderful work they are doing around the world. Strangely I never got anywhere with this idea. Emphasis at the organisation shifted away from the volunteer-paid research expeditions and towards partnerships with corporate sponsors as well as more affordable activities closer to home, so that may have been one reason why I didn't get much response re the history book.

The 50th anniversary happens to be now, and as there have been a couple of new developments in citizen science, I have taken the opportunity to wrap up the 50-year history of Earthwatch in a feature on new trends in citizen science more widely. Ironically, one of the trends is to get rid of the citizen scientist altogether and just use their social media posts to algorithmically identify species observations.

The resulting feature is out now:

New avenues for citizen science

Current Biology Volume 31, Issue 21, 08 November 2021, Pages R1403-R1406

Restricted access to full text and PDF download
(will become open access again one year after publication)

Magic link for free access
(first seven weeks only)

Earthwatch Institute started out organising international research expeditions with volunteer helpers, but now also offers science projects closer to home. (Photo: John Hunt, Earthwatch.)

Thursday, November 04, 2021

Consumgeschäft von Julius Düsselmann

Every picture tells a story, No. 10.

Julius Düsselmann opens a new shop at Luisenthal near Saarbrücken, around 1911. He is seen in the door without a hat, the child in front of him is my grandmother. On the side wall you can read (maybe, I'm struggling a bit with deciphering):

Consumgeschäft von Julius Düsselmann
Billige Einkaufsquelle für Lebensmittel und ... waren
Kurz-, Wirk- und Wollwaren und Arbeitskleider (?)
Weine & ...

So I reckon you could buy food and wine and clothes there. The carriage looks like he even did home deliveries.

Looking for other examples, I found a photo using similar choreography, around the same time and same area, here.

Julius's (very) extended family hailing from Krefeld is here. His maternal family is the Imig clan from Simmern.

Julius (1883-1950) had a life of many ups and downs. After an apprenticeship as a Kaufmann, he allegedly wanted to fly Zeppelins, which didn't work out. Instead he served in the colonial war in 1904/05, about which I have another picture to share some other time. He came back with health problems, married his cousin Helene Kauer and settled for a life as a shopkeeper. First as an employee in the shop of a mining company in Merlenbach in Lorraine (today Freyming-Merlebach) then from around 1911 onwards, running his own shop in Luisenthal, near Saarbrücken. Today part of the town of Völklingen, this place is also characterised by mining and steel industry. The name is associated with a severe mining accident in 1962.

This shop seems to have gone well, as he also set up a second branch, managed by his sister in law. In 1918, however, as the Saar area came under French occupation, he retired from business on health grounds - a heart problem possibly caused by the tropical disease he caught in Africa (possibly typhoid fever), and retired to the countryside, always a bad idea if you ask me. Economic crises and hyperinflation of the 1920s forced him to go back into business, which led him to Rheydt, Königsberg and finally Bad Nauheim, all of which I have covered in my #lostcities series.

This photo is also on flickr.

Every picture tells a story series so far:

  1. string quartet Wuppertal Elberfeld 1927
  2. greetings from Adamsweiler
  3. Gastwirthschaft Ferd. Weirich
  4. quartet times three
  5. Neumühl 1923
  6. Tangermünde railway station 1889
  7. a singing lesson
  8. bei Wilhelm Geppert
  9. a bakery at Lorsch 1900
  10. Consumgeschäft von Julius Düsselmann

Twitter thread

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