Monthly Archives: May 2013

Make Your Own List

On my list, this ranks a lot higher than a hot dog stand.  (Photo by Sally Reeder)

On my list, this ranks a lot higher than a hot dog stand.
(Photo by Sally Reeder)

There are lots of reasons to make lists, but I’m going to resist the impulse to list them.  Well, maybe I could just mention a couple, OK?

First, jotting down the things one needs to accomplish on a given day or week helps organize the allotted time.  The second reason is that it’s just so darn satisfying to draw a line through each task when it’s completed:  “snake the drains” — check!

As much as I like lists, I’m not enthusiastic about having other people make them for me.  Travel magazines do that regularly, with headlines like “The Fifty Hottest New Destinations” or “Where to Go Next”.  There’s a best-selling book called 1,000 Places to See Before You Die.

As the title grimly states, it’s a bucket list; things to do before you  kick the bucket.  I’ve thumbed through my copy, and it’s pretty clear to me that I’m not going to make it.  I’ve been to a lot of places in the world, but I’ve only seen, oh, maybe a quarter of the places that author Patricia Schultz thinks I need to see to make my life complete.

But I’m OK with that.  I’ll probably never make it to the hot dog joint in Chicago that she raves about, but I have been to Paris.  And by the way, why should a diner and the City of Light each count as one of the thousand on her list?  There are at least a dozen things in Paris that I would personally rank above any ’dawg.

Maybe you wouldn’t, though.  For all I know, you’d much rather have the Everything-On-It than visit the Louvre.  That’s what’s tricky about these “oh, you must” lists.  Everybody has different ideas of what constitutes a satisfying travel experience.

Several of us went to Colonial Williamsburg together (it’s in the book — check!)  Some in our group were fascinated by the demonstrations of life in the 17th century by people in period costume:  “Most of our clothing is made of wool, which is spun on wheels like this one.”  On the other hand, some of us were less enthusiastic.  After about forty minutes of lectures from faux colonists, one friend muttered, “I get it.  Let’s go play golf.”

The truth is, he’d rather play golf than almost anything, so his wish list might be a lot different than yours.  And if your idea of a dream vacation is non-stop shopping, your list would look very different than mine.

My wife has a novel approach to travel lists.  Instead of a bucket list, she has compiled hers after the fact, when she’s had experiences associated with the places she’s been.  For example, she noted that she ate Maine lobster in Maine, drank Scotch in Scotland, had French fries in France.

Many of her entries seem to be food-and-drink related:  ate Black Forest cake in the Black Forest, had a Coors beer at Coors Field (Denver).  Several are more observational:  saw African violets blooming in Africa, was in St. Patrick’s Cathedral (NYC) on St. Patrick’s Day.

The thing I like about Sally’s travel list is that it emphasizes fulfillment, not falling short.  She may not make it to 1,000 “must-sees”, but she’s having fun along the way.  And maybe I should put Hershey, Pennsylvania, on my list so that someday it will make it onto hers.

Those Feuding Pinckneys

Charles Pinckney doesn't show emotion during this argument with the relatives, but he's reaching for his dagger.

Charles Pinckney doesn’t show emotion during this argument with the relatives, but he’s reaching for his dagger.

Back in the days when arguments were settled with duels, it’s remarkable that a bunch of guys named Charles Pinckney didn’t shoot each other.  They were all related and were all active in the political life of South Carolina, but somehow they didn’t see eye to eye.

Perhaps the best-known of the Charles Pinckneys is famous for being obscure.  He is sometimes referred to as “the forgotten founding father” because of his role in the Constitutional Convention.  Even though he doesn’t get the recognition of, say, George Washington or James Madison or Alexander Hamilton, it’s known that Charles Pinckney had a lot to say at the convention.  Among other things, he introduced the important clause in article VI that forbids a religious test for any public office.

In later years he claimed to have submitted a draft — the Pinckney Plan — that was the basis for the final Constitution.  Nowadays, most historians sort of roll their eyes when the Pinckney Plan gets mentioned.  No copy still exists, if one ever did.

As mentioned, he was active at the Convention, and deserves credit for being among the framers.  He wasn’t the only signer of the Constitution by that name, however.  An even more forgotten founding father was Charles Cotesworth Pinckney; they were second cousins.

Cotesworth’s father was… yes, Charles Pinckney, a South Carolina chief justice.  That guy — let’s call him Justice Pinckney — was the uncle of Colonel Charles Pinckney, who was the father of Charles “Article VI” Pinckney.

Things must have been a little strained between the signer of the U.S. Constitution and his dad, because back during the Revolutionary War, the Colonel had switched sides.  Originally a leader of those fighting the British, he changed his tune to “God Save the King”, becoming a Loyalist.

Charles “Article VI” Pinckney supported a strong central government and, with his cousin Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, was a leader in the Federalist party.  As such, Charles was elected governor of South Carolina several times.

Around 1795, though, he followed his father’s example and changed sides, abandoning the Federalists and getting cozy with Thomas Jefferson’s Democratic-Republicans.

Meanwhile, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney remained a staunch Federalist.  He was John Adams’ running mate in the election of 1800, and the Federalists’ presidential candidate in 1804 and 1808.  Charles “Governor” Pinckney worked to defeat his cousin, and the rift grew so bitter that they never spoke to each other again.

Governor (also senator and U.S. representative) Charles Pinckney died in 1824, but before that he must have quarreled with his son who was, thankfully, not named Charles.  He was Henry L. Pinckney, who became a prominent politician and newspaper editor.  Henry’s opinions, shared by others, ultimately led to South Carolina’s secession from the United States, of which his biological father had been a founding father.

There may be other explanations for the broken crockery being found at Snee Farm, the ancestral plantation of the Pinckneys — but I’m thinking food fights at the very least.

Dining in the Dark

No kidding -- when I held my hand in front of my face, this is what I saw.

No kidding — when I held my hand in front of my face, this is what I saw.

“The lights will be going out in ten minutes, so if you want to use the restroom, this would be a good — ”

The voice on the microphone was drowned out by the sound of several hundred chairs being pushed back and that many people rushing to the banquet room exits.  It had occurred to all of us simultaneously that even something as mundane as slipping out to “freshen up” would be impossible in total darkness.

This event was arranged by a charitable organization called Foundation Fighting Blindness.  It honored our friend Mary Romo, who is herself visually impaired but volunteers at the Braille Institute and at schools to help others whose eyesight is limited or gone.

The unique aspect of this dinner was that it would be served in the dark, giving diners some sense of the daily challenges faced by those who are sightless.  Even the servers at this banquet were blind.

Our server came to the table before the lights were turned off, asking each of us individually if we had any dietary restrictions.  It probably gave him a chance to recognize us by voice, which would be helpful to him during the serving process.

There were ropes and stanchions around the room which allowed the servers to find their way to and from the kitchen, and around the banquet hall.  I noticed that a peg had been taped to the back of the chair of the woman who sat to my right.  Presumably this helped the server locate her as #1; he would work around in a counterclockwise direction, so I would be the last served at our table.

After we all made it back from the restrooms, the lights were turned off, and you could hear a few gasps around the room at how dark it was.  Seriously — it was black in there.  I held my hand in front of my face and couldn’t see it.

The event organizers had sealed off all sources of light, however faint.  Even the illuminated exit signs were blacked out.  The planners had made arrangements with local authorities to have special marshals on hand in case of an emergency.  I believe they were wearing those infared night-vision goggles, but as I said, I couldn’t even see my own hand.

When the meal arrived, there were guesses around the table about what we were eating.  I’m fairly certain it was chicken florentine, broccoli and scalloped potatoes, but I’m ashamed to admit that I was going more by feel than by taste.

Oh, at first I tried to cut bites with my knife and fork.  Things were squirting around my plate, though, and possibly into the middle of the table for all I know.  Eventually I realized that if I was going to get any nourishment, my hands would need to be more directly involved.  Fortunately, it was impossible for anyone to take incriminating photos of me fumbling with my food like a two-year-old.

After about a half-hour, the lights were turned back on; the conversation was subdued for a bit because we were all processing the implications of what we had just experienced.

In the dark, we had seen things we tend to take for granted.  You might say that when we temporarily had our vision blocked out, our eyes were opened.  And with the lights back on, I could also see that my suit would definitely need to be dry cleaned.

The Two Careers of Samuel Morse

Samuel F.B. Morse, Self-Portrait (1812 -- he was 21) National Portrait Gallery, Washington

Samuel F.B. Morse, Self-Portrait (1812 — he was 21)  National Portrait Gallery, Washington

We can only imagine what Jedidiah Morse thought when his son Samuel announced, “Dad, I’ve decided to become an artist.”  There is no historical record of how that conversation went, so we don’t know if the father snarled, “What!?  You have any idea what it cost to put you through Yale?  You were Phi Beta Kappa — and now you want to throw all that away?”

As an occupation, artist was not a common road to riches in early 19th-century America (still isn’t, for that matter).  Young Samuel Finley Breese Morse went off to study painting in England, though, and when he returned in 1815, he managed to support himself despite the widespread lack of interest in the kind of historical subjects he personally favored.

The only real market was portraits, and let’s give him credit — Morse cranked out good ones.  He painted former president John Adams and was commissioned to do a portrait of president James Monroe, as well as Revolutionary War hero, the Marquis de Lafayette.  By 1826, Morse had become the presiding officer of the National Academy of Design.

Jedidiah Morse died that same year, and he probably went out saying to anyone who would listen, “Didn’t I tell you my son had talent?  I always knew he’d make me proud.”  What dad never knew was that his son would gain far greater fame, but not as an artist.

Samuel went back to Europe in 1830 to sharpen his painting skills, but on the return voyage in 1832, Morse met a fellow passenger who was talking about electromagnetism.  Those conversations inspired Morse; he saw the possibility of using pulses of electric current to send messages over wires.

It isn’t quite accurate to say that Samuel F.B. Morse invented the telegraph, since crude versions of it had been around for almost a hundred hears.  In 1746, for example, a French scientist named Nollet got a couple hundred monks into a giant circle and wired them together.  When he discharged electricity from Leyden jars, those monks got the shocking message.

Anyway, Morse did come up with his single-wire telegraph in the mid-1830s, but the challenge was getting a signal to travel more than a few hundred yards.  He got help on that from New York University chemistry professor Leonard Gale; Morse was teaching art at NYU at the time.  Gale and Morse figured out how to put relays into the system, allowing telegraphic impulses to be sent over long distances.

Those signals were developed into a code so that their meaning could be interpreted.  Morse worked on this with a machinist named Alfred Vail.  Historians agree that Morse never, ever said, “I couldn’t have done it without you, Alfred.  Let’s call it ‘The Vail Code’ .”

The first public demonstration of Morse’s telegraph was on May 24, 1844, when a message was sent from the Supreme Court chamber in Washington, D.C., to a train station in Baltimore.  Morse tapped out “What hath God wrought?”, perhaps the only time he shared credit for the invention of the telegraph.

Ten years later there were 23,000 miles of telegraph wire in operation.  Samuel Morse’s second career secured his place in history.  His first career had ended in 1837; he never completed another painting in the remaining 35 years of his life.