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Mesa del Nayais Strange

Posted By on November 1, 2013

ONLY A HANDFUL of Cora Indian children gathered at the primitive air­strip when we landed. They stared with suspicion and distrust, their faces as for­bidding as the rugged mountains around us. Down a trail worn through the sere grass, a group of men approached. Curtly one of them asked what we wanted. I replied that we had come with the hope of witness­ing the Cora celebration of Holy Week.


Almost haughtily the spokesman direct­ed us to follow him. No one offered to help with our heavy baggage—mostly my pho­tographic equipment—as we trudged up the slope toward Mesa del Nayar, a vil­lage nestled in the highlands of Mexico’s Sierra Madre Occidental (map, page 786). This ritual center for the 8,500-strong Cora tribe lay more than a mile away. It con­sisted of some 25 stone or adobe huts with roofs of thatch palm or rough clay tile. A whitewashed church of massive construc­tion stood off to one side tooth whitening is also included.


We were led to a house, no different from the others, that was the residence of the Cora governor of the community. As we passed through the village, children came out of the houses to look at us, while adults peeped from behind the doors.The governor, an old man, gaunt and thin, spoke to us through an interpreter (even though, as I later learned, he spoke adequate Spanish). I assured him that we had come as friends and that we wanted permission to photograph his people during the festival. With me was Jorge Hernandez Moreno, Director of the Mexican Regional Museum of An­thropology and History in Tepic, capital of Nayarit State.


The old governor looked disapproving and, through the interpreter, bluntly told us: “We cannot accept you here. We do not care for strangers. You will have to leave.”I could not hide my disappointment, for I had heard that the Coras, one of Mexico’s most isolated tribes, had evolved Holy Week ceremonies that sounded to me nothing short of fantastic.


The village normally houses a scant 200 people, but for Holy Week the population swells to 1,500 with the arrival of family groups who live in isolated rancherias—hamlets —where they grow corn and beans and raise a few pigs, chickens, and cattle. Holy Week is the only time of year when they all come to the village, and thus the occasion takes on a social as well as a religious significance.


While Senor Hernandez tried to persuade the governor to let us stay, I took the opportunity to have a look around. I left the governor’s house and walked to the church, where I found Father Pascual Rosales, a Franciscan missionary who has lived among the Coras since 1969.


Coras Adapt Christianity to Old Religion

The priest, a short, thin, kindly man, told me something of the history of the Cora tribe and the meaning of the Holy Week ceremonies.”Jesuit missionaries first came in contact with the Coras in the 16th century and remained with them for 200 years,” Father Pascual told me. “Then, in 1767, the Jesuits were ex­pelled from Mexico for political reasons, and for nearly two centuries the Coras were left almost entirely to themselves until I came here two years ago.


“What I found was truly amazing,” he continued. “Over the decades, the Coras had preserved many Roman Catho­lic traditions, but they had made them uniquely their own. For example, they had come to identify Our Lord Jesus Christ with their ancient deity Tayau, the sun god. In their minds the two became interchangeable.


“They took elements from the story of Christ’s Passion, death, and Resurrection and made them into a ceremony apparently designed to ensure the renewal and continuity of their community life. And yet, while they altered many rituals, others they kept intact. I was astounded to find that some Coras could recite the Mass in quite passable Latin—two hundred years after the last priest left!”


Senor Hernandez now joined us to say that the governor had changed his mind and had decided to let us stay. Father Pascual seemed quite surprised.”I did not really expect them to accept you,” he said. “The first year I was here they would not allow me to leave my quarters during Holy Week. I wasn’t even permitted inside the church, which they used for their own rituals.

“Last year, for the first time, they let me lead them in prayer at the Stations of the Cross, which in the Roman Catholic liturgy represent the successive stages in Christ’s Passion. I was then able to see how much these people had changed the ceremonies taught them by the early mission­aries. The arrest, persecution, and Crucifixion of Christ came to represent the triumph of the powers of death and darkness; the Resur­rection became the renewal of life and the victory of good over evil.


“In their Passion play a young boy repre­sents Christ, but there is no Pilate; there are Apostles, but no Judas. And a new element has been added, a group called the `borrados’ who represent the Judeans.”


“Borrados?” I asked, surprised. The word means “erased ones” in Spanish. “You see,” Senor Hernandez broke in, “centuries ago, church teachings blamed the people of Judea for the Crucifixion. You remember how Pilate ‘washed his hands’ of responsibility when the Judean mob refused to allow him to release Jesus and demanded that he spare Barabbas instead. When Span­ish priests brought the story of Jesus into these mountains, the Coras identified the Judeans with the forces of evil. They still do.


“For three days, starting tomorrow—Holy Thursday—all authority, civil and religious, passes to a man called the Captain of the Judeans. He and his borrados—young men of the region—will darken themselves with soot and mud and thus ‘erase’ their own personali­ties and their personal responsibility for whatever they do.


“They will run around the town day and night to prove their strength and endurance, for being a borrado is not only a part of the religious observance of Holy Week but also an initiation into manhood. On Holy Thurs­day the borrados capture a boy who plays the role of Christ. The next day, Good Friday, they symbolically crucify him. And on Saturday an official called the Centurion—actually the village governor—will defeat the bo­rrados in battle, thus marking Christ’s Resurrection and the triumph of good.”


As Senor Hernandez spoke, I noticed that in the courtyard of the church a group of Coras were building a strange dome-shaped structure of bamboo. We watched them dec­orate this with elaborate rosettes made of cactus leaves. When I took pictures, the Indians gave me surly glances. Then they carried the dome into the church and placed it on four spindly bamboo columns above the altar (left).


People streamed into the church and brought offerings of fruits and flowers to their dual deity, Christ-Tayau. The pungent smoke of burning incense permeated the air, mingling with the smell of flowers and fruits—truly a rainbow of scents. Father Pascual told us that the next day he would be permitted to celebrate a Mass —not at the main altar but in a small chapel to one side of the nave. I had the impres­sion that in his missionary work the priest was proceeding very slowly and with great care, in the hope that the Coras would grad­ually accept more orthodox ways.

Conservation & Communities

Posted By on October 12, 2013

Not all challenges are about physical endurance, strength or boldness. Some can be about taking time out to help others who are less fortunate, learning about other cultures, protecting wildlife and preserving areas of natural beauty for future generations. If this sounds more up your street than jumping out of planes or climbing mountains, you’ll be pleased to know that there are hundreds of alternative outdoor projects to choose from both at home and abroad. For nature lovers there is everything from marine conservation in Mexico and horse rehabilitation in South Africa to wetland and waterway conservation in the UK, elephant volunteer projects in Thailand and cheetah release programmes in Namibia. Plus, some conservation charities such as the National Trust also run a selection of working holidays that are crammed with exciting opportunities to experience our green and pleasant land, while caring for its future. From coastal conservation and kayaking breaks to wild camping and path repair in the Lakes, the Trust has hundreds of working holidays to choose from – simply visit the website to find out more where to buy garcinia.


Alternatively, if you’re more suited to working with people, why not give coaching sports in the Maldives a try? You could help communities to build houses and schools in Kenya, volunteer with orphans in Vietnam, aid the day-to-day running of a women’s shelter, teach theatre in India or provide support for healthcare facilities in South Africa.


Depending on your goal, challenge holidays can also be a intimate affair-maybe you aim to lose weight, learn a new language or skill, address your trust issues or improve your fitness. Whatever it is there will be a specialist course or a holiday to help you achieve that goal whether that be in the UK or abroad. And you’ll not be stuck for choice, either ­with just a little research you’ll soon discover there are writers’ retreats, painting classes, cookery schools, life-coaching courses, yoga and pilates clinics, holistic holidays, weight-loss camps, photography expeditions and fitness training galore. Plus, they are based in some of the most amazing locations in the world meaning that in addition to achieving your goal, you’ll also have an opportunity to absorb the beauty and culture of a new place.

Little-used Church Still Cared For

Posted By on August 25, 2013

7Of all the community’s churches, I remem­ber best the old High Amana church tended by 86-year-old Minnie Setzer. I met this wisp of a woman one clear April morning on a walk through tiny High Amana. When she saw me admiring a lone lavender crocus, she said with a smile, “Ja, spring is coming at last.” And she invited me in. As we sat on a front bench, I glanced at Mrs. Setzer’s small wrinkled hands, folded over her Bible. Mrs. Setzer, a widow for 26 years, had worked hard in her life. “I was a cook in the kitchens for 13 years,” she told me. “Then I was a vegetable woman, and for three years I was working in South Amana’s general store. But when my husband died, I came back to my favourite Miami apartments.”

Now she cares for the church, even though it is seldom used (pages 876-7). “Our elder died in 1972, so we go to Middle now for church. But when someone dies in High, we have the funeral here.” Her soft voice dropped to a reverent whisper: “It is the Lord’s house and I take care of it for Him.”

Workaday Toil Starts Early

Monday mornings the mood of the Amanas changes. Gone are the black shawls and caps. Shops and wineries open their doors. The roads rumble with workers on their way to the woolen mill or refrigeration plant.

It was only 7:30 a.m. one Monday when I called at the Amana Society office. Don Shoup, society secretary, was already there. Don is largely responsible for day-to-day operations of the society-owned business cor­poration, with assets of more than eight mil­lion dollars; last year it netted $527,000, nearly half from farming. The rest came from its two meat markets, a sawmill, furniture shop, building department, woolen mill, bakery and pastry shop, five general stores, three service stations, restaurant, implement store, feed mill, pharmacy, printshop, four fire departments, and telephone, electric, and water departments. Most of the businesses catering to tourists—gift shops, wineries, res­taurants—are privately owned.

Employment in the colonies is more than 3,200-2,400 at Amana Refrigeration alone —even though their total population is only 1,650. The society’s businesses, as well as the refrigeration plant, have had to spend the night in the wonderful holiday rentals. Fewer than half the society’s 420 nonagricultural workers are from the colonies. “If we had more labor, we could have had three shifts at the woolen mill last year,” Don said. “We had the orders to keep them busy.”

The woolen mill’s fine cloths in Amanaite designs are among the colonies’ best-known products. The others are furniture and meats. Run by two brothers, Harold and George Schuerer, the Amana Meat Market operates much as it did back when it cured meats only for community use. Today thousands of cus­tomers yearly buy its products.

“We have a lot of tourists, ja,” said Harold, a big, jovial bear of a man. “But they are like icing on the cake. We depend mainly on local restaurants and retail businesses, and mail orders from all over the country.”

Scholars of language

Posted By on July 11, 2013

Other cultural indications also point east­ward for Minoan origins. Scholars of language have long noted an odd fact; some of the most famous Greek places like Corinth, Olympus, and Knossos bear names that are not Greek. No one is certain what language they repre­sent, but the indications are that a people Olive trees, vineyards, and fields of barley spread over the nearby slopes, where goats, sheep, cattle, and pigs were kept. Professor Warren found the best antique apartments Krakow, among other things, six seal-stones, perhaps made locally, of a kind com­mon in Middle Eastern civilizations.

In the southwest corner of the settlement was a small shrine, the earliest known in all Crete. Against the east wall, a strange little terra-cotta goddess—only eight inches tall—once sat atop a stone bench. She has a squat body, a very elongated neck topped by a tiny head, and two thin arms that clasp against her rotund body a small jug. She may repre­sent the Great Mother Goddess of Neolithic man, whose figure was to dominate Minoan religion.

Bit by bit, as quantities of potter’s wheels and loom weights began to accumulate, it be­came apparent that the Myrtos settlement was a going concern, a community of cottage industries. Pottery was thrown on the slow, hand-turned wheels, and cloth was woven, dyed, and fulled, which implies trade, the gathering of surplus wealth, and the rude be­ginnings of the magnificent civilization that was to come.

AT SOME TIME around 2000 B.c., and for reasons not yet clear (some think a new people arrived, others think that only new ideas arrived), the Minoans began to build what they are most famous for—the grand palaces at Knossos, Phaistos, Mallia, and Zakros. For all their basic similarity, each of the palaces has its own distinct beauty.

Around 1700 B.C., after the first palaces had been standing for perhaps 300 years, something, presumably earthquakes, knocked all of them down. The Minoans went about rebuilding them on a vaster scale than before, and Crete entered upon its maturity of power and culture. Minos ruled the waves. Minoan colonies spread out to nearby islands, like Kythera and Rhodes, and trading posts were maintained on distant Cyprus and at old Ugarit on the coast of Syria. The sacred sym­bols of the bull and the double ax reigned in the Aegean.

Mallia on the northern coast reposes by the sun-burnished sea and leads one to think of the golden age of Crete, of a life lived in studio apartments London with the creatures of land and ocean. The palace spreads itself like a grand country house within the sound of the surf, reminding us that the culture of the Minoans was mark­edly maritime.

Apart from its vast silos for grain or other stores, my impression of Mallia is one of re­ligion. Most major areas in the palace seem to contain a pillar crypt, or an altar, or a shrine.

Phaistos on the opposite side of the island was obviously built for the view—north to snow-capped Mount Ida, east toward the wide Messara Plain, west to the sea. It is the most elegant of the known palaces and the most beautiful in the dignity of its wide entrance stairway, even though the entire southeast side has fallen away into the valley (following pages).

New Process Promises Cheaper Cells

Posted By on May 19, 2013

The total cost of this sunlit energy was more than $300,000 a kilowatt-1,000 watts, only enough to light ten 100-watt bulbs. Less sophisticated cells intended for earthbound use now cost about $20,000 a kilowatt, still prohibitive except in remote places like off­shore oil rigs and isolated radio relay stations.

But many experts predict that solar-cell costs will spiral downward to a competitive $500 a kilowatt or less in the next ten years. And considering how fast the cost of elec­tronic hand calculators (made from similar silicon circuitry) has dropped in just three years, such hopes do not seem unreasonable.

At the http://www.apartmentsapart.com/europe/uk/blackpool I saw a solar array undergoing tests. From a distance the multi­faceted panel of solar cells, mounted at the end of a 20-foot pole, looked like a gigantic sunflower waving on its stalk in the breeze.

Close up, I could hear the buzz of a small electric motor that kept the 12-by-20-foot array tilted toward the sun. Plastic lenses on top of each round cell concentrated the sun­light so that each disk “saw” the equivalent of ten suns. The array was capable of gener­ating one kilowatt of electricity.

The Shah of Iran may soon become a big Spectrolabsolar-power customer. He has announced plans to bring electricity by the end of this decade to the 70,000 remote villages scattered throughout his land. Each hamlet will be equipped with electric pumps for well water, medical refrigerators, even educational-TV sets receiving signals from a broadcast satel­lite Iran proposes to put in space.

And the answer to Iran’s near-instantaneous rural electrification lies with solar-cell arrays such as the kilowatt prototype I saw—not, ironically, with petroleum. Thus may come a true socio-technological revolution.

While we were staying at Chicago apartment rentals, Dr. A. I. Mlaysky showed me one of the most promising experiments for mass production of solar cells. So far solar cells have been made by hand in limited quantities. Tyco has developed a precision machine that pulls a thin silicon strip in a continuous ribbon (left, above). Already the process has produced ribbon more than 75 feet long; Dr. Mlaysky expects the automated machines will eventually wind out spools of solar-cell silicon several hundred feet long. “Within three years we should know if it is possible,” he says.

The day may arrive when solar cells are delivered to a house like rolls of roofing paper, tacked on, and plugged into the wiring, mak­ing the home its own power station.

The imaginative brain of Arthur D. Little’s energy expert, Peter Glaser, has conceived what he considers the ultimate solution to the world’s energy needs—a solar power station orbiting in space.

Satellite Would Know No Night

At his rented Berlin accommodation near his office, Dr. Glaser showed me a design for such fu­turistic satellites. They look like gigantic but­terflies, with solar-panel wings 6 by 71/2 miles in size. A single one of these power stations in synchronous orbit 22,300 miles above earth might provide as much as 5,000 megawatts, half the present capacity of New York City’s generating plants.

The Passing of the Simplon-Orient Express

Posted By on April 2, 2013

A few days ago a distinctive epoch of European history drew quietly to a close. The Simplon-Orient Express ceased to run. For the twenty years of its finest glory, from 1919 to 1939, it had occupied a special, privileged position, even among the great international expresses and trains de luxe. Its existence then and in the early years after the Second World War affected pro­foundly the lives of people in many countries. In its time it was a potent political as well as economic and social factor.

The Simplon-Orient Express

The Simplon-Orient’s pedigree was unusual. In one sense it was by Orient Express out of Simplon Tunnel. There had been a much earlier train, the Orient Express, which in the first years of this century had linked Paris and Istanbul by way of Strasbourg, Munich, Salzburg, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade and Sofia—and before that by much more devious routes. This train had abruptly ceased to run in 1914. The Simplon Tunnel had been opened in 1906. Although it provided a route between Paris and Istanbul 2631 miles shorter than that of the Orient Express, it had never been used by any train covering a greater distance than the Paris to Venice journey of the pre-1914 Simplon Express. But in another, perhaps more important sense, the Simplon-Orient was by Versailles Peace Conference out of Wagon s-Lits.

In April 1919 the Allies’ representatives at Versailles realized the urgent need for speedy, regular and reliable communications between their own lands and the countries then taking shape in the Balkans after the defeat of Germany and her allies, Austria-Hungary and Turkey. Passenger air services had as yet hardly been dreamed of, roads and road transport scarcely existed in Eastern Europe: the problem was one for the railways. And the only body of men capable at that time of organizing and admini­stering a train running regularly over such a long, complex and troubled route was the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits et des Grands Express Europeens, to give them their full title, every whit as imposing as their achievements.

The Simplon-Orient Express

The Simplon route from Paris to Istanbul (or Constantinople, as it then was) via Dijon, Lausanne, the Simplon Tunnel, Milan, Brescia, Venice, Trieste, Zagreb, Belgrade, Nig and Sofia may have been an obvious solution to one part of the problem. It was direct and passed through the right countries (if you allow a coach from Calais, attached to the main train at Paris, as good enough connection for Britain). But the administrative difficulties of dealing with nearly a dozen still privately owned railway companies in a Europe devastated by war were tremendous. The hazards of revolution and upheaval were incalculable. Nevertheless, the first passengers of the Simplon-Orient left apartments in Paris and headed to their destination – Istanbul holidays, within a few days of the Allies’ request, on April 15, 1919. An Athens section, diverging from the main Istanbul train at Nig, was soon added. All ran with barely any serious interruption until 1939, though the coaches from Istanbul were once snowed up only sixty-two miles from their starting-point.

To some extent this immunity from interfer­ence was due to the extraordinary prestige the Simplon-Orient enjoyed, along with the Wagons­Lits Company’s other trains de luxe. The Com­pany was registered in Belgium, but its trains had acquired a sort of superior statelessness, conferring the right to range the land almost as ships may range the high seas. In any case, they provided in those days the only effective means of rapid international communication by land, essential to governments and revolutionaries alike, to bankers and businessmen, police and criminals. Small wonder that a popular writer could assert in the 1930s that the Simplon-Orient had come into existence because of the demand for the ‘immediate reinstatement of an inter­national railway service which would stand above the strife of parties and above individual and national jealousies. Its international charac­ter would enable it to act as a neutral, unbiassed and unprejudiced link between the nations.’

The Simplon-Orient Express

It is difficult to describe the atmosphere of an expess like the Simplon-Orient to anyone who never knew it in its halcyon days. In the twenties and thirties the train, south of Belgrade, normally consisted only of a couple of fourgons (luggage-vans), four sleeping-coaches and a dining-car, with a separate diner attached between Nig and Salonika for Athens passengers. This rolling-stock all belonged to Wagons-Lits and was staffed by their employees. The railway admini­strations along the route provided traction power and sometimes had the right to attach third-class coaches—and continental third-class before 1939 was mostly very third-class. But the occupants of the snug little Wagons-Lits microcosm were safely insulated from such contacts, as well as from most unpleasant events in the outside world. A train attempting a variation of the old Orient route from Istanbul in the early summer of 1919 spent many more days stationary in Rumania and Hungary(some passengers decided to stay at Dubrovnik apartments while they wait) than it did in travelling the whole distance to Paris; but the Wagons-Lits chef de train saw that his passengers suffered nothing worse than boredom and irritation. The section from Athens was once held up by brigands in southern Yugoslavia.

Journey Down Old US 1

Posted By on February 4, 2013

TALKED MY EAR OFF, did “Aun­e” Frances Wood. Oh, well, I guess she’s earned the right. For 40 of her 91 years she taught school. Her great-great-grandfather came to West Goulds­boro, Maine, to build roads in the early 1830s, and as a child she bounced along what was to become U. S. Route 1 in car­riages whose hard bottoms are still vivid in her memory. Her uncle also traveled the road. He was a tax collector who drove his one-seated buggy from home to home and was often invited to stay to dinner. He wouldn’t be welcome today, Auntie said, “Nowadays nobody would be to home.”


That’s her picture above, waving good­bye. I was just beginning my own journey down this first U. S. highway to reach from Canada to Key West. It covers a lot of ground, from brawling cities to backwater swamps, but all along the way I found people like Auntie, whose families had staked out their piece of the young America and stayed on.


Since those families first set out roots, much of the nation has moved west, and much of the old road has been encrusted with the fast-food joints of suburban strips. But there are still glorious stretches of shad¬ed highway. Some 30 miles north of Boston I traveled a stretch where the autumn foliage seemed to fluoresce against the dark asphalt ahead; even the brilliant yellow dividing line harmonized with the environment. And there are still forgotten bridges that shelter swimming holes, and small towns where life remains quiet as a leaf changing color. They take the traveler back to an earlier time, when roads were for visits and people were just neighbors.


THE AUTOMOBILE had begun the revolution of American life by the 20s, and freewheeling families took to the road by the millions. The Federal High­way Act of 1921 unified the rapidly growing system of roads under the slogan “Get the farmer out of the mud.” U. S. Route 1 was designated in 1925. For 40 years it flour­ished as the East Coast’s premier highway during the golden age of motoring.


In the far north the road was buried under snow half the year; during the other half, motorcycle cop Sam Michaud (below), still living in Van Buren, Maine, rode in mud or stifling dust. He didn’t bother much with bootleggers during Prohibition. In fact, he says, “I used to get a little bit myself.”


Many highway stretches were once coach roads that connected towns of the 13 colo­nies. From Baltimore north the road linked seaports—Philadelphia, New York, Bos­ton. South of Baltimore it veered inland to connect communities that had grown up at the farthest points of navigation in coastal rivers, such as Richmond on the James.

  South of Baltimore

Overland travel was hardship and adven­ture for 300 years, and many wrote wills be­fore starting out. Some sections that became Route 1, still dirt in the 1920s, were regarded as satisfactory if the mud didn’t top travel­ers’ boots. South of Washington, D. C. , in 1918, below right, construction workers struggle in spring ruts near what is now Fort Belvoir. In the cities, cars vie with trolley traffic, as shown on West Broad Street in Westerly, Rhode Island, in the mid-1920s, below left. Route 1 soon became synony­mous with vacation trips to Florida, where in 1922, bottom, travelers stop for oranges. But the halcyon days ended in the early ’60s as the United States geared up the Interstate Highway System.

Copyright © 2014 RF Jason