Western Civilization

The Guardian declares there’s no such thing, because it’s a modern invention. So are a lot of things- economic theories about the past that are currently taught in schools, for example. So’s the theory of evolution. And the Guardian.

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This is a rangoon creeper or a sort of honeysuckle. It smells pretty.  It’s a vine that gets really thick and bushy.  The flowers bloom white at night and over two or three days change colour to pink and then to red, and you can see all three stages at the same time. It’s quite lovely.  


Rangoon Creeper in the background, Heliconia Psittacorum in the foreground, also called parrot’s beak, parakeet flower, parrot’s flower, parrot’s plantain, false bird-of-paradise.

I’ve looked around for a local field guide to plants and haven’t found one. But what I have found is that almost everything I look up I can find some of the best information on tropical gardening websites and people writing about them live in Florida zones 10-12. So if you’re moving to the Philippines or a similar climate, you might want to pick up a field guide to tropical garden plants, or a gardening book for Florida and that might be useful to you in your plant I.D. efforts.

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Road Work

There’s an open gutter along the outside edge of our ‘yard’ (scare quotes because our yard is 100% concrete, with two small flower beds), and it runs along the fence and then under the gate and directly into the open ditch that runs along the side of the road.

When we moved in the ditch was open on both sides of the road, with period breaks in front of people’s gates or drive ways, where just that much might be paved or a dirt mount over a concrete tile/pipe- but most of the ditches were dirt.  Ours was actually concrete part of the way, paved, but open, maybe a foot deep and 8 inches wide.  We have a patch of paved walk between our house and the next gate, which is part of the same compound, a warren of shared gates and walkways all owned by the same landlord.  But on the other side, it’s an empty lot and then a sari sari store.  It’s really hard to explain all this, you know?

So this is what it looked like if we stood at the gate and looked to the left:


But across the street it’s nearly all just open ditch.

So anyway, there are open ditches on each side of the road, mainly for storm drainage, but if you wash your car or water your grass 9some people have a yard with a garden), it goes down the same open ditch.  Some of them are concreted in parts, most are dirt, all of them had to be cleared of weeds and mud periodically, and the property owner or tenant was responsible for that.  The rains are torrential, keeping the ditches open prevents the roads and houses from flooding.

All this is now past tense, or in the process of becoming mostly so.  We’ve had road construction going on for weeks.  Here’s what it looked like if we stepped out and looked to the right:

Here’s the view to the left:


And here is a not very clear picture of the front of the house and a bit to the right:

Here’s what it looked like from the front- an impossible expanse directly across the end of our drive, with two boards (other households got only one. We received two because we have a handicapped child and I am none too steady on my feet either):

The neighborhood kids scampered across like goats. Very surefooted little goats. They even clambered on the two narrow boards, or rather, sticks, used to make a level.

Our child could not do the two boards at all. So we stayed home unless my husband was home, in which case, he carried her across.


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The construction workers who guided the bulldozer wore flip flops or were barefoot. They worked on guiding in the concrete pipes bare fingered, and they rolled the massive pipes over to the bulldozer, hammered a notch in one end, ran a rope loop through, and then hooked it on to the bulldozer teeth. I could have watched for hours.

During the time we had only boards to cross the ditch, taxi drivers *always* unloaded any bags I had and carried them across the ditch for me. Neighbors sometimes came over to offer a hand with my daughter even after the boards were removed, because for a while we had a huge uneven pile of dirt to climb over, about 3 feet high in places.

I think it only took about 3 weeks before we had our path across the road paved again. The ditches on either side are still open ditches, now about 2-3 feet deep and closer to 18 inches across. It’s possible that when both sides of the road are done there are plans to put covers over the top.

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My family ran a station on the underground railroad

My family ran a station on the underground railroad.  I mentioned this on FB, and Francis asked to hear more about it.  There is not a lot to tell.

It is 8 parts myth and family lore, one part circumstantial and one part proven fact.  There would be at least one way, I think, to prove another fact, but nobody has ever bothered.

There were a pair of cousins who owned adjoining farms.  One of them is still owned by my mom, the other has left the family.  The original house in my family’s possession burned in the forties, I think.  Maybe the twenties. The cellar was filled in just a couple years ago as it was a safety hazard.  In my family stories of the whisperings and shuffling in the night were passed down- there was a little girl in the family who would sometimes wake up and find a black child in bed with her.  She never saw black people by day, and she was fascinated. Sometimes, the story goes, or once, the story goes, she licked her finger and rubbed it on the child’s skin to see if the colour came off. In the morning the child would be gone.   It was never spoken of by day.  Later she learned that her parents were hiding black people who were running from slavery into freedom. She grew up and told the stories to her nieces and nephews (I feel like she never married), and they told theirs, and one of them was my mother.  That’s the 8 parts myth and family lore.  I’m guessing that it was cold and children were put to bed with the little girl to warm up, or maybe because it was assumed that was the safest place to hide them.

The other family that now own the property that was owned by the other cousin… their son was in high school with our son, and the mom was our dentist’s receptionist, and she tells us that it has been proven that her house was a station on the underground railroad.  That’s the one part proven fact.

The two original properties are all still farmland, but have since been divided and slashed by a state highway, a major highway, and also a county road. My uncle told me that during the twenties when the state road went in, they discovered a cellar about halfway between the two properties, unmarked on any maps or blueprints, hidden, and previously unknown.    He tells me they said, “Ahhh, so that’s where they hid their ‘passengers,’ how interesting!” and then they filled in the cellar and finished laying down the state road over the top of it.  That’s the one part that probably could be proven if somebody were driven to do what it takes to find out, and also had the resources and some state backing.  My uncle knew his local and family history and never got a story wrong that anybody knows of.

Circumstantial: The cousins were members of a church denomination known for its antislavery stance and many members were part of the underground railroad in one capacity or another. The state had hundreds of underground railway stations, and they acknowledge that only a few have been documented.  Documentation is difficult, because, of course, it was a secret, a dangerous secret.  Few of the people they helped through intended to stay in the state as they were heading to Canada and this was a stop on the way, so there wouldn’t be local resources from black families.*

So that’s the story.  I love the story, and am proud that these people were my ancestors.  But it’s a personal thing.  I’m proud, or maybe gratified is the better word. AFter all, I didn’t do any of those brave, worthy, and exciting things. I just happened to be born from the genetic line of those people 11 decades or more after the fact.  It’s cool, but it’s essentially a matter of luck. It’s cool to be so lucky in one’s ancestors, but I don’t believe in blaming people or blessing people for accidents of birth.

*Addendum:  In fact, at one point in the state’s uneven history, the state government made it illegal for free blacks to even stay in the state.  I had always assumed (as one would) this was purely for racist, ugly reasons, and I  still believe that is largely true.  But in looking up regional underground railroad history stuff recently, I read that the background of events that led up to that law included the strengthening of the Fugitive Slave Act and the problems caused by emboldened slave hunters who would come in to the state in ever larger and furious numbers.  They were basically vigilante kidnappers and murderers,  tracking slaves to their hiding places, beating and sometimes murdering those protecting them, and kidnapping free blacks who had never been slaves. So it was a little bit more complicated than I’d assumed.  I still doubt the gist of it was noble intentions, but it didn’t happen in a vacuum, it was a response to the violence of slavers, and there were some good intentions that muddied the discussion and clouded judgement.

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On Teaching Western Civilization

By Anthony Esolen

This is just an excerpt.  The original is long, but well worth your time.

“This time around I wrote an article for Crisis, taking note of the wild array of cultures to which we introduce our students. For this is, of course, the very fat and very weak underbelly of our critics. As a matter of plain fact, the sociology professor who complains about my lack of diversity is himself the most culturally monochromatic of scholars. He teaches about cities that he can visit by riding on a train. He teaches about people whom he can call up on the telephone. He assigns books and articles written in English, about people who speak English, who watch the same television we watch, listen to the same bad music, play the same sports, and so on. I cannot take a train to ancient Athens. I cannot call Thomas Aquinas on the telephone. There are no YouTube videos of Shakespeare directing his actors.

The material I teach in the first year of DWC spans four millennia, from ancient Babylon to the end of the Renaissance. This year’s entries were originally written in Babylonian, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Anglo-Saxon, old French, Italian, German, Spanish, and English. We are in Jerusalem with David, on the coast of half-Christian England with the poet of Beowulf, in Rome with Cicero, in Madrid with Calderón, in exile with the Florentine Dante, and in London with Shakespeare. We have studied the Parthenon and Saint Peter’s, Giotto and the stained glass windows of Chartres, Arthurian romance and the poetic philosophizing of Lucretius. It is utterly preposterous to say that we are anything but multicultural. We study cultures, and there are a lot of them, and they diverge far from ours and from one another. A Viking chieftain is not a Roman senator or a Christian friar. Xerxes is not Francis Xavier.

But I know that none of that really counts. One of the student protesters, abashed, has written in our newspaper that even though a Viking is admittedly “diverse” from anybody we may meet on the street now, studying the Vikings does not serve “the larger purpose” of diversity. And thus has he unwittingly given up the ballgame.

He and the students are not really interested in studying cultures other than ours. What counts for them as “diversity” is governed entirely by a monotonous and predictable list of current political concerns. If you read a short story written in English by a Latina author living up the road in Worcester, that counts as “diverse,” but if you read a romance written in Spanish by a Spanish author living in Spain four hundred years ago, that does not count as “diverse.” It probably does not even count as Hispanic. If you pore over the verb system of Old Icelandic so that you can stumble around in the sagas of Snorri Sturluson, that does not count, despite the fact that the sagas are utterly different from any form of literature now written. But if you collect a few editorials written by Toni Morrison, that does count, despite the fact that they are written in English and that you have read hundreds of such.

That already is unreality aplenty. But there is more, and this is hard to talk about. I have said that it is absurd to pretend that you can have anything of substance to say about a curriculum in the history of science when you don’t know anything about the history of science. But what if you know hardly anything about anything at all? That is an exaggeration, but it does capture much of what I must confront as a professor of English right now, even at our school, which accepts only a small fraction of students who apply for admission. Nor, I’m afraid, does it apply only to freshmen. It applies also to professors.”

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